The Right Approach to Social Justice; Compassionate Conservatism Is Already 'Fighting for People'

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Taube

On the left-right political spectrum, there are certain public-policy positions that aren't necessarily a good fit. For many liberals, this would include laissez-faire capitalism, capital punishment and support for a flat tax.

For many conservatives, the list would contain the preservation of a welfare state, public health care and above all, social justice.

There are a few liberals and conservatives who want to try and make these policy positions fit (somehow) for their ideological counterparts. It's a difficult task, but you have to admire their determination and creativity.

For example, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks has just attempted to make the case for a positive social-justice policy for conservatives.

In the February 2014 issue of Commentary magazine, Mr. Brooks writes that the "American conservative's reluctance to articulate a social-justice agenda of his own only feeds the perception that the right simply doesn't care about the less fortunate." Hence, he thinks, "Conservative leaders owe it to their followers and the vulnerable to articulate a positive social-justice agenda for the right."

In Mr. Brooks' view, there are "three pillars" that conservatives and free-enterprise enthusiasts can use to their advantage: "transformation, relief and opportunity -- in that order."

This would allow them to deal with pressing social-justice issues, such as poverty, welfare reform, labor-market woes, social safety net and the minimum wage. By doing so, it would disprove the myth that the "central, motivating purpose of conservative philosophy is not fighting against things," but instead affirm that it's "fighting for people."

Mr. Brooks' article is worth reading from an intellectual standpoint. He deserves credit for trying to create a lasting link between conservatives and social justice. Unfortunately, the link that he envisions cannot be created in the model he has conceived.

Why? Consider the powerful messages of some sports commercials: "Image is everything" (Andre Agassi and Canon EOS Rebel), "Failure" and "Let your game speak" (Michael Jordan and Nike), and "Hey, kid, catch!" ("Mean" Joe Greene and Coca-Cola). When it comes to Washington, the message is -- and will always remain -- "Politics is perception."

Perception is a vital tool in politics. While the introduction of a strong, conservative-oriented social-justice policy would win over some voters, most Americans would perceive this policy shift as a means of pandering to the masses. …