Oh but now old friends they’re acting strange,
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.
–Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now
I’ve looked at poor from both sides now.
I get a lot of grief for pushing poverty solutions. And service. Many conservatives believe Mitt Romney was right when he uttered his infamous 47 percent line.
In case you forgot:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. …These are people who pay no income tax. …and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
When I first heard the audio, I thought, “Yeah, of course. Why would anyone even question it?” I was totally on board with Mitt on that point.
I was wrong.
When you’re running for president or advancing a cause, you represent 100 percent of the people. All of them. You write no one off. As Arthur C. Brooks wrote in The Conservative Heart:
our society— through conventional welfare policies— has been all too willing to write off some subset of our neighbors, seeing them as burdens to be managed at minimal expense. We must reject this, and proclaim that all people are moral equals.
It’s silly to try to convert people who are diametrically opposed to liberty and freedom and rule of law. But they’re still people you’re obliged to protect and assist if you’re trying, like Mitt Romney, to be President or trying, like me, to advance liberty.
But Mitt and I were dead wrong about the number. I don’t know what the actual number is, but far fewer than 47 percent stand in ideological opposition to liberty and good government. Maybe 10 percent do.
Let’s Hope Romney Was Wrong
Even if Romney had been right that 47 percent will never vote Republican because they want to live on the dole forever, he was wrong to write them off. Just do the math.
In 1960, how many people wanted to live on the dole? You probably believe that whatever the 1960 figure was, it was less than 47 percent. A lot less. How about 1970? 1980? 1990? 2000?
I’ve made up some numbers (which are at least as reliable as Mitt Romney’s) to show what happens if we presume that the deadbeat population has risen over time.
You see that sometime between 2010 and 2020, the trend line crosses the point of no return: 50 percent. If Romney needed to write off a substantial minority in 2012, then the next Republican nominee might as well write off the majority of voters in 2016. Indeed, if Romney was right, then the Republican Party’s last hurrah was 2012–and it that was an anemic, hoarse hurrah at best.
If Republicans had no chance with 47 percent of voters in 2012, they will have no chance of wining the White House ever again.
There’s a Better Way
Conservatives can steal a lot of votes in 2016 by accurately claiming the moral high ground. Our solutions will lift people out of poverty and restore dignity to millions of Americans. (If you don’t believe that, you shouldn’t call yourself a conservative.) We have believe as much all along, but we don’t talk about it much. Instead, we talk about defending big companies from government regulation.
While I oppose over-regulation as much as the next guy, that’s not the issue that will win over the people who need a champion–the people who, as Brooks said, liberalism has warehoused to be managed at minimal expense.
Conservatives believe that every persons deserves the dignity of meaningful work and the freedom to pursue happiness. We further believe that our solutions will do just that. Therefore, we have incurred a moral duty to advance our beliefs.
Everybody knows what we’re against. We have been so vocal about what we’re against that many people believe we’re against things we’re actually not against. But very few people know what we’re for.
Yes, we say we’re for liberty and good government and fiscal responsibility. Those are abstract concepts. If you’re worried about tonight’s dinner, tomorrow’s rent check, or next week’s layoffs, liberty and government fiscal responsibility are, at best, nice-to-haves. They’re far down on your list of priorities.
You and I know that those abstract concepts are critical to full employment in meaningful work and necessary for people to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But when the baby’s hungry, I’ll take the food first, thank you.
In 2016, we can upset the political dynamic by focusing on the people who will most benefit from conservative principles: the poor.
Since the Johnson administration, we have spent over $22 trillion on poverty programs, yet the poverty number hasn’t budged since 1967. Sure, poor people in America often have iPhones and 50-inch LED TVs. But they also live in crime-infested decay. Poor kids born today have less chance of reaching middle class than poor kids born in 1950. If upward mobility is the essence of American exceptionalism, then American exceptionalism is dead.
I realize that big business needs protection from hyperactive government. I get that the rich should keep their rewards for industry and genius and good investing. But how can anyone claim that grass roots activists should put more energy into protecting the well-off than we put into helping the poor? Why defend Warren Buffett when we can hire lobbyists to do his bidding?
You might say, “but, Bill, the poor have lobbyists, too. They’re call government workers.” Well, government workers do not lobby to make the poor productive. They lobby to make more people poor. Like a private business that wants more customers, government poverty programs want more subjects.
The way to reduce government welfare programs is not to eliminate the programs and let the people fend for themselves. The conservative solution is to make meaningful work and freedom to pursue happiness an overwhelming suction that draws poor people out of poverty and toward the American dream. The conservative solution to poverty requires tax reform and cultural renewal that emphasizes and supports two-parent families. Our solutions involves schools that educate, not just warehouse, kids. Our solutions work, if not perfectly, far better than what the left has inflicted upon the poor over the past 50 years.
And our solution must begin with our focus.
In 2016, let’s focus not on those who’ve done wrong by us, but on those who’ve been treated even worse than ourselves. Let’s save the liberty conversation for the end of the talk, after we’ve discussed the people most injured by government “compassion”: the poor.
Conservatives have a solution for poverty, and that means we have a moral obligation to implement that solution. The more we talk about solving real human problems, the more wrong we make Romney’s 47 percent gaffe. And more wrong that gaffe, the better chances for a better America.