“Good for you, you have a heart, you can be a liberal. Now, couple your heart with your brain, and you can be a conservative.” -Glenn Beck

As the legislative arm of the United States, Congress has the tremendous constitutional responsibility to secure and defend the common welfare of this nation. As a result of this formidable task, legislatures from the House (and 1/3 of the Senate) are subject to public condemnation and disapproval every other November. The heavy threat embedded within re-election serves as a cornerstone of American democracy, and properly forces elected officials at all levels of government to best represent their constituents as attentive delegates rather than disconnected trustees. While this competitive struggle for incumbency seeks to ultimately offer the electorate the finest of statutes, far too frequently the process often develops into one in which the electorate are offered the finest of candidates. As former Mississippi Congressman Frank Smith once stated, “All members of Congress have a primary interest in getting re-elected. Some members have no other interest.” It is this prize of re-election that has unfortunately provided the context necessary for a political ideology to become fixated on statutory dependency.

The narrow interest of re-election has resulted in laws that seek not to secure and defend the aforementioned common welfare, but rather ones that seek to sponsor it. The Democrat Party has succeeded in transforming the public perception of virtually every sector of economic privileges towards those of ethical entitlements. While the goal of ensuring access towards the American Dream among the underprivileged certainly necessitates the upkeep of strong and effective safety nets, liberalism has distorted this concept into one that ensures safety of necessity nets. Democratic leaders have consistently legitimized dependency (necessity nets) as their economic policy, as it was then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi who claimed that unemployment benefits “creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name.” Liberal members of Congress continue to ensure the livelihood of their compassionate reputation through campaign rhetoric, which has sadly become supplemented with corresponding legislation. While it should be made clear that conservatism is no more immune to the temptations of electability than is liberalism, the fundamental difference between the two mainstream schools of political ideology lies in their contrasting means of achieving incumbency. For liberalism, electability stems from dependency, whereas for conservatism, electability arrives through empowerment.

Beginning with the former, it is dependency that excels at providing those responsible for re-election with the short-term gratification necessary to attain electoral success. In addition to tangible votes earned at the ballot box, the current electoral system has developed into one that needs the resources of corporate America. As a result, we have seen corporate dependency join citizen dependency as the foundation of liberalism’s electoral tactic. This was most recently seen with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which passed without a single affirmative vote by a Republican. Signed into law by a Democrat president whose 2008 campaign received more than double the amount of contributions from Wall Street than did the campaign of Republican nominee Senator John McCain, this instant gratification strategy has grown beyond voting citizens. It now extends towards those who possess the capacity to influence the electorate by means of either capital or votes.

The terminal results of liberalism’s dependency on dependence can be described as threefold. Firstly, by being the ideology known as the champion of desirable benefits, liberalism exponentially skews the electorate in their favor. Put simply, why would a voter bite the hand that feeds them? It is this sentiment that claims the greatest responsibility in forming the relationship between liberalism and congressional electability. Secondly, as a result of this political platform, entitlements have hurt this nation through their role in contributing to the national deficit, as entitlements and interest alone will exceed total revenue by 2025. Additionally, over the next two years, extended unemployment benefits could cost up to $34 billion. Lastly, it is the short-term gratification that ultimately hurts its recipients, as it removes any and all motivation to economically rise by incentivizing failure. For instance, with unemployment benefits, the government essentially subsidizes its dependents so long as they remain unemployed. Thus, the commencement of employment simultaneously arrives with the termination of unencumbered benefits.

As opposed to this electoral strategy bent on dependency, conservatism offers voters a concrete pathway towards long-term empowerment. In contrast to the aforementioned statements of his Democratic colleagues in Congress, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has vocalized this economic empowerment by stating, “the most destructive path we can take is to focus on equalizing outcomes through redistribution instead of equalizing opportunities.” In other words, conservatism champions the pursuit of happiness rather than its substantive guarantee.

The inherent flaw with conservatism’s compatibility with congressional electoral success lies in its preservation of the right to rise – a sentiment that can only guarantee equality in regards to opportunity rather than results.  This disadvantage is only heightened by the fact that House elections occur every two-years, and are therefore intended to capture the immediate, short-term feelings of the electorate. In contrast, liberalism has consistently proven its historical capacity to shine in resonating with the congressional electorate. The short-term nature of congressional elections (via the biennial reelection of all four hundred and thirty five House members, and 1/3 of all Senate members) has perfectly aligned with liberalism’s fundamental provision of short-term benefits through entitlements and governmental dependency. This has remained empirically accurate, as when analyzing the success of liberalism versus conservatism through the lens of congressional electability, liberalism has sustained an electoral strategy that simply works. Beginning in 1933, the Republican Party has maintained control of both the House and the Senate for a mere fourteen years in comparison to a monopolistic fifty-six years among Democrats. So long as Democrats maintain their approach of offering expeditious returns of entitlement, it may very well continue to dominate the future of Congress, rendering its Capitol Hill presence throughout the twentieth century.

However, there is an answer. As Republicans, we must fight back and embrace our responsibility to educate the electorate as to how compassion and empowerment exist as a parallel relationship. The “Republican Revolution” of 1994 was wildly successful as then-Whip Gingrich was able to capitalize on Reaganomics – the greatest modern symbol of long-term empowerment. As a result of conservatism’s successful implementation throughout the 80’s, Gingrich was able to boast conservatism’s compassion, which arrived through an unemployment rate that decreased from 9.7 percent in 1982 to 5.3 percent (upon President Reagan’s departure in 1989), declining rates of interest and inflation, and a 3.2 percent average in real economic growth.

When true conservatives are presented with the opportunity to implement policy that reflects an unshakable commitment to the equality of opportunity, economic success will inevitably ensue. Though such a policy yields a political strategy that will certainly require a steady disengagement from the current entitlement culture, conservatism can successfully claim the paramount role of inducing economic growth, and ultimately the return of America’s economic prosperity. Furthermore, implementing legislation that reflects a commitment to long-term empowerment would prove beneficial to the electoral future of the Republican Party in Congress, and would more importantly restore the principles of hard work and self-discipline as the primary means necessary of achieving economic greatness. Thus, empowerment through conservatism can ultimately demonstrate its ability to outlast liberal dependency and class-based rhetoric, as it represents the true meaning of compassion: the enabling of individuals to become their best selves.

Parker Mantell :: University of Indiana at Bloomington :: Bloomington, Indiana :: @ParkerMantell