I’m jealous of my liberal friends. I’m jealous because they seem to have a corner on the compassion market. Their political representatives champion the poor, minorities, and marginalized, while mine seem intent on invoking Reaganomics and the importance of a balanced budget. Although the economy is fundamentally important, the rhetorical superiority of the liberals should be evident. (Rhetoric 101: When you want to create a following, you should not turn to your accountants for most of the speech material.) It may well be that a more conservative fiscal and economic policy will end up benefiting the most people, but the people, not the policies, should be the focus. As I have written, I tend to believe that conservative principles will ultimately be more beneficial than liberal policies (although I think there are exceptions); however, I find liberal rhetoric much more compelling–it feels more altruistic and mission-driven: Let’s make this a truly equitable country! While equality is not an infallible ideal, it is a powerful rallying cry.
The Republican Party (along with conservatism in general) is the party of abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and school desegregation; of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, and Brown v. Board of Education, but it is no longer seen as the party of equality–the Democrats have taken that place. No, the GOP is the party of laissez-faire government and traditional family values, and these are increasingly viewed as contradictory to equality. I do not think this view is entirely accurate, but I believe that unless this image changes, the Republican Party (should it survive Trump’s candidacy) is doomed. As members of the rising generation become more politically active and powerful, they are likely to bring their idealism and desire to do good with them to the polls. They are already turning down higher-earning jobs for jobs with values and a lifestyle that match their own; they will do the same with political choices–they already are, and they are fleeing the GOP.
Surely part of this leftward movement is due to the caricatured representation of Republicans as self-interested bigots. Although only the most antagonistic of Democrats would claim that every Republican is selfish and bigoted, the GOP as a whole is increasingly viewed as the party of rich white men and poor white racists. There is some truth in every caricature, but the artist also intentionally misrepresents reality. Where this is true of the GOP, it must be rooted out. Where it is inaccurate, Republicans themselves must prove it wrong.
They must prove that conservatism is not antithetical to equity and do-goodism. Indeed, I believe the most important PR work conservatives can do is to demonstrate that conservative principles are inspired by a deep concern for the underdog and will result in a more equitable system. Selflessness, not just security, will vitalize voters. Compassion, not just capital gains, will motivate millennials.