October 16, 2010
Have We Got Stories to TellBy Joseph Ashby and Drew Foy
During the health care debate, the Democrats lost the public on economics, spending, and the law-making process. But where did they win? Stories. It's time to fire back.
Even with a clean sweep of Tea Party candidates in next month's congressional midterms, these boat-rockers have a tough road ahead in the U.S. Congress. Anyone advocating for smaller government is routinely disparaged as heartless. The political effectiveness of the conservatives-don't-care theme appears every election. Without fail, liberal celebrities relentlessly campaign for the youth vote. Why target youth? Because young people have hearts -- and Conservatives don't -- so if twenty-somethings vote, they'll vote Democrat.
There is not a single, perfect rebuttal to this conventional wisdom. However, a powerful lesson for soon-to-be Tea Party officeholders and their supporters comes from a surprising source: the Democrats' strategy in the Obamacare debate.
Again, during the months of political wrangling and number-crunching, where did the Democrats win?
Conservatives often ridicule the use of personal stories as the politics of feelings over facts. But is it? That's not to defend what Obama did to sell his health care overhaul. His stories were often misleading or dishonest, and even when true, they were never grounds for tearing down the most dynamic and effective medical care system in the world. It's also noteworthy that the almost exclusive and monotonous use of anecdotes eventually became ineffective. But the truth is that without tangible examples of how free markets bless lives or of the harm of imprudent social policy, the conservative argument can become too abstract to be fully effective.
The Great Communicator was the Great Exception to conservatives' unwillingness or inability to connect with the public through real-life examples. Reagan rarely gave a speech without including powerful stories of how government interventions oppressed a business or homeowner, or how free markets blessed an individual or family. As a result, Reagan didn't have to dress up liberalism and give it a new name ("compassionate conservatism," "heroic conservatism," "Sam's Club Republicanism," etc.). He consistently stood on the moral high ground both in reality and in perception.
Certainly, Reagan, like other conservatives, was reviled by the political and media class as uncaring, pro-rich, and anti-poor. But his detractors could never convince the voters. Reagan's use of tangible examples helped him turn the political world on its head.
We draw upon that same power in the new book Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation. Jonah Goldberg, bestselling author of Liberal Fascism, compiled the book and wrote its introduction. Each of the book's 22 contributors is under 30 years old. Goldberg writes that the purpose of the book is to show that "conservatives are people too."
More than just real people, the book sets forth the real-life events that shaped each author's thinking. In true Reagan style, several chapters tell the maddening and, at times, heartbreaking results of liberalism.
Dr. Andrew Foy's own contribution tells of the medical care he and his colleagues provide at Philadelphia-area homeless shelters. He treated a particular gentleman for arthritis and knee pain. Both outdoorsmen, Foy and his patient became friends over big fish stories during checkups.
Though Foy finds fulfillment in the volunteer work and the doctor-patient relationships he is able to forge, his experience is tempered by sadness over the great toll the welfare state has taken on his fisherman friend and the other patients he cares for. Government programs have eaten away at their dignity and self-esteem, destroyed any sense of autonomy and independence they might have had. Entitlements have fostered a sense of victimization, rendering these people ultimately ineffective and dependent on government.
Nor is the damage isolated to welfare recipients. Aerospace engineer Joseph Ashby describes the experience he and his young wife had putting themselves through college while struggling to raise a family. After their first year of marriage, they discovered their tax liability (mostly payroll) cost more than their rent for the entire year. The experience caused Ashby to answer certain fundamental questions about government. He writes,
In what may be the funniest story in the book, Evan Coyne Maloney describes his political conversion in seventh grade. Maloney was "fascinated by politics," but his views were mainly informed by " ... family, television, and the surroundings in liberal Manhattan." It was in the middle of a school presentation, where he was arguing for unilateral nuclear disarmament (because that's what the "Good People" around him believed), when suddenly, reality set in.
Like Reagan did, and like the new crop of Constitution-faithful candidates must do, Proud to Be Right brings conservatism into classrooms, workplaces, and living rooms -- into the real world. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to say, "The facts of life are conservative." For the Tea Party movement to reach its potential, it must show America that she is right. A step in the right direction comes from a somewhat surprising source: America's youth.
Joseph Ashby and Andrew Foy, M.D. are contributors to Jonah Goldberg's new book Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation. Dr. Foy can be contacted at Andrew.Foy@gmail.com.