Ramesh Ponnuru, who is an editor at National Review, a columnist at Bloomberg, and a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, gave an excellent speech on the future of conservatism to, appropriately, a gathering of young conservatives.
Ponnuru touched on many of the concerns that are facing the GOP, including its problem attracting young voters, single women, and immigrants. He claimed that even through the Democrats love to attach social niche issues to each of these groups, namely gay marriage with young people, abortion with single women, and immigration reform with immigrants, these issues are not the care of the GOP’s problem.
He pointed out that among the diverse group of people who fall into the categories of young people, single women, or immigrants, the majority of each are united in being economically insecure. This should be great news for Republicans who believe they can win on an economic-centric message, but Ponnuru cautioned that the current path the GOP is taking is not likely to win any new votes, even if the GOP were to become more socially moderate. He pointed out that the Democratic party ceased to be the Party of the working class in the mid 1960s, however, the Republican Party never stepped up to fill the void. To the middle class and insecure, the GOP is still the party of wealthy white men.
To prove this point we need only consider that the major theme from the Republicans during the past election was entrepreneurship. Ponnuru claimed this message failed to resonate because the vast majority of Americans do not see themselves as entrepreneurs, nor do they necessarily aspire to be. Most Americans simply want a job to care for their family, or to supply income so they can enjoy some other leisurely pursuit or hobby. In short, Americans do not find their identity in their economic endeavors, and to listen to the rhetoric of the GOP one would think economic pursuits are the end-all-be-all of human existence.
Now, it is a key conservative tenant that work should be meaningful and not degrading. People should find a certain sense of dignity and self-fulfillment in the work they pursue. However, Ponnuru’s points raise the question of whether the GOP has taken its rhetoric beyond that ideal, to something that red-blooded human beings quite rightly find unnatural.
Again, consider the rhetoric from the campaign trail: The true Americans, well, “We built this.” The other 47%, well, they are merely takers. The ballooning welfare state is no doubt a problem, but dividing people along economic lines will do nothing to help us fix it. The GOP adopts this rhetoric assuming that people desire self-sufficiency and therefore want to be free of government dependency. While there is truth in those assumptions, it does not follow that everyone wants to take their freedom and become an entrepreneur or be free from all forms of social inter-dependance. Independence and self-determination can be discussed as more than economic terms, and if the Republican Party ever hopes to win again it should learn how to do so.
As was mentioned, most people just want to provide for their families and earn a living that allows them to enjoy their home and friends, or whatever other endeavor allows them to find fulfillment. Being an entrepreneur is seen as something that cannot co-exist with leisure both due to its demanding nature and the economic insecurity of undertaking such an endeavor. If you pursue a dream of starting a new company, chances are that pursuit will take significant time away from home, family, and other leisurely activities. However, another thing that cannot co-exist with leisure is the economic insecurity that accompanies being young, a recent immigrant, or single young woman. The problem for the GOP is producing a platform that will speak to the insecurities of the middle class and other such groups, and to do so in a language that speaks to the more human side of our nature.
The Democratic Party understands this greatly, which is probably a major factor in why they have proved so formidable at the ballot box. The liberal belief that identity is found in sexuality, gender, or ethnicity, is just as grave an error, and my colleague is quite right in calling it a “New Form of Slavery,” but at least it is a more human and relate-able error that keeps the language centered on human existence instead of spreadsheets.
The conservative response should be to seek policies that preserve and encourage the truly human and beautiful qualities of life: Family, property, and dignity.