The illusions of political reality

This column on the moral calculations driving American politics is very insightful.

Mr. Brooks notes that “perception is political reality, and over the decades many Americans have become convinced that conservatives care only about the rich and powerful.” The other side of the coin, of course is the perceived care for the poor on the part of Democrats and progressives.

But this is an illusion, and Brooks puts it well: “The irony is maddening. America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children. Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular.”

I have long wondered why the test of morality in politics is public pronouncements of personal beliefs and intents without any apparent regard for the actual results of policy for actual living human persons. If the metric for the morality of public policy were the improvement of life for human persons, a great deal more discussion would be had about what morality is implied by the outcomes of “compassionate” government policies, even supposedly conservative ones, over the past century or so.

This is a problem in a culture that has chosen to amuse itself to death while also wanting to appear communitarian and engaged. The perception of caring comes largely from visceral visual cues rather than thoughtful reflection, and those determining the visual cues available today are decidedly committed to progressive ideology.

I’m trying to imagine how conservatives politicians might communicate Mr. Brooks’s message that “improving the lives of vulnerable people [is] the primary focus of authentically conservative policies” in a pop media culture where a prominent political attack on a party, the “GOP war on women,” can be ginned up from the question of whether contraceptives are available at no out-of-pocket cost. I’m not optimistic.

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