Why poverty is a conservative issue

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Oh but now old friends they’re acting strange,
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.
–Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now

I’ve looked at poor from both sides now.

I get a lot of grief for pushing poverty solutions. And service. Many conservatives believe Mitt Romney was right when he uttered his infamous 47 percent line.

In case you forgot:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. …These are people who pay no income tax. …and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

When I first heard the audio, I thought, “Yeah, of course. Why would anyone even question it?” I was totally on board with Mitt on that point.

I was wrong.

When you’re running for president or advancing a cause, you represent 100 percent of the people. All of them. You write no one off. As Arthur C. Brooks wrote in The Conservative Heart:

our society— through conventional welfare policies— has been all too willing to write off some subset of our neighbors, seeing them as burdens to be managed at minimal expense. We must reject this, and proclaim that all people are moral equals.

It’s silly to try to convert people who are diametrically opposed to liberty and freedom and rule of law. But they’re still people you’re obliged to protect and assist if you’re trying, like Mitt Romney, to be President or trying, like me, to advance liberty.

But Mitt and I were dead wrong about the number. I don’t know what the actual number is, but far fewer than 47 percent stand in ideological opposition to liberty and good government. Maybe 10 percent do.

Let’s Hope Romney Was Wrong

Even if Romney had been right that 47 percent will never vote Republican because they want to live on the dole forever, he was wrong to write them off. Just do the math.

In 1960, how many people wanted to live on the dole? You probably believe that whatever the 1960 figure was, it was less than 47 percent. A lot less. How about 1970? 1980? 1990? 2000?

I’ve made up some numbers (which are at least as reliable as Mitt Romney’s) to show what happens if we presume that the deadbeat population has risen over time.

You see that sometime between 2010 and 2020, the trend line crosses the point of no return: 50 percent. If Romney needed to write off a substantial minority in 2012, then the next Republican nominee might as well write off the majority of voters in 2016. Indeed, if Romney was right, then the Republican Party’s last hurrah was 2012–and it that was an anemic, hoarse hurrah at best.

If Republicans had no chance with 47 percent of voters in 2012, they will have no chance of wining the White House ever again.

There’s a Better Way

Conservatives can steal a lot of votes in 2016 by accurately claiming the moral high ground. Our solutions will lift people out of poverty and restore dignity to millions of Americans. (If you don’t believe that, you shouldn’t call yourself a conservative.) We have believe as much all along, but we don’t talk about it much. Instead, we talk about defending big companies from government regulation.

While I oppose over-regulation as much as the next guy, that’s not the issue that will win over the people who need a champion–the people who, as Brooks said, liberalism has warehoused to be managed at minimal expense.

Conservatives believe that every persons deserves the dignity of meaningful work and the freedom to pursue happiness. We further believe that our solutions will do just that. Therefore, we have incurred a moral duty to advance our beliefs.

Part of the solution to poverty and warehoused humans might involve regulatory reform. It most definitely demands tax reform. But it also requires mindset reform on the part of conservatives.

Everybody knows what we’re against. We have been so vocal about what we’re against that many people believe we’re against things we’re actually not against. But very few people know what we’re for.

Yes, we say we’re for liberty and good government and fiscal responsibility. Those are abstract concepts. If you’re worried about tonight’s dinner, tomorrow’s rent check, or next week’s layoffs, liberty and government fiscal responsibility are, at best, nice-to-haves. They’re far down on your list of priorities.

You and I know that those abstract concepts are critical to full employment in meaningful work and necessary for people to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But when the baby’s hungry, I’ll take the food first, thank you.

In 2016, we can upset the political dynamic by focusing on the people who will most benefit from conservative principles: the poor.

Since the Johnson administration, we have spent over $22 trillion on poverty programs, yet the poverty number hasn’t budged since 1967. Sure, poor people in America often have iPhones and 50-inch LED TVs. But they also live in crime-infested decay. Poor kids born today have less chance of reaching middle class than poor kids born in 1950. If upward mobility is the essence of American exceptionalism, then American exceptionalism is dead.

I realize that big business needs protection from hyperactive government. I get that the rich should keep their rewards for industry and genius and good investing. But how can anyone claim that grass roots activists should put more energy into protecting the well-off than we put into helping the poor? Why defend Warren Buffett when we can hire lobbyists to do his bidding?

You might say, “but, Bill, the poor have lobbyists, too. They’re call government workers.” Well, government workers do not lobby to make the poor productive. They lobby to make more people poor. Like a private business that wants more customers, government poverty programs want more subjects.

The way to reduce government welfare programs is not to eliminate the programs and let the people fend for themselves. The conservative solution is to make meaningful work and freedom to pursue happiness an overwhelming suction that draws poor people out of poverty and toward the American dream. The conservative solution to poverty requires tax reform and cultural renewal that emphasizes and supports two-parent families. Our solutions involves schools that educate, not just warehouse, kids. Our solutions work, if not perfectly, far better than what the left has inflicted upon the poor over the past 50 years.

And our solution must begin with our focus. 

In 2016, let’s focus not on those who’ve done wrong by us, but on those who’ve been treated even worse than ourselves. Let’s save the liberty conversation for the end of the talk, after we’ve discussed the people most injured by government “compassion”: the poor.

Conservatives have a solution for poverty, and that means we have a moral obligation to implement that solution. The more we talk about solving real human problems, the more wrong we make Romney’s 47 percent gaffe. And more wrong that gaffe, the better chances for a better America.




Do You Really Want Your Principles to Win?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

[I]n a democratic system, the minority is by definition the opposition. Their de facto position is fighting against the ideas of the other side. Political minorities fight against something that’s more powerful than they are. And over time, their entire self-identity can become utterly reliant on acting like the principled underdog. –Arthur C Brooks, The Conservative Heart

My developmental psychology professor told a story of a female patient.

The woman came to him for help with dating. She told the doctor, “I’ve been cheated, abused, and robbed by men. One after another, every one I date hurts me.” And she finished with a plea, “Please just tell me where all the good men are.”

The doctor thought a moment, then told her, “I know where they are, but I’m not going to tell you.”

The woman looked stunned. “Why not?” she asked.

“Because you don’t want a good man,” the doctor said. “You want abusive, cheating, thieving men.”

The psychologist was not cruel, just honest. We get what we seek, even if what we seek is bad for us. We attract what we want to attract, even if we say want something else.

Is the conservative activist like the woman? Do we really want to become a majority? Or do we want to remain a permanent minority panicking over possible smudges on the strict outline of our dogma?

Yesterday, I explained why we do what we do. Today, we look at how we can be more effective.

A Minority Mentality

Back in 2009 and 2010, the Tea Party had hopes. We hoped to see our principles become the majority view in America.

We watched our favorability swell from zero on February 26 to over 30 percent a year later. Then we watched our esteem drift away. Only 19 percent now say they agree with our principles.

Arthur C. Brooks contends in his new book The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America that the Tea Party can and should become a massive social movement that achieves majoritarian status.

So why hasn’t it? According to Brooks:

A key element of majoritarian status is fighting in broad terms for people instead of fighting narrowly against particular evils.

Yet, “fighting narrowly against particular evils” is exactly the only thing we’ve done. Even our work to help reform municipal courts and police practices was a fight against a particular evil because we never effectively explained why we fought. That’s probably my fault.

In my mind, abusive courts and city governments that use the police to shake down poor people for money represent the sort of government overreach the Tea Party exists to fight. But that’s still a fight against something evil. Whom were we fighting for?

We were fighting for poor people, largely African-American, who have been treated like ATM machines for little city governments. We were fighting for the dignity of our neighbors. While those neighbors have self-appointed civil rights advocates who enrich themselves while people’s lives worsen, the only group fighting against court abuse was a liberal team of lawyers called Arch City Defenders. Missouri being deep red at the state legislature level, Arch City Defenders had no hope of changing the law without help from the right.

So that’s whom we fought for: we fought for people who needed us whether they supported us or not.

But I never said it that way because I was afraid I’d turn off some of our supporters. So I deserve a lot of the blame for where we stand.

When I read Brooks’s chapter on the Tea Party, I felt like a failure. But I also felt a surge of hope radiate through my body because Brooks didn’t stop with a critique; he gave the prescription.

But first, Brooks described the crossroads at which we stand:

The Tea Party rebellion, and the conservative grassroots it has energized, thus have some choices to make: Does it want to remain at step one, settle for 19 percent support (and falling), and become a permanent political remnant—capable of setting political brushfires, but too weak to bring about real lasting change in our nation? Or does it want to make a run at majority status and build a popular social movement that changes our country forever? Do Tea Party activists want to remain little more than the guardian of fiscally conservative orthodoxy holding the Republican establishment’s feet to the fire? Or can the Tea Party become something bigger—a transformational, majoritarian force in American politics that does not simply rebel against American decline, but reverses it?

If we want to become a transformational, majoritarian force that reverses the problems of statism, we must ask ourselves whether we actually want to win. As Brooks notes, and others have noted before:

Believe it or not, not everyone wants to be in the majority. Some people prefer to belong to a “remnant,” a holdout that bravely carries the truth without compromise in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Guardians of the Orthodoxy

My fear is that we too easily see ourselves as guardians of the orthodoxy, that “remnant” tsk-tsking anyone who gets too close the walls of acceptable thought.

While the dogma must have its defenders, preaching the dogma guarantees that we remain nothing more than an irritant to the Republican establishment and a godsend to progressives.

Why? Because most people don’t care about our dogma. They care about getting through life the best they can. And it’s not their job to figure out how our orthodoxy helps them do that.

Our job is to translate our principles into broad, moral direction for our country with specific goals that will make people’s lives better. Shouting “liberty,” repeating historical chants like “give me liberty or give me death,” don’t improve anyone’s life, even the speaker’s.

Brooks explains:

There are four steps to making that transition from minority to majority and turning a protest movement into a broad-based social movement:

1. Launch a rebellion

2. Declare majoritarian values

3. Claim the moral high ground

4. Unite the country behind an agenda

We accomplished step 1 with aplomb. We didn’t stop at step 1, but we still have not moved to step 2. Instead, many of us moved to guarding the orthodoxy of anti statism about which Buckley wrote in his essay “Have You Ever Seen a Dream Walking?”

There exists a small breed of men whose passionate distrust of the state has developed into a theology of sorts, or at least into a demonology, to which they adhere as devotedly as any religious fanatic ever attempted to adhere to the will of the Lord. I do not feel contempt for the endeavor of this type. It is intellectually stimulating to discuss alternatives to municipalized streets, even as it is to speculate on whether God’s wishes would better be served if we ordered fried or scrambled eggs on this particular morning.

Buckley then describes precisely the problem Brooks talks about:

Yet conservatives must concern themselves not only with ideals, but with matters of public policy, and I mean by that something more than the commonplace that one must maneuver within the limits of conceivable action.

Buckley’s prescription for those who want to remain tablet-keepers: let them.

I repeat, I do not deplore their influence intellectually; and tactically, I worry not all.

And Brooks reminds us that we never abandon our principles:

Making the transition from a rebellion to a social movement does not mean we cease opposition to bad things. It means that we stop leading with what we are against. We lead with the people we are fighting for.

If we don’t believe in our principles, we must abandon them. But if we believe our principles are just and moral, we have a moral obligation to make the transition from rabble-rousers to a social movement.

The Next Step

If we want to become a majoritarian movement and change America for the better, we need to choose. And we need to choose soon.

Brooks’s challenge is not a mere political choice but a moral choice. In his view, we conservatives will fail our moral duty if we choose to remain tablet keepers.

Lifting vulnerable people up and giving everyone a chance to earn success is primarily a matter of compassion and fairness. And approximately 100 percent of Americans care about these things. As New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has shown, virtually everybody—right and left, young and old, religious and nonreligious—has “moral taste buds” that crave the universal values of compassion and fairness.

Bringing our principles to policy is our moral duty, and we should let nothing stand in the way of that duty.

As Brooks says, we conservatives have the solution to the problems progressives claim they’re solving.

[P]rogressive politicians try to help the poor with government redistribution programs that frequently exacerbate the problem. These intrusions lower opportunity, reduce our ability to create actual private-sector work, leave more people dependent on the state, and effectively split the country into two Americas even more quickly.

Our solutions will lift people up, not keep them down. Our solutions solve problems rather than keeping a lid on rebellion.

When we are burdened with knowledge and means to promote justice, we incur the duty to take action.

If you read one book this summer, read  The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America by Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute.

The Conservative Base Is Dying And Taking Your Freedom With It *CORRECTION*

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Consider these numbers:

  • 9.8 million
  • 11.6 million 16.8 million
  • 55%
  • 61%

Between the 2008 and 2012 elections:

Between those years, neither the GOP nor conservative leaning organizations did anything significant to deal with this demographic cliff. We know the cost.

What was Obama’s popular vote margin?  About the same as the difference between deaths and new voters. (1.8 million difference in dead voters vs. new voting age, and 1.07 difference in vote.)

For the next four years, there is only one objective: inform the kids.

On this front, there’s a glimmer of hope. According to a Harvard Institute of Politics survey, the youngest of those 11.6 million new voters, are becoming fiscal conservatives:

In one poll, for instance, he found that 42 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds identified as “conservative,” compared with just over one-third who said they were “liberal.” By comparison, those proportions were nearly flipped for 22- to 24-year-olds: 39 percent said they were “liberal,” and a third called themselves “conservative.” It was much the same for older twentysomethings.

Obama’s disastrous economy has a lot to do with this “schism” between younger and older Millennials. Though 51% of voters blame the nation’s economy on George W. Bush, the 18- and 19-year-olds were 14 or 15 when the economy crashed.  They were less aware of the good times of the 00’s and more aware of Obama’s inability to fix things.

Crush Sensibilities

Knowing these facts–the death of aging conservatives, which will continue, and the matriculation of school-trained Democrat voters–I see no reason to consider the past. It’s time to focus exclusively on the future.

The future I see involves a three-pronged strategy to reform conservative politics:

  • Marketing
  • Psychology
  • Messaging

This is a moral duty. I won’t waste more of my time placating the sensibilities of the establishment. That’s both the GOP establishment and the Tea Party establishment. (Yes, there’s a Tea Party establishment, and it stopped helping the situation in 2010.)

I need your help. 

If you want to help advance liberty and slow tyranny, statism, authoritarianism, whatever, then follow this link and tell me. Tell me you want to help.


I’m not the only one talking about the Republican problem of targeting seniors instead of talking to kids. Allahpundit:

 The advantage of relying heavily on senior citizens, as the GOP does, is that they turn out reliably on election day. The disadvantage is, er, that they die, just as 18-year-olds — most of whom are pro-Obama — are coming onto the rolls.

The GOP needs a Cadillac-like makeover, and it needs one now.

*Based on data from US Census Bureau

Pork For Me But Not For Thee

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Some St. Louis area conservatives cheered Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) elevation to the Number 5 leadership position in the Senate Republican caucus.


I didn’t. At least not politically. I like Senator Blunt personally, so I’m happy in that respect. But I’m not happy for the reasons some others are.

First, as I told Jo Mannies of the St. Louis Beacon, internal party stuff isn’t really a Tea Party matter. Leadership in the Senate’s GOP caucus is for Republican Senators to worry about.

More importantly, I’m a little disturbed about the expressed reason for the local happiness.

It seems some conservatives are eager for Senator Blunt to use his new power to channel more pork to the area. 

I don’t really understand how that’s conservative.  I thought we were trying to reduce the size and scope of government.  I thought our goal was to get Washington out of the business of picking winners and losers. 

When a Senator transfers money from one state to benefit another state, it’s socialism.

When a Senator writes regulations to help one business over another business, it’s corporatism, another word for fascism.

When a Senator bring home the bacon by borrowing from my future grandchildren, it’s generational theft.

Conservatives who protest wealth transfer though welfare payments to poor people can’t cheer wealth transfer to corporations.  Well, they can, but there’s a word for what that would make them.

The most difficult aspect of conservatism is eschewing short-term personal gain when it conflicts with the lawful role of government and good morals. On this point, I am far from perfect.  But I’m getting better at recognizing and correcting my own hypocrisy.

Let’s Not Act Like Democrats . . . Me Included

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Request:  If you read a blog post on Hennessy’s View that seems to be rooting for America to fail or suffer in order that Obama take the blame, please e-mail me (bill-at–hennessysview–dot–com) and comment.  I’m a hot-head, and I might not catch myself.

The United States and every country on earth is in a perilous position right now.  The world economy is on the brink of depression.  Bad business practices driven by even worse government policies and regulations have destroyed $ trillions in wealth and left us on a narrow, swampy peninsula between deflation and hyperinflation.

We have, for good or ill, elected a young and inexperienced president.  That man’s past rhetoric was clearly Marxist.  But his post-election appointments and words seem closer to those of George Bush than of Gus Hall.  We can work to win back Congress and the White House without destroying the country in the process.

Here’s a few recommendations:

  • Praise Obama’s rightward tacks more than you attack his leftist moves
  • Look for people or businesses in your area who need help and help them if you can
  • State the positive results of conservative governance more often than you assail the consequences of liberal error
  • Wave to drivers of cars with Obama stickers, even as you pass them to expose your McCain-Palin tags
  • Write letters to the editor, blog comments, and blog posts complimenting Obama’s good judgment, but always identify yourself as a conservative Republican who work for his defeat in 2012

All of us are saying goodbye to co-workers let go because of the economy.  The way out of this mess is lower taxes, less government, and graceful ends for companies that can’t make it.  Each of these right actions carries with it painful consequences for some of us.  We can and must make these changes to our national direction.  But we can and should make them without being asses.

We all know how painful and maddening it was to hear Democrats and liberals cheer American casualties in Iraq and fantasize about the assassination of a Republican president.  While we might not go so far, why take the chance?  Let’s sell our superior system of economics and limited government.  The deficincies of their alternative will be undeniably obvious soon enough.