Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, had the most concise response to the daunting challenge faced by conservatives in the wake of the recent re-election of President Obama:
President Obama won re-election because his message of resentment against the rich for failing to pay their “fair share” resonated with millions of people of all backgrounds. They were unoffended by the administration’s wholesale embrace of an unreconstructed entitlement state, and they endorsed the idea that government can and should sort out our economic woes.
In short, Obama won because his philosophy is in tune with what has become the conventional wisdom. Refuting that conventional wisdom is the challenge we face today, and understanding the challenge is the first step in forming a plan for renewal–a plan that does not rely on winning a series of elections or Supreme Court cases, but rather focuses on the establishment, over the coming decade, of a new popular consensus based on the ideas of our Founders, common sense, sound economics, and basic decency.
Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal had a similar take: The voting blocs that went so heavily for Obama’s re-election–notably Latinos and single women, among others–represent a solid constituency for the cradle to grave government entitlement dependency that promises to provide a secure, happy, and successful life. Tocqueville’s “democratic despotism” in a nutshell.
Conservatives must do a much better job of advancing the opposing view. As Yuval Levin has described it, “the left’s approach to social policy is to shield people from the American economy, while conservatives’ approach must be to enable them to enjoy its benefits–to enable people to move up rather than make them more secure in their poverty.”
For in the end, the only real security in a highly competitive global economy is economic opportunity and upward mobility, and this is the alternative vision and message that conservatives must develop and sell. A big question is whether or not this concept of an opportunity society can be made to resonate with what has become an essentially economically illiterate electorate who wants their “stuff”. Can it be done? Yes, but it will require a much better message and more capable messengers, and it will also require a renewed dedication to those basic principles that we want to conserve and their foundation in hard work, family, and faith.