Article 43

 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Republican Redux 14

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Conservatives: Can We Be Caring?
Can we be caring and principled? A strategic agenda for American

Wilberforce Agenda

Both parties and American liberalism and conservatism—have basic strengths and weaknesses with the American public. To oversimplify, American liberals are supported for their seeming compassion and disliked for their economic recklessness; American conservatives are supported for their prudence and competence and disliked for their seeming lack of compassion and fairness.

These images or brands are enduring. To be sure, parties may lose or gain favorable images based on their behavior in office—as President George W. Bush lost the Republicans favorable standing on economics and President Clinton improved the standing of Democrats on that issue. After intervals, however, voters tend to return to their original views and to interpret evidence in light of their long term conceptions. They operate with a confirmation bias that can be altered only by strategic thinking and committed effort.

The competence brand should help conservatives to regain their advantage over liberals on questions of economic policy in the next few years. Much economic news is likely to be bad, and there will be a liberal President and Senate to whom blame is likely to attach. But the fact that conservatives control the House makes that outcome uncertain. If voters decide that responsibility for economic difficulty is to be shared - even if not equally shared - the caring gulf will be a major factor in American elections.

Some figures from the last election are powerfully instructive:

· of the 21 percent of voters who regarded caring for people like meӔ as their most important voting consideration, the President won by an astonishing 81 to 18 margin;

· eighteen to twenty-nine year olds voted for the President Obama by a 60 to 37 margin;

· unmarried women, nearly one quarter of all voters, supported the President by an even more decisive 67 to 31 margin; and,

· eight of the ten wealthiest U.S. counties gave majorities to the President, and did so by margins larger than those he received in the general election.

These numbers, we believe, reflect three factors of central importance to conservatives:

· the inherent decency of American voters causes many to oppose conservative candidates out of the belief that conservatives favor the rich and powerful and are indifferent to the needs of poor and vulnerable.

· the weakness of the economy—a weakness not likely to dissipate any time soon—persuades many voters to think of themselves as economically vulnerable and thus to support the more caring party out of motives of self-interest; and

· the persons most likely to base their votes on caring considerations are among Americas fasting growing cohorts.

These problems notwithstanding, we strongly reject the idea that conservatives should respond, as some argue, by abandoning core principles and adopting a diluted and cost-conscious version of statist liberalism. Half-loaf liberalism will at most lead Americans to occasionally call on conservatives to clean up problems created by the excesses of the left. It will define conservatives as a managerial force but never as the moral force that American voters seek when choosing their leaders. It will give undue advantage to the policy status quo and make it difficult if not impossible for there to be a badly needed debate over American social welfare policy. It will never earn conservatives voter trust necessary to achieve long-term governance. It will confirm rather than eradicate party caricatures.

What is needed above all is a shattering of the caricature that defines conservatives as uncaring and largely concerned with the interests of the well-to-do. If it prevails, critical masses of voters will continue to base their votes on the perceived decency of one side rather than the value of the competing ideas of each side to the acute disadvantage of conservative ideas and prospects.

Achievable shifts in the cohort of caring voters can produce major electoral shifts. For example, a Romney loss of this group by a still landslide 61-38 margin would almost certainly have led to his election.  Achieving such shifts and defeating the lefts caricature of conservatism can be greatly enhanced by giving priority status to issues that exemplify caring and altruism - low-cost/no-cost initiatives which conservatives have long supported but have treated as low-priority, even marginal achievements.

Elsewhere we have called these initiatives Wilberforce Agenda reforms after the great 19th British statesman and Christian activist who led the fight to end the international slave trade. But—party managers please note—they could equally be called the “Lincoln Agenda” after the other great liberator of the 19th century.

The initiatives that comprise this agenda are non-utopian efforts to protect millions of people, at home and abroad, who would otherwise not be heard or helped. Among them are:

· Halting the sexual and forced labor trafficking of more than 20 million women, men and children in America and abroad - the slavery and womens issue of our time;

· Introducing and enforcing prison reform standards at home and abroad—and, above all, ending domestic prison rape and violence;

· Linking U.S. foreign aid to actions to combat rape, forced child marriages and Փhonor killings.

· Eliminating the epidemic scourge of obstetric fistula, which turns millions of girls and young women in the developing world into incontinent pariahs;

· Allowing hundreds of millions of closed society residents to circumvent the Internet firewalls of their regimes and to safely communicate with each other and the rest of the world;

· Making religious persecution especially but not exclusively the growing worldwide persecution of Christians - a major State Department concern; and

· Treating the recent surge of European anti-Semitism as a major U.S. policy priority.

These reforms - and others like them - would transform the lives of millions of people for the better and are worthy of support on that ground alone. They can also advance Americas ғsoft power and national security, in ways that Ronald Reagan deeply understood. They can attract liberal support and so reward conservatives for achieving the left-right, red-blue and religious-secular cooperation that most American voters eagerly seek. And they can negate the caricatures of conservatives which now play a major role in U.S. electoral politics.

Many other benefits can flow from a priority commitment to Wilberforce Agenda issues.

First: A strong commitment to them can alter the character of other debates. If pro-life advocacy is set in the context of a broad and consistent commitment to protect vulnerable human beings, pro-abortion advocates will find it harder to levy plausible “war on women” charges. Such charges will seem badly misplaced when leveled against people with records of opposition to the mass trafficking of women, obstetric fistula, prison rape, Sudanese genocide and North Korean gulags. Leadership on issues involving the victimization and enslavement of women will allow conservatives to claim a lead role in making the emancipation and empowerment of women a hallmark development of the 21st century. Doing so can deligitimize allegations that women’s rights are not respected by pro-life advocates, and can move the abortion debate to the more open question of whether fetuses are or are not vulnerable human beings. Such a development can lead some pro-abortion advocates and others in the media to respect the anti-abortion movement even if they do not agree with it.

Second: Stressing Wilberforce issues can also counter the picture of a dread Christian Right drawn by the left—a cause of conservative losses in suburban and college educated communities and the basis of a caricature that has frightened many voters into rejecting conservative candidates identified with Evangelicals. A Wilberforce Agenda focus will educate faith-based pro-life advocates to cease leveling baby killer charges at those who disagree with them, and help them define their positions in the broader context of promoting overall human rights. It can make clear that the late Chuck Colsons voice on such issues as prison reform was the authentic voice of American Christianity. It can educate others to the important role played by Evangelical leaders on initiatives to achieve Internet freedom and oppose anti-Semitism, and to the role played by groups like Concerned Women for America in the battle against human trafficking. It will help replace the voices of leaders who describe Christian public policy concerns as little but opposition to abortion, gay marriage and pornography with the voices of leaders like the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Washington, D.C. office who turned the tide of the anti-trafficking debate at an emergency meeting called to discuss Clinton administration efforts to weaken the bill: One hundred fifty years ago my church was wrong in the battle over the slavery issue of its time,Ӕ he said before a rapt audience of feminists, religious leaders and conservatives. We will not be silent now. We will do whatever must be done to ensure that the slavery issue of our time is decisively dealt with.

Third: Wilberforce agenda issues can enable the Tea Party movement to shift from purely negative attacks on government to a recognition that government can, at low or no budget cost, protect millions of abused women, children and religious believers. It can moderate isolationist impulses to which many movement conservatives are subject by demonstrating the ability of Wilberforce issues to peacefully weaken the hold of dictatorial regimes that threaten U.S. national security. The Tea Party is composed of Americans who combine moral impulses with the laudable desire to restore fiscal responsibility and constitutional limits, and thus ensure Americas long term well being. Wilberforce issues can enhance those objectives by allowing the personal decency of Tea Party members to manifest itself in their public policy expressions.

Fourth: Wilberforce initiatives will win sympathy from groups outside the universe of conventional conservative appeals. Thus, imposing costs on China and the United Nations for their support of and passivity towards the North Korean regime can earn the trust of the Korean-American community. To the credit of American conservatism, it can lead leaders of the Save Soviet Jewry and anti-Apartheid movements to link with Korean-Americans in helping them find means to peacefully implode the Pyongyang government. It will bring to light Tony Blair’s instructive comment: The biggest scandal in progressive politics is that you do not have people with placards out in the street on North Korea. The people are kept in a form of slavery, twenty-three million of them, and no one protests! If conservatives take bold and consistent positions on such issues, silence of the left will become increasingly visible—and people will notice that conservative activism prompted critical change.

Fifth: Wilberforce reforms also contrast favorably with the left’s current social agendas. Right or wrong as they may be as policies, gay marriage and abortion—seen by many on the left as their key human rights concerns—play to organized and often affluent middle and upper class constituencies. Similarly, Great Society social welfare programs defended by the left as caring initiatives for the poor provide the overwhelming proportion of their funds to wealthy and powerful service deliverers, and are prime examples of trickle downӔ government that the left accuses conservatives of fostering. In foreign policy matters, the lefts human rights agenda has focused on alleged American evils in places like Guantanamo Bay and on the alleged failings of the U.S. military, rather than on initiatives premised on AmericaҒs generous spirit and its affirmative capacity to do good. Thus, even assuming that the human rights positions of liberals have been fair and balanced which they often have not been ח they weaken the lefts core moral claim to protect the poor, the silent and the forgotten. Because conservatives are perceived as less caring, and because they fail to appreciate the value of their human rights achievements, liberals pay no price for abandoning human rights priorities that were once among their central concerns.

Sixth: Wilberforce initiatives pose no fiscal problems, no threats to conservative unity. Conservatives must of course lead in rejecting unaffordable and counterproductive policies, and must endure false attacks that define opposition to deficits and high taxes as expressions of indifference to suffering. But the non-utopian mix of altruism, realism and bottom line focus that characterize Wilberforce initiatives make support for them wholly consistent with conservative leadership on deficit and spending issues. Such support will satisfy the elementary political fact that conservatives have often ignored in their laudable effort to restrain the growth of deficits, taxes and government: A conservatism obliged to say no will not succeed if it never says anything else.

Seventh: Wilberforce reforms are credible for the simple reason that many have been successfully (although not yet fully) implemented in law and policy. Talk, promises and pledges are cheap in politics, and many Americans have become rightly skeptical about programs long on rhetoric and short on performance. But by prioritizing Wilberforce human rights reforms, conservatives will demonstrate their field-tested reliability and gain credit with American voters for what they have achieved. After noticeably leading human rights initiatives in partnership with feminists, human right organizations and many traditionally liberal groups, conservatives will be able to gain the trust of voters on the follow-up and enforcement steps that need to be taken.

The costly folly that has stopped conservatives from making Wilberforce issues central, defining concerns has not only taken their human rights achievements - and human rights issues in general - off the national radar screen. It has also denied conservatives the opportunity to contrast the human rights rhetoric of the Obama administration with its record:

On human trafficking, the administrations appointees have lacked stature and have allowed U.S. policy to be subordinated to the make-no-waves views of State Department country and regional desk officers. The administration has not complied with many key mandates of the anti-trafficking reauthorization act that was passed more than four years ago. Momentum on the issue achieved by the Bush administration’s director of the State Department Trafficking in Persons Office, Ambassador and former Congressman John Miller, is broadly understood to have been badly lost during the Obama years a fact quietly acknowledged by key feminist and liberal leaders, and one that serious oversight hearings could firmly establish.

On Internet freedom, the administration has sat on appropriated funds, often for years, and has ignored statutory mandates to support efforts to circumvent the Internet firewalls of closed society regimes. In April 2012, the President pledged to take all available steps to tear down Iran֒s Internet firewalls, but the administration has done nothing since to make it happen. In a world where the Internet plays an increasingly central role in the communication of information, and where all closed society regimes share the view of China’s ex-President Hu Jintao that regime stability depends on an ability to purify the Internet, less than 3% of the Board of Broadcasting Governors $752 million appropriation is dedicated to digital products and distribution and Internet Anti-Censorship activities combined. One explanation of this failure comes from the admission of an anonymous White House official to the Washington Post that the administrations Internet freedom policy is in part driven by the need to ensure that China will not go ballistic over it - a policy that, among other things, sells out dissident communities in Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea as well as China.

On domestic prison rape, the Justice Department failed to comply with clear mandates and action deadlines of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and still seeks to undermine the act in the service of leave-us-alone appeals from State and Federal Bureau of Prisons officials. Even the New York Times and Washington Post have noticed and condemned this conduct.

On obstetric fistula, the administration still chooses the United Nations Population Fund and the NGO EngenderHealth to deal with the issue despite their poor records of achievement. (A classic USAID-dependent entity, EngenderHealth receives the overwhelming bulk of its income from government grants, has taxpayer financed offices throughout the developing world, and in 2009, the last year reported on its website, provided average total compensation of more than $249,000 to its ten highest paid employees.) A clearly superior approach would be to transfer USAIDs anti-fistula support to a major and competitively chosen U.S. medical center that, under constant monitoring by an independent advisory board, would be tasked with training developing world physicians and midwives and with launching a medically-based campaign against forced child marriages.

On overall domestic social welfare policy, success in negating the left’s claim to be the singularly caring force in American politics will open the door to serious discussion of the failures of the massive programs now defended by the left. This will allow conservatives to more credibly assert what many deeply believe—that conservative ideas offer, by far, the greatest hope and opportunity for Americas poor and minority communities. It would reveal that programs created during the Johnson administration and explosively expanded during the Nixon and Obama presidencies offer small portions of their monies to the poor and instead offer massive funding to such grantees as home builders, job trainers, social workers, hospitals, universities, lawyers and like armies of non-poor ғpublic sector vendors. It would undermine the leftԒs claim that supporting increasingly high levels of Great Society spending best demonstrates a caring attitude towards the poor. It would open the door to comparisons between todays trickle-down social welfare systems and the true safety net programs of the Roosevelt New Deal, which the Reagan administration unsuccessfully sought to restore—those offering direct support to the truly poor and to persons unable to find work. On gaining greater moral credibility, conservatives could claim the mantles of Presidents Reagan and Roosevelt while associating todayҒs liberals with the Johnson and Nixon presidencies a step that would open the country to judging the policies that actually work best for America֒s have-nots. It would move the focus of the social welfare debate from Governor Romneys condemnation of 47 percent of all Americans to the role of the enriched and politically wired groups that profit from—and in many respects cause—the condition of the 47 percent. Few better paths to support from African-American and Hispanic voters and leaders exist - not majorities, to be sure, but enough to weaken the turncoat charges that inhibit many from now challenging the liberal pieties and programs that have often been ruinous to their communities.

There are two further reasons why conservatives must rapidly move on the human rights front if they are not to miss the chance to shatter the deadly caricatures drawn of them.

First: Identification with the left is for many Americans increasingly linked to feelings of personal identity rather than to idea-based policy preferences—with the former tending to be fixed and unyielding to argument or persuasion. If unmarried women, urbanites, suburbanites, minorities, students and young people only associate with those who assume that conservatives are inherently uncaring of others, even the most seemingly undeniable facts and liberal failures will not lead many to support conservative candidates or ideas. Many young people have now cast two votes for the President, and their early voting patterns could anchor them to the left as they age. The good news, as noted, is that achievable shifts in the views of reasonable percentages of these voters will produce conservative majorities. The bad news is that such shifts will not occur unless conservatives understand that America’s desire to be governed by caring leaders is a source of American strength, and unless conservative leaders make human rights issues signature and not marginal concerns.

Next: Key American liberals deeply believe in Wilberforce Agenda reforms, and are seeking to gain priority support for them within the American left. Such leaders as Steven Rickard and Morton Halperin of the Open Society Institute, Katrina Lantos Swett of the Lantos Foundation, Ann Lewis of No Limits, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, the BBGs Michael Meehan, and David Saperstein and Rachel Laser of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism have long worked to achieve priority status for Wilberforce issues within their ranks. They understand the link between those issues and the high standing of the movements that pursue them. The prize of long term governance will to go to American left if those sophisticated and honorable liberals succeed while the conservative movement continues in its failure to understand the value of the very human rights successes it has achieved.

We do not claim that Wilberforce issues are panaceas that can immediately transform present suspicions of the moral bona fides of conservatives into mass voter support. We know that the caring and compassionate standing of many Western social democratic and workers parties has been a source of their strength for much of the 20th century. And we realize that the bias and conventional wisdom of many in the national media will ensure that a serious conservative initiative to seize the only-we-care high ground from which the left has long operated will be met with skepticism and hostility. We know that such claims will be furiously opposed by many leaders of the left. That said, we again note that the shifts of support needed by conservatives from the 21% of voters for whom caring attitudes trump all will not require conservative majorities from that cohort, and note that conservatives need only emphasize and prioritize their long-standing record of achievement on Wilberforce issues to make their case. And we again note that doing so can create broad recognition that the American left has increasingly become less the voice of the poor and more the advocate of powerful interests able to win insider status within government and party.

In all events, no alternative exists for conservatives seeking the country’s long term governance - and no other counter to the lefts now-loudly celebrated claim of permanent majority status - than for conservative leaders to demonstrate support for issues that more clearly align their personal decency with their political ideology. That this can be done at no cost to conservative unity or principle only underscores its strategic value.

Success here will offer American conservatives what they now most need: Elections in which increasing numbers of voters are open to evaluating their ideas - and those of the left - on the basis of real world effectiveness. Means exist to make this happen, and the time to do so is now.

We close with a prediction and strong recommendation. The Congressional leaders who first establish a senior level human rights-Wilberforce task force charged with reporting to them on a regular basis to identify human rights issues requiring Congressional oversight and those capable of bipartisan enactment will bring great success to their parties. As conservatives, we hope that Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell will do so. But we will applaud the wisdom and shrewdness of whoever seizes ownership of these issues. In this decent and caring country, they will be justly rewarded for such action.

Michael Horowitz
John O’Sullivan
Kody Kness

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Republican Redux
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