A Simple Message Conservatives Should Adopt: Government Doesn’t Work



One of the problems I have with conservative messaging is it tends to be aimed mostly at people who are already conservatives and a lot of what we pitch to people is too conceptual. We talk a lot about the founding principles of the country and the appeal to traditional values and point to the Constitution as if it that settles the argument.

Now don’t get me wrong, I agree with these things but that’s the catch…I already agree. People who don’t think they are terribly important or in most cases unfamiliar with what those things means aren’t likely to be persuaded by appeals to things like the “proper constitutional role” of government”. You can insist that they should but you can’t actually make them. In many ways we are speaking a foreign language to people like that. It’s frustrating but one of the key philosophical tenets of conservatism is dealing with the world as it is, not as we wish it were.

So how can we appeal to people who don’t share our philosophical approach? Concrete real world examples of why government doesn’t really work.

When I find myself in a political discussion with someone who thinks more government is better or that less government would be a disaster I ask them why they are so confident that government is the answer.

Assuming I’m in the mood to try and change a mind or at least plant a seed of doubt as opposed to being up for a good fight, I’ll respond to their very general (it’s almost always a string of platitudes, liberals or mushy “moderates” tend not to be very deep thinkers about these things) by offering some concrete examples of big government failures.

Head Start is a great place to begin. Everyone wants to do something “for the children” and while it might be a bit pricey ($180 billion since its inception) but you can’t put a price on giving children a “head start” in life, right?

Well, Head Start has been shown time and time again to provide no measurable benefit to the children enrolled. These are scientific studies (We all like and trust science, right? Sure we do!) sponsored in many case not by people who hate government programs in general or Head Start in particular but in many cases by the people who are in charge of administering Head Start.

If I talked about the fact that the federal government has no constitutional role in education no one would listen. My objection to Head Start isn’t rank ideological dislike but rather I’m upset that money is being spent by people who obviously don’t know how to improve the lives of children.

Healthcare is like shooting fish in a barrel these days.
You simply point to the unimpeachable Oregon study showing that it doesn’t improve healthcare outcomes (Again, you don’t disagree with science, do you?), the failing state exchanges, or the disgrace of the Veterans Administration killing American heroes in order to protect their bureaucratic scorecard.

How is the government going to manage the healthcare of millions more Americans when it can’t even manage the ones currently under its care?
Again, my objections when talking to people like this aren’t ideological (well it is but that’s not going to move a non-ideological person, so why go there?), it’s just noting a simple truth…the government hasn’t shown itself to be competent to manage things. If it were maybe I’d be on board with the government doing more (I wouldn’t but again, we never get to that point because governments aren’t competent to do most of the things it takes on).

It’s not a question of getting smarter or more caring people to run things, we’ve tried Democrats and Republicans for 60 years (see, I’m not partisan! I just care about getting the dang thing right!) and these programs just don’t work. Sure the people who created them and do their best to make them work had the best of intentions but you need to use the right tools. You wouldn’t use a piano to fix a car why would you use government to fix all these problems we have today? It’s only common sense that we admit the government will all the best will and money in the world is just the wrong tool. We need to be pragmatic and try something else!

We as conservatives need to think more about how we talk to non-conservatives and try to bring them to our side. Asking them to buy into a philosophy they are unfamiliar with (or worse abandon the one they currently have) is simply an overly large ask. People like to flatter themselves about how rationale and reasonable they are so appeal to that vanity. Present facts of government failure not as a battle of he said/she said ideologies that reasonable people can disagree over but practical examples offered more in sadness than anger.

This approach is not as flashy as demanding that people understand the limitations the founders placed on the government or how the Bill of Rights doesn’t grant rights but recognizes natural rights that existed prior to the creation of the US government. That’s just too big a leap for people who don’t think about or care about that kind of thing.
It’s not sexy and it’s not going to lead to many Road to Damascus type conversion but it sews doubt. It makes people question what they think they know. The left has spent generations creating dogma around the presumed goodness of government. We have to begin the long process of chipping away at that underlying assumption. And it’s not just liberals we have to work on, it’s rank and file Republicans and their candidates too. They are as enamored with government as any lefty.

If you find yourself talking to a liberal or “moderate” don’t try and hit a grand slam, settle for a solid single. String enough of those together and we might make some progress.


About Drew

I blog about politics and hockey because I sort of understand those things. I'd blog about women but I'll never understand them.

Posted on May 19, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hey Drew, I think you have hit on exactly the kind of simple message we should be utilizing. I speak with progressives at my workplace frequently, arguing policy based on facts and hard numbers– you know, the kind of information libs just ignore. Their eyes get glassy and they spout the usual emotion driven crap we conservatives get so damn frustrated with.
    My only successful tactic to date is to get them to acknowledge the corruption, stupidity, and wastefulness of government– they really cannot deny that, although they will always claim those faults are manifest in both parties. I agree, but then ask them how can they continue to support the party that always expands government and increases the influence of stupid, corrupt, wasteful people. I don’t know that it chages a libs mind, but at least it gives them pause. With undecideds it may well be an effective argument.

  2. I tend to agree, but…
    Give Romney credit for one thing: He cut to the heart of the matter with the “47%” comment. I don’t know if he did it on purpose, or understood all the consequences of it, but at least he said it. When you argue that government doesn’t work, you’re missing the point for the 47 percenters. It certainly works for them, by sending them a check once or twice a month.
    You can argue, “Well, you can’t get through to them, but you can get through to others,” but the fact is, there just aren’t that many “others” anymore. Senior citizens? Bought and paid for. Young people? Please. AFSCME members? Good luck with that one.

  1. Pingback: News of the Week (May 25th, 2014) | The Political Hat

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