The Conservative Heart: Arthur Brooks on building a fairer, happier, and more prosperous America


BRIT HUME: (In progress) – political analyst
at Fox News, although some of my colleagues think the way things are going, I should be
known as senior-moment political analyst. (Laughter.) I’m very pleased and honored to be among
you here to do this, this evening, for a couple of reasons. The principal one being that I
have thought for some time that Arthur Brooks is probably the most interesting man in Washington,
certainly one of them. And given the colleagues with whom he shares the facilities here at
AEI, that’s saying quite a lot. So thank you for having me. I’m pleased to be here.
(Applause.) My wife asked me as I was heading out the
door where I was going tonight and I said I was headed downtown to try to have a meeting
with a former French horn player whom I hope would give me some diet tips. (Laughter.)
So I do reserve the right to ask a question about that if the opportunity presents itself. I don’t think I really need to say very
much more about Arthur since all of you obviously know who he is. So without having said anything
further, let me introduce Arthur Brooks. (Applause.) ARTHUR BROOKS: Thank you, Brit. What an honor
to have you with us here tonight, and I’m looking forward to our conversation. And thank
you, to you, all of you for coming out tonight to discuss “The Conservative Heart,” the
review of this new book that I think is supposed to be emblematic of the moral case that we’re
making here at AEI, for the work that we’re doing not just in the conservative movement,
the work for human freedom. I’m humbled to see so many of you here tonight
and I have so many thank-yous that I’ll sort of intersperse throughout my remarks
this evening. Notably, the people who helped me with the book, Marc Thiessen, who’s here,
Andy Quinn, who’s here as well, my colleagues at AEI, Adam Bellow, my fantastic editor.
He is the most storied editor of serious conservative nonfiction, responsible for more New York
Times best-sellers than any other editor that I know in the conservative movement. And with
a little luck, it will include the book I’m talking about here tonight; who knows? Judy
Mayka Stecker, who runs our media and is responsible with her team for getting the word out about
this book as well. So thank you to all of you and thank you for coming tonight. I want to give you a few remarks about why
I wrote the book before we get into the main content with Brit a little bit later. This
is a book about purpose, about the purpose of our work, and so it’s something I feel
really deeply about. There’s something – here in Washington– the day-to-day politics get
in the way of everything. It’s as if politics matters more than human purpose sometimes.
And there’s a story about two Republican congressmen who have just come out of the
Capitol after a vote, close friends. They’re walking down the street, making small talk.
One says to the other, what are you going to do this weekend, you know, that sort of
thing. And without looking where they’re going, they wind up walking right in front
of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. So you know, the heart of darkness
to these guys, right? (Laughter.) And they notice there’s a sign in the front
window and the sign says, become a Democrat today, earn $1,000. And one turns to the other
and he says, you don’t think they’re that desperate, do you? They’re not paying people
to join the Democratic Party. His friend says, I don’t know. So he says, I tell you what,
go in and pretend you want to join and see what happens. So he says, fine, I’ll do it. He goes in
and his friend is waiting for him outside for five, 10 minutes, and turns into 15 minutes,
and after an hour and a half he’s still waiting there, until finally his friend comes
out. So he goes running up to him and says, so what happened? And his friend says, well,
I joined. (Laughter.) He says, well, what do you mean you joined? He says, yeah, I’m
a Democrat now. I’m a liberal Democrat. He said, they made some very compelling points
about economics and foreign policy and social policy, so yeah, I’m a Democrat. He said,
wow, no kidding, huh? Did they give you the $1,000? And his new liberal Democrat friend
looks at him with pity and says, is that all you people care about? (Laughter.) Purpose. What is the purpose of our movement?
This is not an entirely partisan point. All of us who work in public policy, what’s
the purpose of what you do? I grew up in a liberal Democratic home in Seattle, Washington,
which is redundant because there’re like eight Republicans there. And nobody I knew
voted for Ronald Reagan, who was elected when I was 16 years old for the first time. No
family, no friends, it was weird that he got elected president. It seemed impossible, as
a matter of fact, because nobody voted for him. How could that be? I learned from a very young
age that conservatives are heartless, that conservatives may be good with money, but
they don’t care about the poor. That’s the reason that it was morally appropriate
not to be a conservative. Well, two things happened. The first was that
I immigrated to my own country. And therein lies a story. I’m not going to give you
all the details. But I don’t mean I left Seattle and went to America, although that’s
a – (laughter) – the same could be said of leaving Washington and going to America,
by the way. It went more or less like this. When I was 19, I dropped out of college. Dropped
out, kicked out – splitting hairs. (Laughter.) And I went on the road as a musician because
that was my lifelong dream. I just wanted to be a French horn player. And that’s a
weird dream. It seems weird that when you’re eight years
old to say, mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a professional French horn player. Weirder
would be to say, when I grow up, mommy, I want to be the president of a right wing think
tank, right? (Laughter.) So look, everybody ends up someplace and I wanted to play the
horn and I dropped out of college, which just wasn’t working out. And I wound up, after
a few years, chasing a girl to Spain. Now, why else would you go to Spain? Because
you meet a girl. And to make sufficient commitment to the girl, I had to quit my job and – she
wasn’t going to marry me unless I moved to Spain and found a job there and learned
the language. That’s what people do. That’s what romance is all about. Now, turns out this is my 24th wedding anniversary
this year and she’s sitting in the front row. Amazing, isn’t it, how things work
out. (Applause.) The bad news is that we have three teenagers. (Laughter.) When we were in our late 20s – by the way,
when we first met, I remember – we had a language barrier. She didn’t speak any English
and I didn’t speak any Spanish. Yeah, but we got – I got across the point. It was
kind of a confession. You know, I had to confess I never finished college. And she starts laughing
and I said, why are you laughing at me? Why are you mocking me? And she said because I
dropped out of high school. (Laughter.) And so why is that relevant? Because when
we moved back to the States when we’re in our late 20s so I could go to college, so
I could study a little bit and change my life – I was playing in the Barcelona Symphony
in those days, but I wanted to do something different – we knew we were going to have
trouble with money. And we knew that my wife, Esther, was going to have to work. Now, this is tricky, right? Her English wasn’t
great. She didn’t have a high school diploma. Her job skills amounted mostly to singing
in a rock band, which turns out there’s not a huge market for that, at least one that
pays very well (laughter). We didn’t know how it was going to go, but we needed the
money. When we got to the States, we moved to America,
she had four job offers in her first month. And she said something to me that was the
most – in retrospect, the most conservative thing that anybody had ever said, which was,
this is the greatest country in the world for people who want to work. Now, these weren’t
CEO jobs. These were all minimum wage jobs. And she worked a minimum wage job for three
years while I was in school and we needed the money. We really needed the money and
it helped us get on to our feet. But that got me thinking a little bit about the preconceived
notions I had about dead-end jobs and the preconceived notions I had about the minimum
wage and whether or not somebody’s taking advantage of somebody else. It just made me
question my assumptions. The second thing I learned during that time
was this: When I went back to school, the most important class I took, believe it or
not, was economics. I know you know it’s important, but it was important to me personally
because of what it taught me morally because I had this question in my head. I’ve had
it since I was a kid. What makes the conditions so people can stop being poor? As a kid – some of you had the same experience
that I did – you remember the first time you saw this true, grinding poverty. It was
the picture in the “National Geographic” of a kid in Sub-Saharan Africa with flies
on his face and a distended belly who is going to perish. What could actually save that kid?
Here’s what I learned when I finally studied some economics. About that kid or not exactly,
but about people who were that poor as a child. Eighty percent of the world’s worst poverty,
which is to say people living on a dollar a day or less, had been eradicated since I
was a child. There was an 80-percent reduction in starvation
level poverty from the time that I was six or seven years old by the time I was 30. How
did that happen? And why is it that nobody knows about this? I was shocked. It’s a
state secret practically. We should be cheering from the rooftops because this is the greatest
anti-poverty achievement in human history and it’s occurred in our lifetimes. How
did that happen? Well, I learned how that happened when I studied
the economics. It wasn’t the fabulous success of the United Nations or the World Bank or
the International Monetary Fund or USAID – God bless those things. You like them or dislike
them. I’m not here to trash the United Nations. We can do that in the Q&A session. (Laughter.)
The things that saved 80 percent of the world’s poorest people from starvation were five:
globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law, and entrepreneurship. It was shocking to me. The American free enterprise
system that we stand for at the American Enterprise Institute, that saved those people for the
first time. See, when I saw the kid in Africa, people in Africa saw you for the first time
through the explosion of the means of communication around the world. And they said, I want their
freedom and I want their stuff. And people all over the world threw off the chains of
their poverty; and in the case of Eastern Europe in particular, the chains of their
tyranny, and they grabbed American free enterprise, and this was the result. And I said, I’ve got to dedicate myself
to this. This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I became a conservative because
poverty is what I care about the most. But I have a problem. I had a problem almost immediately,
which is that nobody understood that. And conservatives didn’t understand that, which
is the reason I wrote this book. Back in the days, when I was in music – and
still today – I have a favorite composer. My favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach.
Most of you know Bach. It’s the most famous composer who ever lived perhaps. Bach’s
life was exemplary in so many ways. He lived from 1685 to 1750. He was productive. He published
more than 1,000 works for chorus and keyboard and orchestra and chamber music. He also had
20 kids, which is productive. (Laughter.) And Bach was asked near the end of his life,
he was a well-known teacher, but not a famous composer yet. And Bach was asked near the
end of his life, why do you write music. It’s an interesting question, right? I mean,
you’re asked sometimes what do you do – I mean, in Washington, D.C., it’s all anybody
asks: what do you do? That’s all that matters. What do you do for living? And if you’re
lucky, people will like what you do and say, how do you do it, but nobody ever asks, why
do you do what you do? If they did, what would your answer be? Bach’s answer was immediate. There was a
minor biographer at the time who somehow recorded this for posterity and it’s reached us till
today. Bach said this: the aim and final end of all music is nothing less than the glory
of God and the enjoyment of men. The glory of God and the good of mankind. And I asked
myself, when I was a French horn player, if somebody said, Brooks, why do you play the
horn, could I say for the good of mankind? I don’t know. I don’t know. I left music and became an economist because
I wanted to have the right answer to that question. That’s why I came to AEI, as a
matter of fact. You want to know what AEI’s mission statement is? Some of you know it.
Some of you work here. (Laughter.) You know what it is? AEI is a community of scholars
and supporters dedicated to the proposition that expanding liberty, increasing individual
opportunity, and fighting for free enterprise gives the most people the best life. There’s
nothing in there about money. There’s nothing in there about commerce. There’s nothing
in there about business. It’s about human flourishing and human welfare. Finally – finally I can be like Bach a little
bit. That I can do work that I honestly feel is for the good of mankind. But I still have
this problem. People don’t trust us. People understand that we’re good at saving money
and we’re good at hardheaded public policy and we’re good at tax reform, but we’re
not very good at helping people who are in the most need. And the truth is that we’re
the only ones who want on a mass scale can help people who are in the most need. So we
have to rectify that. And that’s how I – that’s the reason I wrote the book. How do we break out of the rut? I write about
it in the book. We have to start by remembering in our own hearts the people who really need
us the most. Clue: It’s not billionaires. It’s not rich people who need free enterprise
the most. Remember that 2 billion people have been pulled out of poverty since my childhood.
These are not the billionaires. These are the people who are simply not starving today,
who are simply able to earn their success in a meaningful way without the specter and
the threat of dying of preventable diseases or indeed of starvation. And the way that we tell the story of what
we’re able to do, what I believe that we can do, the way we can do it better is to
tell stories of real people. So I did this a lot. It was an interesting exercise in writing
this book. I’m an economist. I’m a social scientist. I’m really pretty versed at writing
books that start off paragraphs with “studies show,” right? And I can even write the study
sometimes that I want other people do show. But what I’m really bad at is talking to
humans because scholars are not trained to do that. So I had to work on that for this
book. And I went out and I talked to a lot of people with my colleagues that had built
their lives on the basis of free enterprise and conservative ideas. That’s how I spent my days. I walked around
a slum in India. I talked to people in my adopted country of Spain. And one of the places
that I spent a whole bunch of time is a wonderful program in New York City. It’s called the
Doe Fund. The Doe Fund is extraordinary because of its attitude about what makes people work. So the Doe Fund was started by George and
Harriet McDonald. And Harriet is with us here tonight. The Doe Fund has an incredible ideology
behind it, which is basically this. See, most homeless shelters treat people, poor people,
people left behind as liabilities to manage. The Doe Fund sees people as assets to develop.
How does that change the whole game? Now, think about it, right? I mean, it’s very
easy when you’re in government social welfare programs to treat people as assets to – I
mean, as liabilities to manage. And the Doe Fund specializes in helping people who are
considered to be the greatest outcasts in our society. Imagine, men who’ve been in prison and are
now homeless. You know, it’s relatively easy to dedicate yourself to loving the unloved.
It’s really hard to dedicate yourself to loving the unlovable. But that’s the real
commandment, isn’t it – to love the unlovable? That’s what the Doe Fund does, specializes
in the hardest cases and says, these guys are assets to develop. Imagine. It’s radical
stuff. And they’ve helped tens of thousands of
men to build their lives. And they, in my association with the Doe Fund, have taught
me lessons that I tried to record in this book, and I want to tell you one. A week after
entering the program, I met a man named Richard Norat. Richard Norat had been in prison for
18 years. He had been in prison since he was a teenager. He’d never had a job. He’d
never had an apartment. He never drove a car. He never had a cell phone. He was like a kid,
but he was in his late 30s when I met him. He’s a week in. I said, how do you think
it’s going to go? He says, I don’t know, but I’m dedicated to giving it a try. My colleagues and I, Marc Thiessen, we saw
him a year later after going through the Doe Fund’s intensive, work-oriented program
to develop himself, seeing him as a dormant asset to be enlivened. He had gotten his first
apartment. He had a job. He was working as an exterminator. And I asked him, are you
happy? This is a lesson that I learned about how we needed to talk about our values. I
said, are you happy, Richard? He says, oh, you want to know if I’m happy? And he pulled
out his iPhone. And I’m thinking, uh-oh, you know. I mean, I love my iPhone, but it’s
not a source of happiness, right? And he said, no, no, no, I want you to see something. He
pulled out his email and there was an email from his boss. And the email said, “I need
you now, emergency, bad bug job, East 65th Street.” And I said, so? He said, you don’t
understand. He needs me now. It’s the first time in my life that somebody has needed me
now. That, my friends, is our secret. It is not
to see people as liabilities to manage, but to see people as assets to develop. That is
the core of the conservative movement. Each one of us is a child of God. Each one of us
has the ability to actually bring to life the kind of dignity that comes from the sanctification
of our ordinary work. Richard taught me that and it’s in the book. And there’re so
many millions of Richards in our country today that we’re not taking seriously and that
we’re not treating right. Since January of 2009, the number of Americans
that are on Food Stamps has increased from 32 million to 48 million – a 50 percent
increase, one in six of people who are so poor that they have to rely on their government
in the greatest country in the history of the world for food. Imagine this. We treat them like moochers and takers. We
manage them with a kind of government-sponsored technocratic mercy on the left and we dismiss
them as people who simply – who don’t want to work on the right. And it’s not
OK because, once again, these people are assets in the human family to be developed. These
are people who could work and who could dignify and sanctify their existence by doing so. We need a system that treats them like brothers
and sisters, not that treats them like the subject for another government program. And
that’s what I talk about. That’s the conservative heart. So in short, here’s what I do in this book.
I show that conservative values and solutions are the best way to lift people up. I prove
that our ideas in the conservative movement are better for poor people. Second, I talk
about how to express this to ourselves to remember our own hearts and to tell other
people, so that our ideas will be given a chance in America to help more people. Third, I try to give the policy ideas that
are going to back this up. This is not just happy talk. I get down to the nitty-gritty
of how you get it done, referring largely, by the way, to the excellent work of my colleagues
here at the American Enterprise Institute, where we’re doing, I think, groundbreaking
work on poverty. And last but not least, I ask all of us – and
it doesn’t matter if we’re conservative or liberals or centrists or cyborgs or Martians.
As far as I’m concerned, we all have at the end of the day the same examination of
conscience. And I’ll offer it to you here today. I believe that in the free – in the
public policy world, we should ask ourselves before we got to sleep tonight, not was the
press nice to me today; rather, did all of my work go for the benefit of people with
less power than me? If the answer is no, we’re screwing up. If the answer is yes, then get
a good night sleep and come back ready to fight even harder for the people who need
us most. God bless you and thank you. (Applause.) MR. HUME: Does anybody hear me? Here we go.
You want to address that for me? Thank you. For the benefit of those of you who haven’t
read the book, it does everything that Arthur suggests he attempted to do and does it very
well indeed. And it isn’t even long. (Laughter.) All around us, Arthur, we see evidence of
the failure of liberal governance. We see it in Athens. We see it in Detroit. We see
it in Baltimore. And now we see it also in San Juan, Puerto Rico. And yet, the people
who live in those places continue to elect liberals to govern them. Why is this? MR. BROOKS: People don’t know we care about
them. When you look at the 2012 presidential election, you don’t need to look at very
much data to understand why Mitt Romney lost. There are three major indicators when you’re
talking in exit polls about the suitability of a leader in presidential politics: the
quality of his leadership, the quality of his ideas, and whether or not he cares about
people like me. Mitt Romney won handily on the quality of
his leadership. He won handily on the quality of ideas. He lost four to one on who cares
more about people like me. Now, you’re going to regret that as people being sentimental,
but you know what? I’m not going to vote for somebody who doesn’t like me. I’m
not going to vote for – and I shouldn’t be asked to vote for somebody who doesn’t
care about somebody like me. Until people are convinced and until it is true that we
care about the people with less power than us and people less fortunate than us, then
the conservative movement won’t win and it won’t deserve to win. MR. HUME: Now, the conventional, contemporary
conservative would say that he or she supports an economic situation where we have lower
tax rates, lighter regulation, the result of which would be a thriving economy, a boom
that would lift all boats. What’s wrong with that? MR. BROOKS: There’s nothing wrong with that
unless we’re not doing it for the right reason. The why is more important than the
what; the product is less important than the purpose for the product. People simply won’t
trust the motive behind what we’re doing. Look, it’s – again, it’s very clear
that people believe that Republicans and conservatives have better policy ideas, particularly on
economic policy. Over the years, it will go up and down, but just as a general matter
of public polling principle, people trust conservatives more to take care of the economy
and to do these things than they do liberals, but that doesn’t mean they’re still going
to vote for them. Again, it’s a question of why we want these
things. Why do we want a better functioning economy? Why do we want a GDP boom? Is it
so we can give tax breaks to billionaires? That’s boring. That’s not useful. That’s
not highly moral and it’s not fulfilling our greatest aspiration for the kind of society
that we want. We have to want these things for the right reason, not just as conservatives,
but as citizens. And when we do, then people will choose better policy. MR. HUME: But Arthur, you don’t ever hear
a conservative politician argue that we ought to have lower tax rates and lighter regulation
because it will make rich people richer. That’s not how they argue the point. MR. BROOKS: But when you ask them – when
you ask many conservative policymakers why are they against the minimum wage, what do
they say? Because it’s bad for business. (Cross talk.) MR. HUME: No, they say it kills jobs. MR. BROOKS: They typically don’t talk about
the poorest person. They get the small business owner who is trotted out and says, I’m going
to have to eliminate some jobs, but they look sympathetic to the business owner. They actually
don’t look sympathetic to the 500,000 people who are the most vulnerable members of our
society that will have their jobs destroyed if we increase the minimum wage, as President
Obama wants, up to $10.10 an hour. And even if we do, it always seems a little disingenuous. MR. HUME: All right, so how do you address
that issue? What’s the smart way to resist an increase in the minimum wage and seem like
somebody who’s deeply concerned about its potential victims? MR. BROOKS: This is something I address in
the book. There’s a chapter in a book – and you’ll forgive the title, it’s tacky for
the chapter, but it’s trying to draw people – it’s called “The Seven Habits of Highly
Effective Conservatives: How to Talk So That People Will Listen?” And one of the things
we talk about is a basic algorithm that we shared with our friends in Congress. We’ve
invested a tremendous amount in communications, here at AEI. And our friends in Congress will
spend time at AEI and we will talk about better communications techniques, how to get hard
ideas across. If you’re a liberal, the minimum wage is
an easy thing to argue. You can do demagogic nonsense like it’s time to give America
a raise, right? That it doesn’t really mean anything exactly. It should be it’s time
to give upper middle class people’s teenage kids a raise while destroying the jobs of
the people who are most vulnerable in the society. That’s really what’s going on.
Yet, it’s easy to argue for it on the liberal side, harder on the conservative side. And so here’s how you do it. Number one,
a statement of moral purpose. Everything has to start with a statement of moral purpose.
I believe, in America, if you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve to earn a living
and to be able to support your family. The problem with the minimum wage is if you don’t
have a strong education and you’re at the bottom of the income distribution, your job
is likely to be destroyed, so it’s an ineffective policy. Number three, I have a better way to get it
done. I have a policy that will actually make work pay. We’ve got a lot of policies in
the book. The Earned Income Tax Credit, which sounds really esoteric it’s simple. It basically
tops up people’s wages without pricing them out of the market. We talk about how you get
it done in the book and it’s a smart policy. And Democrats and Republicans should get behind
it. Number one, I care about people enough to
want their work to pay. Two, the minimum wage destroys their jobs. So three, I have a real
solution. It’s trickier than just saying, let’s give America a raise, but it actually
works. MR. HUME: Now, you talk in the book at some
length about the Tea Party movement that developed and you’re quite positive about it and about
the force of it and the effect of it. I must say to you, as someone who is active on Twitter
and has a number of Tea Party followers on Twitter, that that’s not how they’re talking
about the issues. MR. BROOKS: Yeah. MR. HUME: The Tea Party people seem, basically
these days, to be devoted to the proposition that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and
Jeb Bush and people like me are the problem. What went wrong? (Laughter.) MR. BROOKS: We did a whole framing of the
question. I mean, it’s – (laughs) – or they’re following Donald Trump now. MR. HUME: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. MR. BROOKS: It’s an extraordinary development.
And it’s – suffice it to say that it’s probably not going to redound to the great
credit outside of the Tea Party movement to the motives of the Tea Party. Every time they
look like they’re the angriest people in America, and they want to kick out everybody
who wasn’t born here. That’s a huge problem for a lot of reasons. Mathematically the biggest
problem is that conservatives are not going to win until they have more people who vote
for them. (Laughter.) See, I have a degree in this, right? And the way you get people
to do that is to bring more people into your movement so that they want to vote for you.
So it kind of logically comes together in the end. And that means you have to not alienate
people, so that people want to go away from you. You want people to come toward you. OK, that’s simple. Now, how do you – why
is it that that’s not getting across? And the answer is that there’s a tremendous
amount of anger that doesn’t seem for people in elite positions to be given proper voice.
It’s – when you look at – I mean, it’s extraordinary. We have an immigration system
that’s not just lawless, it’s chaotic in this country. We seem like we’re really
content to have an economy that subjugates and exploits people who are illegal – who
are here illegally, paying them below minimum wage. And at the same time, nobody’s serious
about actually trying to get in more high-skilled immigrants. It’s like nobody’s serious. And so the result is people get very exercised
about that and anybody who actually talks about it a little bit and shares their outrage
will attract their attention and maybe even get their vote. MR. HUME: But that’s – that issue has
come to the forefront not least because of Donald Trump’s emphasis on it, but other
politicians have been able to ride that same wave. And Marco Rubio and others have tried
to bring about sensible immigration reform. MR. BROOKS: Right. MR. HUME: And they were forced to abandon
their initial positions, every one of them, and the official position now of the Republican
Party on this issue is that border security, whatever it takes, fully done and absolutely
certified, must come before anything else. Now, can you think of a rhetorical way around
all that? MR. BROOKS: Somebody who runs a business knows
that a grand bargain, which is what people often talk about in immigration – a grand
bargain is the way to go. So do all the stuff and just do it all at once and either it’s
really conservative or it’s kind of liberal, no person in business ever wants to do a grand
bargain. Business actually goes forward incrementally. And that’s the way that it has to go in
immigration as well. We have to decide what the most important
and political feasible things to do in immigration are. The first is liberalizing H1B visa reform;
which is to say, get more high skilled immigrants, which liberals and Republicans, except for
the most extreme Republicans, want. And then to talk about a guest worker program, which
most people want, and then to talk about how to verify employment, etc., and to stage it
over the next five years as opposed to killing it over and over again. MR. HUME: You really believe that you can
start with anything other than border security within the framework of the Republican Party
and have it go anywhere right now? MR. BROOKS: I think you could start with high-skilled
immigrants coming to fulfill the need for engineers in the United States. And actually,
is it going to be tremendously popular? No, but it won’t be a death sentence. It won’t
stimulate immediately the protest movement that effectively is the Tea Party. And this
addresses the concern that – the question that you had a minute ago. The Tea Party – the problem that it has
right now in America, and I am very positive on it because I share a lot of the protest
sentiments that the Tea Party had over the gross mismanagement of government and overspending.
But for it to have political legs, it has to become a social movement effectively. And
that requires a pivot from fighting against things to fighting for people. That’s really
what has to happen and it hasn’t made that transition yet. MR. HUME: It raises a good question. How do
you deal with this issue of a bloated government, extraordinary waste, social welfare programs
that are destined for bankruptcy in a way that’s positive? MR. BROOKS: That way that you fight – the
way that any government program you cope with that you don’t particularly like is not
by fighting against the government program, but fighting for the people that are going
to be hurt by the particular set of negative public policies. So one of the greatest mistakes that the conservative
movement makes is fighting against Obamacare. You don’t fight against Obamacare. You fight
for the people who are being hurt by Obamacare. You don’t fight against Teachers Unions.
You fight for people who are receiving an inadequate education because we have an education
system that is largely designed for the benefit of adults, as opposed to the benefit of children.
And likewise, you don’t fight against runaway government spending. You fight for people
who are going to be treated unfairly and uncompassionately because, like the Greeks today, we will face
austerity. Here’s a quick set of facts. If you look
at what’s happening in Greece today, your heart has to be breaking for the poorest people
in that society. Suicide is up by 25 percent among poor Greeks. Homelessness and hunger
are up by a factor of three, why, because of austerity. Why is there austerity? Because
of insolvency. Why is there insolvency? Because of the ruinous entitlement spending for many
years of the Greek government. If you love the poor, you must fight for them
and the only way you can do it is with fiscally conservative policies, but you’re not going
to get it done as long as you’re fighting against government spending. You have to be
fighting for the people that you’re trying to protect. MR. HUME: Which brings us to this whole question
of austerity. It appears now what the Greek parliament, I guess, has now voted for is
a new program of further austerity. MR. BROOKS: Right. MR. HUME: Is that in your judgment destined
to fail? MR. BROOKS: Yes, it is destined to fail. I
think that – Des Lachman, who’s our scholar on this right now, if you read his work, he
thinks that within 18 months, they’re going to be in exactly the same place as they were
before. They’ll pretend to be doing the new austerity measures. They’ll be half-hearted
at best and faked completely at worst. And within 18 months, they will have partied away
all the money and none of the austerity will have happened, and will be talking about leaving
the euro once again. MR. HUME: And it will not – there’ll be
no growth. MR. BROOKS: There will be no growth and the
poor will not prosper. The poor in Greece are stuck. The periphery countries are terribly
sad. In all the years I lived in Spain, my wife and I know people, they’re people in
our family in their 40s who’ve never had a job. They’ve never worked for a living.
And people who’ve never been in school – there’s actually an expression in Spanish, by the
way, for I don’t work and I don’t study. Usually it’s people in their 20s who live
at home. They also have no romantic relationships and no religion. They’re completely unattached.
This is alienating spirit to it. And this is – this hurts the poor the most. All of the – look, the rich never suffer
that much. The rich never pay that much. Even the terrible recession in 2008 in this country,
you know that the rich have made all their money back and then some. The 130 percent
inflation-adjusted gains in the American stock market, 81 percent of them have gone to the
top 10 percent of the income distribution in America. The rich are always fine. It’s
the poor who always pay for the bad policies. MR. HUME: All right. So who, if any, among
the current crop of Republican candidates seems to be, in your judgment, on the right
track on this approach you’re talking about – the positive approach to dealing with
these issues? MR. BROOKS: It’s easier for me to say as
the president of a think tank than it is when you’re – to execute when you’re running
for president of the United States, to be sure. And I’m the only conservative in America,
besides you, Brit, who’s not running for president. (Laughter.) So I think – so – and
as far as I know, you’re not going to declare a candidacy tonight, although I would be supportive.
(Laughter.) The fantastic news is that most of the mainstream
candidates are doing a good job on this, much better than I’ve seen, certainly, since
Ronald Reagan. It’s extraordinary. You’re having candidates. You’re having Marco Rubio
and Jeb Bush sparring with each other to show who’s most pro-poor. You have Rick Perry,
who’s trying to become competitive by giving a relatively visionary speech about what’s
going wrong in minority communities in America and how we can lift them up more creatively.
Extraordinary. Scott Walker, I was with Scott Walker last
week in Denver at the Conservative – Western Conservative Summit. And he gave a relatively
conventional political speech. But at the end, he stopped and he said, you know, I got
to say, I’m an optimist. I’m so happy about the direction I think this country can
go if we do this together and we lift each other up, if we see ourselves as a unified
force, as one piece. And I could have cheered at that moment because that’s the kind of
vision that we actually need. The composite candidate – Donald Trump notwithstanding,
the composite candidate looks less scary and looks more pro-people than it’s been in
a long time. MR. HUME: What about Donald Trump? MR. BROOKS: Donald Trump, for the composite
candidate, is like a crazy, scary crab arm. (Laughter.) You just let that sink in, just
that vision of that. (Laughter.) Donald Trump is stimulating some of the more negative influences
of people who feel that they have been marginalized, people who feel that their voices have not
been heard. The reason that his poll numbers are relatively high is because he’s 24/7
on cable news. And when inevitably the news cycle gets a little bit bored of Donald Trump,
his numbers will start to fall. One thing I do believe is that this is a temporary
phenomenon of just a few weeks. And the candidates who follow him and his ideology of anger,
as opposed to the correct ideology of aspiration – if they follow him down the anger rabbit
hole, one year from now, they’re going to be very sorry they did because people won’t
forget. MR. HUME: Let’s open this now to questions
from the people here gathered. Here we are; you, sir. MR. BROOKS: And we have microphones coming. Q: Hi, my name is Marshall Kozloff . I did
the summer program here over this summer, so I love AEI. MR. BROOKS: Thank you. Q: So the question is, though, you had talked
earlier about how Donald Trump is, I think – and the Tea Party even are really catching
on in sort of attracting people who have these angry feelings that don’t think that are
being addressed. And the message that you really get is in a way positive and it makes
me hopeful. But my concern is, at the end of the day, it seems so much easier for persons
– crab arms, you know, like Donald Trump to really catch on to the anger. How does
a candidate or a movement really, through positive means address the anger that people
feel, when there’re so many people out there who are just screaming and shouting and that
feels more appealing? MR. BROOKS: For sure and we have historical
precedent that more or less answers that question. And we often, in the conservative movement,
we turn back to the immortal actions and words of St. Ronald Reagan – (laughter) – the
patron saint of the conservative movement. There’s an instructive less from 1980. It
was a very, very negative campaign. Their whole idea was that Jimmy Carter’s ruining
our country versus Ronald Reagan, who hates the poor and is going to get us all killed. I mean, that was kind of the competing narratives
that were going forward. And when Ronald Reagan inflected that race, when he pivoted from
anger to aspiration – and he did it quite consciously and he did it very clearly. Five
months before – before the election day, in Detroit, was his nominating speech. And
it was a – it’s a great speech. You’ve got to go back and look at it. Marc Thiessen
and I looked at it for this book – extraordinary. We did a content analysis of it. And it wasn’t
just mourning in America, which was one campaign commercial. The number one word in that speech
was people. If you take the word “people” and the
kinds of people, the disabled, immigrants, the poor, the elderly, he says it 87 times
in that speech. His aspiration for believing in people, the optimism that came through
of his belief in the American people, fighting for the American people, as opposed to fighting
against things pivoted the anger of American conservatives and people who felt they were
being left behind to the aspiration of what we could do together. It takes a visionary
person. It takes somebody with certain rhetorical skill, but we know in point of fact it can
be done. Anger can be transmuted into aspiration. MR. HUME: Yes, ma’am. Wait for the mic. Q: Hi, my name is Barbara Dallow. I realize
there’s a tremendous benefit to those who work in the social service industry to keep
a dependent class, basically their jobs depend on it. How do you break this cycle? And also,
can we be compassionate and stay within the no new taxes slogan? MR. BROOKS: Now, there’s a – the basic
question is how do we break out of the paradigm of social services in which those who are
dependent on the government are creating a means of employment for those who provide
those services, and it looks an awful lot like a vicious cycle. And in point of fact,
it is a vicious cycle. But I’m not of the view that those who provide social services
to the poor want more poor people. I understand that there is – in a very real way, the
market for problems is the source of prosperity for all of us. If we solved our free enterprise
problems, I’d be out of a job, frankly. And it would be – that would be great. I
would be delighted to say, you know, we’re finished with that. So I know that there’re some people like
that, but I don’t think that most of them think that way. I think that most people who
serve the poor, they love the poor. They want to help the poor. And if they found a better
way, they might actually have a little bit of openness. And more importantly, the people
who are watching our solutions for a better way, they would have a lot more openness to
our set of ideas. So we need to put forth our solutions and
believe in our solutions for lifting people up, particularly those who are unemployed
and those who are in really terrible circumstances. So that’s actually how I would suggest it.
That’s what I think we need to do. MR. HUME: In the back, with the sunglasses. Q: Thank you, Rick, from 53 Percent Government
Consequences blog. There’s just so much information that’s just not getting to the
public, either on the commercial channels or C-SPAN. I would say the main reason why
we have so much anger is because people actually believe that the wealthy are not paying their
fair share. But the CBO data completely contradicted that. Anyone can google CBO distribution of
taxes and see that for themselves. We also have this wonderful idea, for example,
on – regarding election reform of rank choice voting, which would obliterate the two-party
system. So how do you – I mean, as far – I guess the question’s around media. Can AEI,
for example, solicit submissions from like unaffiliated researchers and vet that information
and provide a forum where we can broaden the discussion? And as far as Fox, would you guys consider
or maybe it would be on even a different channel, maybe you could just advise on this. I think
if we had like one hour per week of like really solid information that would turn a lot of
people around. MR. BROOKS: Thank you for that. I appreciate
it and I appreciate the suggestions, and especially on the relationship between AEI and Fox, Brit
and I will discuss that later, who knows? It’s – the means of communications trying
to get as much information out as possible is something we’ve been trying to cope with
for years. And that’s, of course, the challenge for the think tank world is, you know, we
feel like we have all this information that doesn’t get out and it’s very difficult
for it to feed the media in a way that it’s going to have programming that meets demand
in the right way. So we’re always looking for better ideas. MR. HUME: And just let me add a point from
the perspective of a news channel is we are, to some extension, because we have a mission,
bound by what’s in the news. So just to cite one example, Donald Trump emerges and
people take an interest in him, and he’s colorful and he’s controversial. And the
things he does and says strike sparks. People who strike sparks make news. We couldn’t
stop covering him if we wanted to. So there is, as you suggest, a considerable
body of relevant information, relating to the very subjects you talk about. And you’ll
hear these statements made in the course of political discourse about rich not paying
their fair share and all the rest of it. We can’t succeed if we convene a seminar upon
hearing these declarations and let the experts come forward and explain all that. I guarantee
you that the audience would not be there for that. So it would be hard for us to succeed if we
were – you know, I mean, it’s a nice idea to have an hour a week of pure data – (laughter)
– it might fight the conventional wisdom of the moment. But we – it would require
somebody with far more skills than I’ve ever possessed to attract an audience for
that, I’m afraid. MR. BROOKS: We write books, by the way, because
we want to get our ideas out in a compelling way. I mean, that’s what the purpose of
the book that we’re talking about here tonight and the work of all my colleagues is. And
the reason we have a big communications staff to help us to be the tip of the spear into
the public zeitgeist. MR. HUME: Yes, sir, straight ahead, straight
in the back. Q: Dr. Brooks, George Pendleton. About 20
years ago, 100 feet from here, Margaret Thatcher addressed a gala. I don’t know if anyone
in this room was there. But she said that if she had to sum up the conservative movement,
she would call it sound but unimaginative. And here we are, 20 years later, and when
we see Mr. Trump running first in the polls, people may think because he’s rich, that’s
why he’s there, but Donald Trump is the only one of 16 people who’s sold something
that’s been purchased other than a vote. So he has a brand. And my question to you is, since Barack Obama
won in 2008, up to now, 2015, how would you assess the conservative brand, not ideas,
not elections, how would you assess the conservative brand matched up against the liberal brand
appeal? And I’m optimistic about your arrival here at AEI, but your playing the French horn
is more appealing in terms of something fresh and imaginative into the brand than the battery
of ideas that will hit the airwaves and sort of run into friction with those competitive
on the liberal side. I’d be interested: what’s your thoughts
on lifting the brand? MR. BROOKS: Sure. Thank you for that. The
disappointment of the last 10 years, as far as I’m concerned politically, is not – even
as a conservative – is not that Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
It’s that he campaigned on unity and optimism, but he’s governed on pessimism and division. What that has done effectively is that that
has determined – has defined the conservative brand. Why? Because – and there’s a lot
of studies on this in the management literature – you can govern a company on pessimism
and division, absolutely possible. What that will do is will spun a pessimistic opposition,
a divisive opposition. That’s what’s happened. The Republican, the conservative brand has
largely been defined in opposition to Barack Obama and in a mirror of Barack Obama’s
pessimism and division. That’s the problem that we have right now. And the solution to that, to lift it up, is
for somebody to break out of that. It’s kind of a prisoner’s dilemma. It’s a suboptimal
equilibrium of competing pessimisms in Washington, D.C., right now. How do you break out of that,
by the way? You break out of that because a person determines that optimism and unity
can actually win. It can win. And why do people – are they so frustrated
about Washington? Most people are not very ideological, not horribly over the top ideological.
In Washington, D.C., we think that everybody knows what’s going on in politics, everybody
understand more or less how the government works, and we all have strong opinions about
it. Most Americans don’t. They’re going to soccer practices and choir rehearsals and
try to get food on the table. And God bless them, that they don’t know who both their
senators are. Low-information voters we call them pejoratively in the United States. And what did they see? They see Washington
that doesn’t work and will often hear that the solution to that is that we need more
overlap between the parties or more agreement on policy. That’s wrong. The problem is
that we don’t have a moral consensus in Washington, D.C. And the moral consensus should
be more opportunity for those who need it. And then a policy competition of ideas that’s
really vigorous on either side that is based fundamentally on optimism. We can get to that new better equilibrium
and we can only get it from new right candidates who try to improve the brand by doing the
mirror opposite of what we’re doing right now. Pessimism and division, no, that’s
simply mimicking Barack Obama. MR. HUME: Yes , ma’am, go ahead. Hold on,
let the mic come to you. Q: I can make myself heard without it better.
(Laughter.) Thank you. You hit on something when you were talking about Ronald Reagan’s
speech, when he talked about people. One the ways that we are going to win this fight – first
of all, let me stop for just a second and tell you, if I can do it without getting teary,
how thrilled I am that you have written this book and that you’re undertaking this conversation.
But we need – instead of talking about the poor and the sick and the elderly and the
disabled, we need to be talking about people who are poor, people who are disabled, people
who are sick, people who need opportunity. If we can brand that word as the conservative
work, to piggyback on what he’s saying, if we can learn to talk about people, we will
flat win this argument because we can turn the tide. Because who do we care about? We
care about people. If we start talking about how much we care about people, the policy
ideas will start to flow and the competition will start. That said, let me lay out an issue that is
facing people in need and people with disabilities, by telling you a little story that happened
to me not very long ago. When I had to leave work, I was put in the position of having
to go on Social Security disability. And as I began to get healthier and I was able to
go back to work, I had a woman meet me outside the temp office. And she said, are you looking
for a job? I said, I am, do you know – and I was starting to kind of give her my elevator
pitch. She said, I don’t understand why are you looking for a job when the government
will take care of you. Come with me, let’s go down to the DHS office, I will get you
signed up for food stamps, etc., etc., etc. She’s lucky I didn’t bite her or that
I didn’t sic my dog on her because it just made me – it infuriated me. We have got to get past that narrative, too.
And I would love to know what are your thoughts, what are your ideas about how we’re going
to get past that narrative. MR. BROOKS: You have a good point about how
we talk about particular people. And it’s an interesting thing, you find that people
who are biased against rich people talk about them as the rich. And so that’s actually
how we talk, how we express ourselves really matters a lot. I agree with that. How do we get past this idea that people who
are in situations of disability should be maintained? Once again, it’s a basic ideology
that people are not liabilities to manage. They’re assets to develop. That’s actually
what we need and policy is going to make it true. Let me give you an example beyond disability.
People often ask what should be our position on welfare, OK? I think there’re three things
that we should agree on. I got this from Robert Doar, who runs our poverty programs here at
AEI, so credit where it’s due. We should, number one, recognize that we need a social
safety net for the poor paid for by the government. It’s one of the greatest achievements in
the free enterprise system. It’s a miracle. The first time in human history, we can take
– we have so much largesse provided by capitalism that we can help take care of people we don’t
even know. It’s incredible. But – that’s number one, declare peace on the safety net. Two, only for the indigent. What wrecked Greece
is that the safety net encompassed everybody. It became a social safety net for the rich
and for the middle class and for working people and for poor people and everybody else in
between. So number two is the social safety net only for the indigent. And number three is always with work. Work
is an inviolable principle of the free enterprise movement and indeed of the conservative movement,
sort of the human movement, as a matter of fact. And the whole idea that we should treat
work as a punishment and not have work requirements for welfare is profoundly misguided. And the
same thing goes for every social service program. We need it. I’m glad we have it. It’s
great. I’m grateful to people who provide it, but only for people who truly need it.
And three, always with work because work is a blessed sanctified thing. MR. HUME: Let me interject a question. What
about the means testing of the granddaddy of all the social safety net programs, Social
Security? There’s a moral argument that basically says, look, if you means test that
program, basically what you’re doing is you’re saying to the people who worked and
provided for themselves, the way society should encourage them to do, we’re going to cut
your benefits or eliminate them in favor of those who either are unable or even unwilling
to do the same. That constitutes an argument against that. I’m not sure I’d buy that
argument, but I’m at Social Security age. I’m paying into it still, but I’m also
collecting it. (Laughter.) So am I a good guy, or am I doing the wrong thing? MR. BROOKS: Brit Hume, taker. (Laughter.)
So we have a great scholar on this, Andrew Biggs. Some of you know his stuff. Go look
it up. You know, you’ll learn about public pensions and about Social Security systems,
and you’ll know facts, so that by tomorrow, people will think you just – you got super
smart. I recommend that you look up Andrew Biggs’ stuff. And Andrew Biggs believes
that we actually need more means testing as a practical matter. And it’s basically I
understand that it violates a certain covenant of how Social Security was set up, but we
need to be realists. Look, right now, Social Security is means
– I’m telling George W. Bush, Social Security, one word, right? It’s – Social Security
is means-tested right now. If you’re poorer, you get way more than you paid in. And if
you’re richer, you get less. I mean, it’s scaled, so that people can be supported adequately.
It’s a question of whether or not we have more means testing and we make it go away
entirely for the rich – for wealthy people or upper middle class people when they retire.
And Andrew Biggs is of the view that we need to recognize reality and save the solvency
of the system and make sure that we have a source of support. Before Social Security was implemented, on
average retired people were 30 percent poorer than working people – 30 percent poorer.
It’s a tremendous amount of indigent among the elderly. The Social Security program had
been a great blessing to them. So he says to say that’s one of the things you need
to do. MR. HUME: And how do you answer the inevitable
political argument that says you’re trying to cut the benefits? MR. BROOKS: Ultimately, we’re not as worried
as long as we’re not – truly not cutting back the benefits for the people who need
them the most. And so what you’re going to have to have is people who are touching
those benefits for the wealthiest people to say that we’re going to need to induce a
sacrifice from the people at the top of the income distribution. MR. HUME: In other words, you say you’re
cutting Republicans’ benefits, right? MR. BROOKS: Pretty much. That’s pretty much
right. I mean, I hate to say it, but again, it’s going to have to happen. MR. HUME: Yes, sir, right, you, you got it. Q: I know, but I don’t have a mic. I have
a big mouth. (Laughter.) I’ve got a question. Somewhat of a concern that the focus on a
good case for the conservative case, open markets, and I think voluntary exchange is
at the heart of the whole thing. But you make a great case that you’re helping the poor
– agreed. But I suspect that it may be even more appealing to make the case that’s even
stronger, and that is that you’re helping all people. And it’s unleashing the talent
not just of the poor guy – yes, good – but of the rich guy too, and then the wealth that
comes from that is multiplied. I mean, you know the case, you know, I’m preaching to
the choir or I don’t know how you do that for French horns, but – (laughter) – so
anyway, my – just it’s a point. To make the case broader, it doesn’t exclude the
poor, but includes them. Then, it’s an inclusive case. Then it’s not we rich guys are going to
help those poor guys out of our noblesse oblige, you know. Anyway, you heard, you’ve got
the point. MR. BROOKS: Yeah, I’ve got it. No, look,
I’ve got it. And I do want a system that absolutely works for everybody, but I think
that most people are pretty clear that the free enterprise system is good for the rich
and the free enterprise system – I mean, look around. The rich are making out like
crazy in this country and the rich are making out just fine all around the world. And we
can emphasize – we shouldn’t deemphasize that it’s good for people, I agree with
you. But we should emphasize more the people who have been left behind and be more aggressive
in making sure that we pushed it all the way down to the bottom. And part of the reason is, by the way, you
know, the number one concern for many of the groups – Latinos, African-Americans, single
women, 18 to 29 voters – the number one issue that they care about when they think
about capitalism is how we treat the poor, even if they’re not poor. In other words, the middle class are watching.
The people who want an excuse to join us, they’re watching. It’s extraordinary.
And that’s what I’m trying to get at. That’s what I’m trying to get at as well.
But I agree, I don’t want to exclude anybody for sure. MR. HUME: There’s a woman over here and
she’s had her hand up forever and I’m afraid it’s going to get numb. So please. Q: Hi, my name’s Cara Mathis, and my question
is more on an individual basis. I’m expecting my first child and I am personally terrified
to bring them into this world because it seems like it is deteriorating and they’re set
up to be an outcast if I instill conservative values in them. So the first part of my question
is do you have any advice for converting the fear for where this country is going into
optimism, aspirations for the future of the country? And then, the second part of that is that
fear has led me to be rather vocal lately about my conservative values. And I’ve lost
quite a few friends because of it. And I wanted to know if you think that I should do what
my mom says and stick my head in the sand and try not to make people mad. Or if there
is a better way to choose your battles, I guess, and really adopt a conservative heart,
and somehow share that with people on an individual basis or go out and seek people out. MR. BROOKS: Thanks, congratulations. It’s
great. You’re having your first child, fantastic. I hope you have a lot of kids. (Laughter.)
I hope you all have a lot of kids. (Laughter.) It’s a Catholic moment here. (Laughter.)
(Applause.) It’s a scary world to bring people into,
for sure, and I’ve heard this sentiment expressed over and over again, but it’s
an exciting world to bring people into. It’s the – it’s a world that actually has less
poverty than we’ve ever seen before. It’s a world that has an opportunity to have a
greater conservation and a cleaner environment. It’s a world where there’s more literacy,
where there’s better public health. The world is not getting worse. See, this
is the – I mean, I know that certain things are getting worse on individual levels. But
when you look at it, there’s so much reason for optimism, the world is better than the
world of my parents and better than the world of my grandparents in so many ways. And we
have the opportunity – it’s in our hands – to make it that much better still. We
can make the world freer. We can make the world more faithful. We can bring the people
together by the witness of our own values, and that answers the second part of your question.
Should you put your head in the sand? I don’t recommend it. Will you lose friends? For sure.
Imagine, you think – how many of my old friends from the music business talk to me
now that I’m the president of AEI. (Laughter.) Well, part of it is they don’t know because
they don’t really read papers or read words. (Laughter.) But you know, you have to express yourself.
And how do you express yourself in a way that will make the transformation that I’ve talked
about that will make a positive opportunity for your children? The answer is by answering
anger with love. We have this opportunity to be joyful about this incredible opportunity
and these values that we share and to answer the anger of the world on our side and on
the other side, no matter which side your on, with the love that comes from our own
convictions, which is the most exciting thing of all, and it makes Twitter an even less
bad place. MR. HUME: Yes, sir. It’s coming. MR. BROOKS: It’s coming. It’s right behind
you. There’s a mic. Q: Thanks very much. Arthur, there are various
theories as to why great revolutions succeed, but at bottom when you look at it, ultimately,
all great revolutions succeeded because they offer a more dignified, more moral vision.
Whether they live up to it is a different story, but they persuade enough people. What
you’re describing here and what you’re describing in your book is, to me, clearly
a more moral, more dignified existence for many more people than we have today. So my question to you is it falls within – your
conservative revolution falls within this row of great successful revolutions, but why
do you think it might not succeed? MR. BROOKS: Thank you, Leon, and for those
of you who don’t know, Leon’s last book had a tremendous effect on me. It was a book
about why the Soviet Union fell called “Roads to the Temple,” Yale University Press. It’s
a great book. It’s about art and culture and poetry and literature and how it changed
over the course of the Soviet Union and it showed this groundswell of doubt about the
moral standing of the Soviet empire and the government. And it shows that it wasn’t
the government that ran out of money, is that the government ran out of moral standing and
it finally fell and it imploded because it didn’t have this foundation under it – this
moral foundation under it. In other words, it’s the empirical evidence
of just what Leon said right now. So we do have the possibility. We do have the ideas
that can lead to a new moral future, I believe, and can really bring our country back and
save our country. And it will come from the right, which is the most exciting thing of
all, if you’re on the right. What can actually hurt that is because we don’t have the confidence
of our convictions. It’s because we take the shortcut of anger instead of the hard
work of aspiration. Aspiration sounds good, but it takes a lot
of work. It really does. It takes confidence and it takes years of slaving away. And if
we don’t do that, if we fall prey to this in this particular campaign, who knows when
we’re going to get it back. Anger, actually, is the enemy, whereas aspiration is the tool. MR. HUME: Yes, ma’am. Q: Thank you. My name is Sarah Gustafson.
My question is rather straightforward. I’ve not heard much discussion in terms of this
evening about kind of very powerful social and political voting bloc, which is the conservative
Christian evangelical movement. What role do you envision for them in your program written
on the “Conservative Heart?” MR. BROOKS: Evangelical conservative Christians
are a very interesting voting bloc. Why? Because they didn’t exist before the mid-1970s.
They were largely created by the opposition from the Jimmy Carter Department of Justice,
which started to attack Christian conservatives wholesale. Homeschoolers are uncultured rubes
who don’t believe in evolution. And so therefore, they shouldn’t be able to home school their
own kids, etc., etc. And when attacked, they fought back, the Christian
conservative movement, in politics became a pretty important voting bloc. So it hasn’t
existed for that long. And it can change. In the 1950s, evangelical Christians were
equally likely to vote Democrat and Republican. This is in the days when 90 percent of Catholics
were voting Democrat. It was 50-50 between the two. And so they can change on the basis
of actual leadership. Young evangelicals in America today aren’t
that conservative. This is an interesting thing. We have a program at AEI on evangelical
college campuses, and what you find is that the social justice ministry of the left is
incredibly powerful. So they care more, a lot more about big government poverty solutions,
which they think are a better solution than the free enterprise solution, which has not
been explained in the terms that we have. So the truth is we don’t have any idea what
the Christian conservative movement is going to be or whether it’s going to exist in
its current terms. We need to evangelize evangelicals about the free enterprise movement, as far
as I’m concerned, to help them understand that our tools are the best way to help the
people that they care about the most as well and to protect the integrity of their community. One of the things that Brit and I have talked
about offline is that the institutions of meaning and success and happiness in people’s
lives are very clear in the social science literature: faith, family, community, and
work, which are the four most important institutions in evangelical communities. And all of them
are under assault from big government – systematic assault from big government. If we point this out and we point to a better
way and we can serve their values, then we can have them as an integral part of the conservative
movement. If we don’t, 20 years from now, they’re going to be gone. MR. HUME: Yes, ma’am. Q: Hi, my name is Laura Atkins. I’m a fellow
at the Israel Project and also a member of the National Board of College Democrats. While
I may disagree with you on some economic policy, a lot of your moral arguments really resonate
and resonate with a lot of young liberal people. So I’m wondering if you see a fundamental
difference between the moral values of the left and the right or do you see the conservative
party at better being able to achieve shared values. MR. BROOKS: It’s a good question. I don’t
– I have tried assiduously in my writing and even in my thinking to stay away from
the character and motives of people I disagree with in terms of policy ideas because it’s
unproductive to talk about. It’s ad hominem. It leads you to, basically, instead of having
serious policy discussions, it leads you to holy war and it’s unhelpful. My view is – my default view is different
than some of my friends in the conservative movement, which is that we have many of the
same moral values. And the moral values come when they’re properly ordered toward the
service to our fellow men and women – really helping people who need our help together.
We both want these things. Liberals say that conservatives don’t care about it and conservatives
say that liberals just want to subjugate the poor and they go back and forth, but I actually
don’t believe it. I believe that’s sometimes true, but I think in the main, that’s not
true. So I think that the sine qua non of excellence
is going to be, once again, to establish a moral consensus around that with liberals
and conservatives, and then to have a knockdown, drag out fight in a policy competition of
ideas on either side, which is no longer a holy war. It’s a policy competition of ideas
so that you and I can say, no, more government or less government or what kind of government,
but we both are warriors for the poor themselves. That what I think a better future would look
like. MR. HUME: Yes, sir. Q: Gordon Johnson, a retired businessman.
And let’s say we do convince – get a good message that people really count, how do we
then deal with the label that we’ve been given that we’re not going back to the policies
that got us into this in the first place? If the other guys keep saying something, marketing
is repetition, and we’ve got – you mentioned in your book that Mr. Obama did a good job
of labeling us as the bad guys. And – but Romney never answered the question of we’re
not going back to the policies that got us into this in the first place. Can we show
that people – how do we use your argument to combat that problem? MR. BROOKS: One of the things that I talk
about a lot in the book is exactly that and I combat that argument. And the most important
way to have people understand that you are fighting for people who need you in the country
is to start talking about the people that you want to help in the country again and
again and again. The opponents’ idea about you will become sticky if it goes unanswered
and it’s repeated over and over again. The way that you can combat that is by making
an impression of yourself through repetition of what is most important to you. Well, what happened in 2012 is there was this
concept that Obama would not be reelected because he would beat himself, that we didn’t
need to put forward aggressively an agenda – a positive optimistic agenda about how
we could help people. We didn’t really need to talk about the poor. We didn’t need to
talk about vulnerable people. We didn’t need to do that. That’s a mistake. We were
labeled as such. We couldn’t actually set the agenda for ourselves because the Obama
administration set effectively what people think of as our own agenda. Constant repetition
and being on offense in fighting for people is the way that we do that. It’s a standard
marketing ploy. MR. HUME: We’ve got time for about two more
questions. First, you sir, right there. Q: Yes, sir, my name is Kami Butt. I’m with
the Pakistani Spectator and my question is the damage Mr. Trump has already done. In
today’s Washington Post and New York Times, it seems to have like over 70 percent Latino
Spanish speaking voters want to vote for Democratic Party. He kind of pissed them off too much.
And the same question is about Muslim, the Muslim. They are very, very conservative,
compared to even American Republican, but somehow when you try to convince them that
what do you have to get from Democrat Party, who believe in handout, they just get so upset
that they ask me why are you there, like somehow liberal media is able to frame Democrat – Republican
Party as an anti-Jews, anti-black, anti-poor, anti-immigrant, everything anti. I mean, what’s
wrong with the media, just Republican are not good in making their good impression?
Thanks. MR. BROOKS: Thanks. And you’ve just made
the argument that shows – that can show the way forward for the conservatives in this
country. And when you ask – let me give you an example of frustrating demographics
for Republicans. In 2012, 80 percent of Indian-Americans voted for Barack Obama, 80 percent. Now, Indian-Americans
are the most successful immigrant group in the history of the United States. This is
a group that should be voting Republican. This is a group that should be voting for
strong family values which Indian-American immigrants traditionally have, voting for
the autonomy of the self-actualized individual working in business, which Indian-Americans
have a whole lot of. Why don’t – why are they – are you kidding
me? Why are they voting Democrat? The answer is very simple, according to the best public
opinion polling. They don’t feel that they’re part of our team. They don’t feel wanted.
They don’t feel liked. They don’t feel like they’re a part of us. Again, do they
care about people like me? That’s the most important question. So what we need to do
is to make – to be more welcoming, to be more inclusive, to have more faces of people
who – to have more accents, to have more people who clearly are not part of the traditional
Republican base, and to have it be more visible. I know this is advice the Republicans have
gotten for a long time, but it’s never quite sunk in, has it? It always look a little bit
tokenish. You know, when I was teaching at Syracuse
University, it was – I was teaching in a school that was 97 percent Democrat, right?
And when I left, it was like 100 percent Democrat, right? (Laughter.) And when I was there, the
president of the university would say to the board of trustees, which were these wealthy
guys, she would say, we’re not all a bunch of communists. I want you to meet a professor.
And it was always me. It was – (laughter) – right, is like – I mean, the fake nose
and glasses, I mean, I’m showing at the lunch again and again and again until people
are starting to get suspicious, right? That’s how minorities feel about the Republican Party.
It’s always the same guy basically over and over again. Until we solve that problem,
I can’t get your friends. MR. HUME: OK, last question; you, sir. Q: Well, from the evangelical amen corner
over here, I have a sort of a follow up. I’m curious what your thoughts are on Brian Fikkert’s
very good book “When Helping Hurts,” that’s been a best seller in the Christian evangelical
world. MR. BROOKS: “When Helping Hurts” basically
talks about the tragedy of philanthropy when it makes people dependent and it takes away
their sense of dignity and when people become as dependent on charity as they do on government
or sometimes these are government programs themselves. It’s self-evidently the case
that when you treat people like liabilities to manage and you manage to them with government
or with privately donated resources, you’re going to strip humanity away from people.
You’re going to take away their dignity. On the other hand, if you use philanthropy
to lift people up, it can be more expensive, by the way. Government programs or philanthropy
to lift people up, you’ll be treating them like assets to develop. Robert Doar taught
me this. In New York City, the most important thing
that he did when he was welfare commissioner for Mike Bloomberg is work requirements. When
does helping not hurt? When it gets people into the dignity of their full humanity, when
it makes them fully alive because they’re earning their success – as Jeb Bush would
say, because they have the right to rise. And the way that they do that comes from the
dignity of honest, hard work. Robert learned that and he saw the evidence of that working
every single day. And we’ve heard about this too. You’re working because it’s
a dignified thing. It’s part of who you are to work. And that’s how we need to understand
it. Are we helping people to be more fully human or are we maintaining them as liabilities
to manage? It’s up to us. MR. HUME: Folks thank you. Arthur was terrific,
as I know he would be. His book is as terrific as he is. I encourage you to buy it. And I
promise every one of you that if you buy several copies to give to friends, that I can put
in a good word for you to make you premium members on BillOReilly.com. (Laughter.) MR. BROOKS: And thank you to Brit Hume. MR. HUME: Thank you. (Applause.) (END)

12 thoughts on “The Conservative Heart: Arthur Brooks on building a fairer, happier, and more prosperous America

  1. What a provocative discussion. He makes very good arguments, even when I don't necessarily agree.

    What can people with food stamps do? Even people that do a lot of work have food stamps. And minimum wage is shit. It isn't even livable. I think minimum wage should be livable. Why have a job if it isn't an appropriate wage? Why cling onto the same minimum wage for years when it should be updated with inflation? I might understand less than minimum wage for kids still living with parents or people that for whatever reason don't need an income, but most have a job to live. I'd like to know more about IETC being a supplement to that income.

    If conservative's economic policies are really such a God-send, they REALLY need to drop all of their horrendous social views. That's part of the reason people don't think they care. I agree that they're alienating many people. Candidates should definitely go from anger to aspiration. Part of the anger stems from a dislike of anything 'nontraditional.' They need to let go of that totally.

    Government spending is an issue. We spend too much on drug wars and foreign wars. Plus too many tax breaks for billionaires and such doesn't help. Yeah, the rich people are definitely taxed more on paper, but the ones that get out of it through loopholes scare me. I don't believe in the trickle down theories, so I think we can improve budgets by taxing the people of extreme wealth more (who, quite frankly, CAN afford it).

    Random thoughts:

    This making people into assets idea can be a slippery slope by seeing people only as money to be made, but I think I can get behind it for the most part. I'm always paranoid about how ideas can be abused, even good ones.

    Immigration reform needs to happen now. I totally agree.

    I don't think people are necessarily hurt by Obamacare and Unions. If anything, the opposite is true.

    Rank choice, yes! We need rank choice voting!

    I love the idea of having issues and then competing solutions.

    I like his support of the 'safety net,' but sometimes that safety net isn't strong enough. We keep pushing to weaken it.

    As a Christian, I do not understand how faith is under attack. That I do not agree with. This is a misconception that is caused by people having no idea what their rights are or what freedom of religion means.

    Is 'strong family values' a euphemism for discouraging 'abnormal' families? I really hope he's hinting at supporting families financially…

  2. Hello Heavy, I am pro free market, or as you say, a Capitalist.  I have moved to the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere to help the poor become productive and to break free from multi-generational poverty.  But suppose for a minute that I am the most obnoxiously obscene selfishly driven person on the planet.  The only way I can make money in a free market system is to give people what THEY want and need.  In other words, Capitalism expressed in a generous and caring context can be very powerful to help the poor, but even in the worst situation, with reasonable regulations and protection of contract and property rights, capitalism contributes to the well-being of society, and where it doesn't, those capitalists go out of business.  It is essentially an inherently life improving system and it has proven itself in ways nothing else has, your arguments against it notwithstanding.

  3. Thank you for your principled approach to conservatism And thank you for being principled around people rather than profits. I believe you are sincere. However, I disagree with you that raising the minimum wage hurts the poor. Your argument is based on the assumption that business forced to pay higher minimum wages will eliminate jobs working poor depend on. That is not true, because if business could eliminate these jobs they would have done that already. Business are not like you who seeks to help the poor. They are in it for the profits and profits go up whenever you get rid of jobs. Workers to businesses are exactly what you complain about, opex, not capex. if they can reduce, manage, control, eliminate opex, hurray, they are making money. Until workers are seen as capex expenditures, rather than opex costs, businesses are in the business of getting rid of them. Hence robotics. No one invests in a robot to develop its potential, they replace them. They're opex, as are workers in the current worldview. Raise the minimum wage to the point businesses cannot afford certain jobs postings, then those businesses will have to find more efficient ways to get that work done without the worker. Good luck. Fact is, businesses can more than double worker salaries, get us out of this regression, and show the world how capitalism saves the day, but they won't. They won't because they don't have to. A minimum wage increase will spur them to do the right things: pay the working poor a livable wage, or find more efficient way to do the work these workers do. Either way, our economy is improved. As a conservative, you are in a unique position to stimulate businesses to do the right thing (people), before we liberals force them to do it.

  4. The Christian Conservative Movement started when Nelson Rockerfeller decided to have an affair with a married woman, then both decided to divorce and marry, thus "ruining two families" as the nascent movement put it. That's way before Carter and his administration's attacks on this block. He just fanned the flames that were already there.

  5. I love this quote! –> "Most homeless shelters treat poor people as liabilities to manage; the Doe Fund sees poor people as assets to develop."

  6. Amazing, who would have even thought that a conservative could have a heart?

    Arthur Brooks doesn't seem to realize he's a flaming liberal that's somehow gotten shoehorned into a 'conservative' world. Let's hope he infects them with some empathy and conscience.

  7. It is obvious that Arthur has not read and understood The Art of the Deal. Has he read it yet? Have YOU? Newt’s books about understanding Trump are great too. Libs do not have the understanding of economics to understand what we are talking about. Today’s public educations do little to make the poor understand how to make a living, or for the middle and upper classes to understand the obstacles and drains on the incomes of the poor. The information is there, it is just not obvious, it is hidden.

  8. Brooks understands that Social Security is a transfer payment, not an savings and investment account. He does not mention the terrible burden of social taxes on the poor, especially the unemployed. Middle and upper class need to be more of aware of un/under employment in their paychecks. Wages are less than total cost of employment – TCE is the price that business pays for workers, not the price of wages. Wages struggle for share of TCE.

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