Conservatives Need to Leave Their Comfort Zone on Poverty, Charity, and Welfare

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Philip Klein wrote on Wednesday that he was unhappy about the lack of healthcare panels at CPAC this year. “Interest in health care policy on the Right is looking more like a fad built around opposition to Obamacare,” he concluded. Today he directs my attention to Ben Grivno:

Healthcare isn’t the only panel discussion CPAC is missing. I, too, examined the CPAC 2013 schedule and there are exactly zero panel discussions on poverty, charity, welfare, or community involvement — all of which are important issues to a majority of Americans….Considering the level of disinterest in these crucial topics, Conservatives should not be surprised we are perceived as uncaring by most of America….If the right is to have any hope of becoming a permanent majority, we must learn to enthusiastically embrace issues outside of our comfort zone. These issues we’re ignoring are just waiting to have conservative principles applied to them.

Obviously I have my doubts that these issues desperately need to have conservative principles applied to them, but then, I’m a liberal. I wouldn’t think that, would I?

Still, Grivno is right that conservatives need to demonstrate some genuine interest in these problems. If the only things that get the crowds roaring at CPAC are attacks on gays and calls to slash spending on food stamps, it’s not much of a surprise that conservatives are perceived as uncaring. It’s because their revealed preferences demonstrate pretty conclusively that they are uncaring. 

Times change. In the same way that Democrats had to painfully come to grips with growing public anxiety over crime in the 70s and 80s, conservatives need to respond to today’s growing public anxiety over middle-class wage stagnation and growing income inequality. And within a conservative framework, they need to genuinely respond, not just produce tired old nostrums that are plainly intended more for looks than as real solutions. The public didn’t buy it when Democrats initially tried to brush off crime with shibboleths, and they won’t be any more indulgent with conservatives over modern-day pocketbook issues.

But yeah, this will require conservatives to work outside their comfort zones. That’s going to take a while.

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