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OP-ED | Telling the Story of the Conservative Heart

by | Jul 17, 2015 11:23am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Analysis, Opinion, Review

The most underreported story of the past few decades is that during that time period, across the world a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day.

The number of people globally living in extreme poverty was cut in half between 1990 and 2010, according to the World Bank, the United Nations, and other global institutions.

We Americans should be proud of the part our ideals played in this transformational achievement.

By exporting our free market system globally — by spreading the gospel of the rule of law, entrepreneurship, and property rights — there now a billion fewer people living in starvation.

This global success story — and others like it — is what the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks wants conservatives to focus on as they engage in policy debates with the political left — the ability for conservative ideals to transform people’s lives.

In his new book, The Conservative Heart, released this week, Brooks argues that conservatives need a message that is aspirational, not angry, not just because that is how to win an election, but also because we on the right have done a lousy job of convincing people that we care.

He also points out that while poverty has decreased globally, many here in the U.S. feel like they’re stuck — that even when they work hard, they can’t get ahead.

The answers to this morass are found on the right, Brooks says.

“On a policy level, our movement starts with blowing up countless government-driven barriers to earned success, like overregulation and licensing laws and minimum wage hikes that make opportunity less plentiful, and bureaucratic regimes that trap poor kids in substandard schools,” said Brooks in a recent interview with the Washington Post. “And on a cultural level, we stand foursquare behind faith, family, community, and work as the central pillars of a truly happy life.”

But conservatives are often their own worst enemy, Brooks says, because when we talk about the economy, instead of talking about people, we talk about taxes, debt, and fiscal responsibility.

When Pres. George H.W. Bush famously said, “Message: I care,” to voters in New Hampshire during his run for re-election in 1992, it was clear he was on the defensive, and it was clear he wasn’t delivering a winning message. Republicans were struggling to figure out how to reach voters in the post-Cold War political environment, when the focus turned sharply to domestic politics and the economy.

But, Brooks is quick to point out, he is not asking the political right to return to a message of “compassionate conservatism,” made infamous during Pres. George W. Bush’s first run for the presidency in 2000.

This term is defensive, says Brooks: “It validates those who falsely claim that conservatives are uncompassionate in the first place.”

Brooks’ own story is fascinating. He started out as a self-described liberal, and a full-time musician. He played the French horn in orchestras in the United States and Spain for a decade, but then decided to return to school to further his education.

As an undergraduate he fell in love with economics, and as he learned about incentives and market forces his thinking about social programs, and his understanding of why they don’t work to lift people out of poverty, evolved.

“To my shock, I also learned — when sharing this newfound knowledge with my musician friends — that this outlook made me a “conservative,” he says in his book.

After earning his Ph.D, Brooks focused his research on the study of happiness — and found that not only were conservatives more charitable, but they also were happier people. This was contrary to the public image of the miserly, money-focused conservative that still dominates the national narrative.

While many conservatives feel that this narrative is largely the fault of the political left and the media — witness the current frenzy over the sideshow presidential candidacy of Donald Trump — Brooks says conservatives must look inward. We must change how we talk and think about issues, he says, and to adopt an approach that focuses more on people, and less on numbers.

We also need to do a better job of pointing out how the policies of the left have failed the poor.

Look to the cities as laboratories for the progressive policies of the left — in cities like Hartford, Chicago, and Detroit, are the poor better off after decades of liberal leadership?

Conservatives offer another way — entrepreneurialism, enterprise, and education.

Those of us who care about maintaining a strong social safety net for those who need it most — and many conservatives, contrary to the left’s talking points, do care about this — can see that these safety nets are at risk because of fiscal irresponsibility.

The point isn’t to stop talking about debt and taxes. It’s to talk about these things in a way that shows the human cost of these policies. But then conservatives must pivot to an aspirational message — one that focuses on the value and empowering nature of work, and on self-reliance and ethical living.

No one ever realized the American Dream through greater income redistribution.

We — none of us, whether on the right or the left — can promise equality of outcome. We can work harder at achieving a greater equality of opportunity — which is why the “new right’s” focus on issues like criminal justice and educational reform is so important.

“It is conservatives who stand for true hope, a hope that returns power and agency back into the hands of ordinary people,” says Brooks.

It is a message conservatives here in Connecticut, and across the country, should take to heart.

Suzanne Bates is the policy director for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy. She lives in South Windsor with her family. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(22) Archived Comments

posted by: bob8/57 | July 18, 2015  8:38am


Wow. Just more of the same lies and reactionary propaganda. The future they have in mind for the American worker is slave wages justified by voodoo economics. No thanks, give us the Keynesian economics that made America the preeminent power (economically and militarily) in the twentieth century.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 18, 2015  6:42pm

With all due respect, this really is a “story”, which completely ignores a) growing income inequality since “trickle down” tax policies started under Reagan b)  facts about giving percentages of these allegedly compassionate conservative super rich - the truth is that while they might give bigger dollar volume, the actual percentage of income they give is smaller than people who are significantly worse off .And then there’s the actual actions of conservative legislators who have been voted into office. The ones for whom GOP congressional leadership had to get economists in to explain the potentially dire economic consequences if they pushed the US into defaulting on its sovereign debt. It was really astonishing to me that these folks were elected to Congress with so little fundamental understanding of macroeconomics. Not just astonishing. Bloody frightening. You would have more credibility if you actually called out the ridiculousness of such extreme actions. Otherwise this does, as Bob8/57 says, sound like propaganda from an institute funded by conservative sources.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 18, 2015  9:17pm

Our poor people are wealthy when compared to the poor class in most other world countries who are not blessed with food stamps qnd other deficit spending programs until the “bubble bursts.” 
We are deeply indebted to most countries in the world and “we can’t keep spending other people’s money when all of our credit cards are maxed our and we can’t pay the piper.” The White House and Congress won’t disclose our dire straights and our very weak dollar that is about to be replaced as the trademark world accepted currency between nations. When the bottom falls out we will frully find out about “how poor ifs poor.” In the meantime Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Christopher Murphy and the rest of our elected congress will keep flowering all of us with their by design distractibg political
posturing topic ploys.

posted by: shinningstars122 | July 19, 2015  9:29pm


What did Sarah Palin once say about lipstick and a pig?

Oh never mind.

I think if we want to slap each other on the backs for the alleged successes of trickle down economics we should look at the sobering economic facts of what has changed during the last four decades, and believe me it has nothing to do with progressive policies, as we should clarify for both you and Mr. Brooks, the misuse of the term liberal.

You are actually describing neo-liberal policies which are not very different from Republican policies.

I mean Obama and Clinton have both attended Bilderberg group meetings.

The GOP is worse than us former “hope and change” folks you actually believe these 15 GOP candidates and actually think they are not corrupted by special interest money.

You think their “hearts” answer to a higher and more mighty calling ... reality check they do not as the majority of them are full of paradoxes and contradictions.

The narrative that Mr. Brooks hopes that the GOP will change is to embrace all people is sadly very far from reality as it is painfully on display right now with the surging Mr. Trump’s open bigotry and gutter mouth hyperbole along with the panic that has ensued since gay marriage was made legal.

That a more compassionate outcome can spread forth from the GOP is an exercise in futility as many of these persons of faith answer only to God and not the law or even common sense ... I mean Scott Walker has said this openly.

Regardless the policy of free market capitalism have created enormous waste and risks to populations all over the world from destruction of the rainforest, to environmental degradation, pollution, income inequality in the majority of western nations, social inequality and nationalism and lets not forget ultimately climate change.

The costs that we all will have to pay will make the current scrabbles look mundane if not trivial 25 years from now if we don’t shift out of this antiquated economic system.

The future of 11 billion people can not survive on the current trajectory.

There was an interesting essay on this subject that can be found here.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 20, 2015  6:52am

@shinningstars122: Watch out.
Someone might thing you juat don’t like Republicans. Heavens to Betsy.

posted by: UConnHoop | July 20, 2015  9:22am

Before people post comments about this op-ed being inaccurate, can you look at how Greece, Italy, Spain and every other socialist country’s economy is performing?  Can you explain why cities like Hartford, Bridgeport, Detroit & Chicago are quickly on their way to insolvency and war zones?  Liberalism/socialism is a failed system of governance and regardless of how people try to defend it, the results speak for themselves.

posted by: B. Keck | July 20, 2015  9:39am

I agree with shinningstars122 who writes that “the future of 11 billion people can not survive on the current trajectory.” The essay on “postcapitalism” he/she links emphatically underscores this point: The “market economy” worshipped by so many as the means to solve society’s problems is fast becoming an outdated concept.

For more on this transition, I would suggest reviewing another insightful source: Mark C. Taylor’s book “Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left” (http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300206470). Taylor exhaustively describes not only how information is the new driver of the economy—rather than tangible, manufactured goods—but also how the sheer speed and volume of information is driving a larger divide between those who control it with their algorithms and databases (big business and Wall Street) and those who unwittingly offer it up for free (consumers). Indeed, “the market” is not what it used to—and never will be again.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 20, 2015  1:01pm

UConnHoop - You mention Greece, Spain, Italy (which have always been doing worse due to rampant corruption) and fail to mention countries social democratic countries like Sweden, Finland and Denmark, which have better standards of living than we do here. So do those results “speak for themselves”?

posted by: gutbomb86 | July 20, 2015  2:02pm


Poor financial management doesn’t always equate to liberalism or socialism and vice versa. They are separate concepts. Poor financial management is just poor financial management and plenty of capitalists are guilty of poor financial management and greedy, short-sighted thinking. And a lot of capitalists are also creating good jobs and fulfilling careers as community-minded business owners who build companies based on products or services that improve people’s lives, rather than just trying to separate people from their money. It’s called being a good corporate citizen and it includes paying taxes for the greater good.

Suzanne highlights this guy’s book and makes an interesting point in that by investing outside our borders USA has pulled a billion people out of poverty. By and large that is probably true. I don’t know that that the majority of those people are out of poverty, per se, but maybe they’re less impoverished. Hard to argue that it is a bad thing even by degrees. No evidence that it has helped USA’s job market though.

The commenters here need to accept that a lot of the good in America was built based on concepts that they denigrate here daily. “Socialism” in the form of government investment has driven the R&D on a huge portion of what you all take for granted in your daily diatribes against bogeyman socialism and liberalism. Put down the Red Kool-Aid and tone it down. You might find people will listen more.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 20, 2015  2:20pm

@gutbomb86: Go get them tiger!

posted by: shinningstars122 | July 20, 2015  9:57pm


@B.Keck thanks for the book recommendation it is a very interesting issue to consider for the future and the way you explained how we the consumers have already given up so much in the name of the newest app.

We may have already lost that battle.

Plus I won’t even get started on the government’s violation of our privacy rights either.

@Soicalbutterfly you love to personalize constructive criticism when it disagrees with a specific parties policies.

Rush, Sean, and Bill as always do appreciate your Pavlovian loyalties.

As for the current amount of people who have slid into poverty in our country since the Great Recession in 2013 it was over 45 million of your fellow Americans or nearly 13.7 % of the population.

As I am sure we can all agree it was not liberal economic policies that led to to the crash in 2008.

If we look at the world economic picture and according to the World Bank nearly 753 million people in China moved above the $1.25 a day between 1981 and 2011 and the developing world as a whole saw 942 million move above this threshold.

The issue is that the threshold of people living on $2 day in 2011 stood at 2.2 billion only down from 2.59 billion in 1981 and we all know that world food prices have increased substantially since then and as a result these necessary costs take more and more of the meager buying power these people have.

So lets not cut our cake yet kids.

posted by: Greg | July 21, 2015  8:52am

““It is conservatives who stand for true hope, a hope that returns power and agency back into the hands of ordinary people,” says Brooks.”

Does this mean ending the corporatocracy, regulatory capture, the revolving door between government and 7 figure lobbying jobs, perpetual war and the entire apparatus of the military industrial complex, and such disasters like the TPP? 

Oh BTW, does that also end the farce known as the Federal Reserve whose policies since the financial crisis have singlehandedly enriched the 1% moreso than any other single source of policy?  Which conservatives don’t seem to mind very much, btw.

Modern day Liberals and Conservatives both tend to talk a big ideological game yet when it comes down to who they support, who and what they vote for, and elected officials’ post-term career options the results are astonishingly the opposite.  Conservatives in particular are the worst offenders, waving the flag talking about freedom and cutting spending and all such claptrap, yet doing the opposite once in office in the name of National Security or some other such garbage. 

Someone wake me up when those so-called conservatives actually stand for a hope that returns power and agency back into the hands of ordinary people, but I may be dead by then.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 21, 2015  9:16am

@shinningstars122: Stand on your own feet!

posted by: shinningstars122 | July 21, 2015  6:13pm


@Socialbutterfly I guess you never read my links?

It would be benefical if you actually tried to intellectually defend your conservative positions with facts but that is part of the problem when we are not allowed to build consensus to solve problems.

Especially people who disagree…GASP!

Consider this tidbit… why work and actually think for yourself or at the very least attempt to broaden the debate.

You probably remember this one from back in the day ” If you are not part of the solution…you are part of the problem.”

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 21, 2015  7:18pm

@shinningstars122: You are intentually part of the problem and unlike Art I don’t have the time to amuse myself by answering your unorthodox views.

posted by: Suzanne Bates | July 22, 2015  11:27am

Thanks for all the comments. The narrative I hear from the left is all about how people are victims, and I believe the policies that follow from that narrative are what have led to so many people being stuck. While the narrative I’m hearing from the “new” right that Arthur Brooks talks about is about empowerment, and the policies that flow from that narrative are different in very interesting ways. So the safety net remains, but regulatory and tax burdens on the working poor are reduced to enable social mobility. Both the left and right worry about the plight of the working poor, but the policies/solutions are much different. So yes, extreme political moves like taking us to the brink of a fiscal cliff are irresponsible, but so are policies that lead states like Connecticut into a ‘permanent fiscal crisis.’ Both approaches end up hurting our most vulnerable citizens.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 22, 2015  12:05pm

So specifically, what are the “regulatory and tax burdens on the working poor” that you suggest doing away with to make their lives better and provide more opportunity?

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | July 22, 2015  2:26pm

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right .....

the ideological partisanship is what is going to sink us, if anything will. the truth of the matter is that both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. but both sides are blind and don’t see it. the nation, in the past 75 years or so has prospered more with a republican president and a democratic congress (republicans in congress are just to evil and mean and democratic presidents have little fiscal sense). why were the Reagan years successful? cuz he and Tip got along and made the right things happen, though not perfectly - never is.

if i were the democrats right now i would concentrate on the congressional elections as there is no winning presidential candidate in the field yet.  if i were the republicans right now i would concentrate on picking the right candidate - Rubio is the most promising at the moment but he seems to be getting lost in the shuffle of blowhards.


posted by: SocialButterfly | July 22, 2015  3:59pm

@HST: Don’t write off Donald Trump just because the liberal press tells you that he can’t win. You are too smart to believe that.

posted by: Suzanne Bates | July 22, 2015  7:07pm

I’m glad you asked Sarah. Here’s an example - Connecticut requires occupational licensing for a number of professions that should not need a license. The licensing requirements usually include having to attend some kind of schooling, a licensing exam, and a fee for the license. This presents a barrier to entry for those who cannot afford to pay for these things. Examples of affected professions include tree trimmers and home entertainment installers. Often its the trade groups that asks the state to license these occupations, because it limits competition and because they control the ‘education’ and get paid for it and the testing. In terms of taxes, the tax structure in Connecticut penalizes small and mid-size businesses because we have a high tax structure, unless you’re well connected enough to get a tax break. That hurts entrepreneurial activity. A lot of the new taxes that were just introduced tax business-to-business transactions, further hurting small business owners. Obviously there’s more - Connecticut is a notoriously awful place to try to get anything done, from building something to starting a new business, because of all of the regulatory hoops one has to jump through. All are barriers, and make it much harder for people outside the power structure to enter the marketplace.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 23, 2015  9:24am

@Suzanne Bates: You say “all the barriers make it harder to enter the marketplace.”  So why are Connecticut voters adding to these barriers by only electing listless no business background Democrats into public office?

posted by: shinningstars122 | July 25, 2015  11:28am


I find it hilarious that @MsBates chooses to rationalize the successes of capitalism in trying to end world poverty and apply some sort of logic to the challenges we face in CT.

That was not what the article was about.

What I do find annoying is how when you post the same sources of facts sources that Mr. Brooks may have used for his book, and if you dig deeper into the data.

It does shed on light on the fact that yes much has improved but much has not you and when you point that out you simply get silence from @SuzanneBates.

If her and the Yankee Institute really want to be part of the solution they need to actually engage people who intellectually challenge their polices, and more often their own personal and special interests beliefs, and work to create dialogue, understanding and solutions that will actually improve many people’s lives.

Not just the one’s who pay their own salaries.

I will agree up to a point about the @DrHunterSThompson’s half baked,sorry dude, or rather half true analogies of the past “successes” of the Reagan era.

Lets first go back further 10 years when Richard Nixon signed into law the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and created the EPA.

It had bi-partisan support.

To say this was shock to the business community at the time is a gross understatement, it showed the will of the people for change can actually occur rather quickly and to their detriment and more importantly their profits.

The war in Vietnam is another painful example of this as well.

The business community was not where nearly as engaged in politics back then as they are today.

That was their ” Come to Jesus” moment.

Simply acknowledge how @SuzzaneBates and her employer are continually put on display in media every week all over our state.

The other missing component is horse trading or what would become earmarks.

Politicians had to fight for their constituents and thus compromise was a valuable and necessary tool for political survival as well as success.

Finally Tip O’ Neil, who still to this day was one of the greatest speaker’s of the the House in Congress ever, worked tirelessly for all Americans and sadly knew how things would change in Washington.

I am sure he would be completely disheartened and sickened by his peers in Congress today as would be Ronald Reagan.

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