One of my favorite shows on Fox News is “Stossel”, hosted by former ABC investigative reporter, John Stossel. His show generally focuses on the power of capitalism and free markets to bring about prosperity and increase the standard of living. He also exposes the growing bureaucracy and regulations that stifle economic growth, doing segments on issues like Obamacare, red tape, and the difficulties in starting charter schools. What can conservatives learn from John Stossel?
John Stossel’s show is a lesson in how conservatives can begin to spread their influence and change people’s minds. Pat Buchanan spoke at the 1992 Republican National Convention on the need to take back “block by block…our cities…our culture…our country,” and Stossel’s show demonstrates that we can. In order to change people’s minds, we need messengers that can clearly articulate our positions, instead of wonks or academics that have research but no influence or charisma. Stossel has done more to spread the ideals of capitalism than any Ph.D economist could ever do, because he took both research and real life examples and presented them in a compelling, entertaining fashion.
For example, one recent episode focused on school choice, a system where parents can use tax credits or vouchers to send their kids to other public schools, private schools, homeschooling, or some other form of education (like online learning). During the episode, Stossel not only exposed some of the barriers to school choice, like powerful union heads and people like Bill de Blasio, but also presented real life proof of the benefits of school choice, in the form of students that benefited from homeschooling and on-line learning. He combined this with a debate between the head of the teacher’s union and the head of charter schools, as well as recognizable politicians, including Ron Paul, and video from a rally for charter schools with Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Stossel made a convincing argument for a conservative/libertarian policy in an engaging and easy to follow argument. He used real life examples, consulted political leaders, and allowed both sides to make their case (although, obviously, the school choice side was heavily favored). When conservatives want to argue about issues, we should remember the benefits of having solid messengers backed up with credible research. This is a failure conservatives struggle with on many issues.
I am often disappointed, for example, when I see traditional marriage supporters arguing against same-sex “marriage” using solely religious arguments. Saying that something will offend God isn’t necessarily an incorrect statement, but if you already believe that statement then you probably already oppose same-sex “marriage.” Better tactics would be to use sociological studies which shows children need a mother and a father in their lives in order to thrive, or to argue that the state’s promotion of gay marriages weakens the institution of marriage by removing the procreative element from it. Both are strong arguments which do not require religious convictions to accept. (For more secular arguments against gay marriage, I suggest taking a look at this essay from Adam Kolasinski.) For this reason, I believe that people like Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation and Sherif Girgis are going to make great progress in changing hearts and minds on gay marriage, as their arguments for traditional marriage are articulate and not necessarily religious.
The pro-life movement has discovered this as well: while religious groups may take enormous amounts of credit for leading the charge against pro-choice laws and pro-choice politicians, the best arguments are often non-religious. For example, the Secular Pro-Life website lists 4 pro-life arguments: the fetus is a human being, a person and a human being are the same, humans possess basic rights, and bodily autonomy is not an absolute. None of these arguments are religious arguments, but they are all clear and well-reasoned. The pro-life religious position and the pro-life secular position are only slightly different, since they both have the same goal of eliminating abortion. Secular pro-lifers argue that the fetus is a human being; religious groups just take it one step farther and argue that since God created all of us, fetuses need to be treated with the same dignity as other humans. With new science and technology helping us learn more about fetal development, both secular and religious pro-lifers are now able to make scientifically-based arguments as well (therefore using research) to argue that life begins at conception. A poll last year proves the effect that pain-capability studies have had on public opinion: 60% of women supported an abortion ban after 20 weeks, as did 50 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of Independents, and 40 percent of liberals.
When debating public issues and trying to change hearts and minds, it is important to learn lessons from messengers like John Stossel. Arguments based in credible research and delivered with good messaging can prove highly effective in changing opinions. One issue at a time, conservatives can start taking back public opinion on major issues and changing our country for the better.