By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Conservative think tank president Arthur C. Brooks believes conservative republicans must take the lead on poverty.
In his new book, The Conservative Heart: How We Have Changed the World— But Can’t Seem to Get Our Footing, (HarperCollins), conservative writer Brooks examines why conservative principles are lifting much of the world’s population from crushing poverty, but not the United States.
Brooks writes, “Billions of souls around the world have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to five incredible innovations: globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law, and entrepreneurship,” which he sees as conservative values. Yet, here in America, people see conservatives as unconcerned about the poor and vulnerable.
He asks, “What explains this discrepancy between the incredible results of free enterprise in the developing world, the continued stagnation of poor communities in America, and the political unpopularity of conservatives in so many quarters?”
He says it is partly do to messaging. “The defenders of free enterprise have done a terrible job of telling people how much good the system has done around the world…84 percent of Americans are unaware that worldwide deprivation has fallen as dramatically as it has over the past three decades. Indeed, more than two-thirds actually think global hunger has actually gotten worse, in direct contradiction of all the facts.”
In his book, Brooks makes the case that conservatives need to address poverty, and to make it a cornerstone of their message.
He points out Gallup polling shows that when individuals were asked, “are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?” In 2000, the number was 46 percent dissatisfied; by 2014, that number had climbed to 76 percent.
Brooks believes this growing dissatisfaction can be attributed to the fact, “that Americans have come to think the game is rigged and the American Dream isn’t available to everyone….In the wake of the Great Recession, an asymmetric recovery has cleaved the country into winners and losers like never before. Work has disappeared for those at the bottom; government dependency has grown; mobility has fallen. Meanwhile, the rich have gotten richer, with most of the income growth of the past seven years flowing to the wealthiest Americans. Even the middle class feels left out.”
Brooks believes, “Conservatives have the right stuff to lift up the poor and vulnerable— but have been generally terrible at winning people’s hearts,” which is born out by the ever dwindling republican ranks outside of the South.
He finds that, “Too often, these Americans hear Republican politicians talk about those on welfare as being lazy and preferring not to work…” it makes those struggling in poverty think that conservatives only care about thrown kind and that the republican party is for the rich and upper classes. He points to the fact that a 2013 survey found “that Americans are five times more likely to say the Republican Party is not compassionate as they are to say it is compassionate.”
Brooks not only illuminates the messaging problems, he offers solutions including, conservative republicans need to “Fight for people, not against things.”
Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. He is also a social scientist and a musician.