A Bleeding Heart Conservative
BY JUSTIN OWEN
One of my heroes just released a new book. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks published “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America.” I recently received a sample excerpt from the book, which foreshadows a quintessential Brooks’ approach of speaking quite differently about conservative/libertarian ideals than most Americans hear regularly.
In fact, as Brooks notes in his sample chapter, “When Americans listen to the right, they hear us talk endlessly about debt, deficits, taxes, spending, and fiscal responsibility—and conclude that all we care about is money.” In other words, we don’t care about people.
Although Beacon itself is considered a think tank, we make it a top priority to talk more like Brooks and less like the majority of those on the right. As intellectual thought leaders, we are expected to use facts, data, charts, and graphs to make our point. And we do…to back up the stories and real-world examples of the impact too much government and too little freedom have on the lives of Tennesseans.
Most on the right have long conceded words like “fairness” and “moral” to the left and avoid using them like the plague. They don’t want to sound like a squishy, bleeding heart liberal. Yet the policies of the left are anything but fair and moral. And the principles and policies of the right—from school choice to economic liberty to property rights—have undeniably advanced human flourishing.
Brooks knows that in order to convince Americans that our policies help people realize the American Dream, we must talk about issues in a way that resonates with them.
When we fought against a Medicaid expansion earlier this year, we not only noted that the plan was unaffordable for taxpayers, but that it was actually immoral to add thousands of our fellow Tennesseans to an already-troubled program that would fail to address their healthcare needs. That instead we needed to unleash innovation and allow low-income Tennesseans to chart their own healthcare paths, not one the government handed over to them.
Beacon has become the state’s most vocal opponent of corporate welfare, where middle-class citizens and small businesses fork over their tax dollars only for the ruling class to dole out to massive, well-heeled companies. But we don’t talk about how this is bad economics; we talk about how it’s patently unfair.
Free markets work, and the facts prove it. Those facts are important to back up our arguments that we need less government and more freedom in our lives. But they alone are insufficient to convince our fellow Americans of this truth. Those of us on the right—if we are to ever win the war of ideas—must talk like we mean it. We know that shackling a person to the welfare state for life is not moral. We know that taking from the poor and giving to the rich is not fair. We need to be bold enough to say it.