If there’s one charge being made against the Tea
Party movement that has some merit is that it’s
not offering a clear alternative vision. The movement
makes it easy to vilify constitutional conservatives
as waging a war on the poor or on women.
But now the American Enterprise Institute’s
Arthur C. Brooks has stepped forward with the most
clear and most concise explanation of that alternative
vision that anyone’s offered in a generation.
Quoting the book of Deuteronomy, he lays out
how Americans should “Be Open-Handed Toward
“When wealthy liberals attempt to demonstrate
their own charitable bona fides by insisting that
taxes should be raised, conservatives seethe,”
Brooks writes in Commentary magazine. “It is easy
to be generous with other people’s money, and the
idea that support for higher taxes is a mark of good
character badly confuses intentions for effective action.
This is a moral framework built not around altruism,
But it’s not enough to criticize that liberal framework.
Brooks noted that “The lack of a positive plan
makes it feasible for a president whose own tenure
has proven disastrous for the poor to assail his Republican
opponents with these extraordinary words:
‘Their philosophy is simple: You’re on your own.’”
There are conservative responses to poverty and
joblessness. They’re valid and workable — if only
they can be articulated.
“What, then, do poor people say they truly need
to lead prosperous and satisfying lives?” Brooks
asked. “The real answer is both simple and profound.
They need transformation, relief, and opportunity
— in that order. On these three pillars,
conservatives and advocates for free enterprise can
build the basics of the social-justice agenda that
Transformation has many dimensions. Elements
include “faith, family, community, and work,” Brooks
explains. Not every element must be present in every
life for transformation, but those pillars have proven,
throughout history, to be important.
“To be sure, many of our poor neighbors lead
happy, upright lives full of faith, family, community,
and fulfilling work,” he said. “But to deny that these
are disproportionately missing in poor communities
today is to shove aside the facts and ignore an undeniable
if inconvenient truth.”
Next is relief. Conservatives give generously and
willingly when they see need. They also support government
safety nets, such as food stamps and Social
Security. Indeed, they want to rein in spending to
preserve these programs – to protect them from insolvency.
And a conservative response to poverty must include
“An opportunity society has two basic building
blocks: Universal education to create a base of
human capital and an economic system that rewards
hard work, merit, innovation, and personal responsibility,”
Brooks said. “So opportunity conservatism
must passionately advance education reform and relentlessly
defend the morality of free enterprise.
This is the vision that conservatives must communicate.
As Brooks explained, “This is our fight, and it is a
happy one. After all, as Proverbs 14:21 reminds us,
‘He that despiseth his neighbor, sinneth: but he that
hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.’”