Starting a Big, Bold Conversation

“The goal is to show that Republicans have a heart,” Alex Smith, national chairwoman of the College Republican National Committee told Elle.

In some ways it is a disastrously low bar to clear. After all, if you have to actually prove to voters that you are capable of displaying a human emotion resembling compassion, then you’re probably going to have a difficult time proving to them that you’re worthy of holding office. But, in many ways, it’s a differentiator in a town that has increasingly become defined by craven political ambition and the constant need to court donors as much as voters.

Smith’s answer came in response to the Elle reporter’s use of the old political bromide suggesting that adults political leanings tend to shift as their relationship with a salary and taxes becomes more intimate.

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart,” it goes. “If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

College Republicans have been working tirelessly to show that it’s not true. We care deeply and passionately about the plight of every American. But we also believe honestly and wholeheartedly that conservative principles—accurately expressed—are the best method to lift people out of poverty and carry people into prosperity.

We don’t rely on economists to prove out these theories (though we easily could), we can point to the experience of the world. Here’s the American Enterprise Institute’s David Brooks to explain:

“Since I was a child, the percentage of the world’s population living at starvation levels has declined 80 percent! At least 2 billion people have been pulled out of absolute poverty. It was not progressive para-state entities such as the United Nations that did this; it was American conservative ideas that spread around the world, such as globalization, free trade, property rights, rule of law, and entrepreneurship.

We should be shouting this from the rooftops.”

And yet somehow the Republican Party is known as a bunch of negative Scrooge’s tooling around Washington looking for ideas to shoot down, particularly ones associated with some beneficence to poor and struggling Americans. To be absolutely clear, Republicans are partly to blame for this paradox of amazing policy results and poor perception, just as Democrats can claim “success” in winning the empathy vote despite continuing to espouse welfare state ideologies that have utterly failed to lift people to the dignity of earned success.

Not all of this is our fault. Conservatives have a much heavier messaging burden to carry because as economist Henry Hazlitt explained in his inimitable book Economics in One Lesson, “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for on group but for all groups.” Unsurprisingly, that’s hard to accomplish in one sound bite.

Take the minimum wage as an example. President Obama gets to win over the multitudes of struggling workers with a simple line, “It’s time to give America a raise.” Conservatives, on the other hand, have to explain that, well, a higher minimum wage increases the cost of hiring unskilled workers, that the higher labor costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, that it’s a poorly targeted policy whose benefits won’t much accrue to those afflicted by poverty, and that we in fact have a better idea, i.e. the earned income tax credit (a relatively complicated pro-work policy that also takes a ridiculously long time to explain).

College Republicans understand we can’t abandon these deep policy conversations, especially since young adults appear to revel in wonkery. But we still have to talk to them, not through them. Or, as Smith tells Elle, “The only thing I have control of here is how we talk to young people. So my focus is starting that conversation in the biggest, boldest way possible.”

Big and bold. That’s what we’ll aspire to over the coming months.