“Power, Liberalism still has beyond doubt; but power has only tile next to the last word in the affairs of men-not the last word. Power is wielded by men, controlled by men, divided by men, limited by men, as they are guided and inspired by their intellectual and spiritual understanding.” –Frank S. Meyer
A narrative is steadily ossifying that holds the GOP as the atrophic Party of bitterly contemptuous and self-absorbed plutocrats whose increasingly fringe rhetoric alienates the majority of American voters who care about other people. That unsavory image is not exactly ameliorated by curmudgeonly talk of “moochers” and “gifts” for Obama-voting blue-collar and professional workers who do, in fact, pay all their taxes. Yet for all their alleged hatred for—or, more charitably, indifference to—the poor, elderly, and otherwise disadvantaged, Republicans still give more to charity and community than the gentry voters of the Blue States.
Why does it seem that liberals care so much less about providing for others when it comes to committing their own resources?
You could say I’m kidding on the square with that quip, but it introduces a key element about the core dynamics of the right side of our two-party coalitions. Conservatism, at its core, is as much about free enterprise, private industry, and individual liberty as it is about community and the transcendent power of relationships to ground atomized persons into coherent tapestries of purpose and vision. We are citizens before we are businessmen, patriots before we are laborers or collared professionals. In defending the well-being of every citizen qua citizen, conservatives are properly skeptical of organized power and its insidious tendency to foment entrenched narcissism and lethargic mediocrity. Thus, a conservative is no more properly a partisan of Big Business (not that business is monolithic) as of Big Government.
Yet this message has been somewhat lost in the weeds of the 47%. Of the panoply of major players in the Republican primary, it was primarily Rick Santorum who acknowledged, however imperfectly, the all too human question of how to care for the least among us without sacrificing the long-term prosperity that allows us to do so—and makes the task worthwhile. In truth, many people drown in a rising tide, and the invisible hand will not save everybody. The liberal answer to this frostbiting reality has been to outsource the worry of such things to the gangrenous pity of alienating bureaucracy and pretend all costs can be met with more taxes.
We know this does not work. The expansive welfare state exacerbates the costs of poverty while weakening the overall social and economic health of the nation. But when the Left can successfully caricature the Right, for all the community activism of conservative families, as a privileged world of people devoid of empathy or understanding—and the electorate votes more on whether a candidate “cares” than whether he or she “has vision”, is a “strong leader” or “shares my values”—necessary reforms become that much harder.
But even as the Democratic Party clings with reactionary zeal to the progressivism of yesteryear, some liberals have grown innovative in seeking independence from Big Institutions. When the famously trusted Red Cross and infamously inept FEMA could not satisfy the escalating needs faced in wake of Superstorm Sandy, the scions of Occupy Wall Street—now styled, Occupy Sandy—stepped in to do what smaller, more nimble communities do best when unshackled from overhead and invasive regulation. They helped people:
“Maligned for months for its purported ineffectiveness, Occupy Wall Street has managed through its storm-related efforts not only to renew the impromptu passions of Zuccotti, but also to tap into an unfulfilled desire among the residents of the city to assist in the recovery. This altruistic urge was initially unmet by larger, more established charity groups, which seemed slow to deliver aid and turned away potential volunteers in droves during the early days of the disaster.
In the past two weeks, Occupy Sandy has set up distribution sites at a pair of Brooklyn churches where hundreds of New Yorkers muster daily to cook hot meals for the afflicted and to sort through a medieval marketplace of donated blankets, clothes and food. There is an Occupy motor pool of borrowed cars and pickup trucks that ferries volunteers to ravaged areas. An Occupy weatherman sits at his computer and issues regular forecasts. Occupy construction teams and medical committees have been formed.” (Emphasis added)
If a movement borne of self-aggrandized loiterers, bargain-basement philosophizers, and scatological revolutionaries can instantiate such a robustly human argument for the conservative will to limited, community-oriented governance—to the benefit of people over institutions—imagine how much stronger this message could resound through the broad and deep resources of political movement committed to such a project. After all, Americans still believe government does too much, and the Occupy movement is hardly any kind of model for the future.
Skepticism of the welfare state, like Occupy Sandy’s skepticism of FEMA and the Red Cross, is not tantamount to apathy for the least of us. But we have work to do to demonstrate why and how a new approach will mitigate the failures of current policy for ordinary people. An improved approach might include copyright reform to aid young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, more efficient local-federal disaster relief partnership that cuts down on bureaucratic red tape, revisions to ObamaCare that minimize the damage to small businesses, revisions to NCLB (put bluntly: neither this nor ObamaCare are getting repealed) that encourage more local innovation and less federal invasion, immigration policy that rewards capital investment and job creation in the U.S, means-testing and other reforms for Medicare so relatively wealthy retirees don’t strangle their poorer descendants, etc.
None of these proposals are particularly easy to caricature as “for the rich” (although I trust Alan Grayson will manage something) but are markedly accessible, in various ways, to an increasingly diverse American electorate. Further, these conservative solutions all have the benefit of encourage a community-focused message that speaks across such boundaries as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class, and national origin. There is no guarantee that Democrats will cooperate, but while he control the House, we need to use that leverage to promote much-needed political growth for the nation. Nobody is interested in our whining. They want our solutions.
There are certainly conservatives who disdain the poor, just as there are progressives who disdain the economically successful. But whatever the prior and remaining flaws of the GOP, Republicans are by no means the Party of the Rich; we are and should be the Party of the People, and we have the principles to back that up.
The 2012 election was in many ways a major setback, but it’s also an opportunity, however costly, for growth. It’s up to us to show all Americans our thoughtful and enduring solutions, with conviction and longsuffering, that they may yet see and believe.