Last week, I attended a Georgia Public Policy Foundation lunch featuring Arthur Brooks, president of American Enterprise Institute. Arthur and I met a few years ago in Atlanta after he gave a speech based on his 2006 book, "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism." He's one of the brightest guys in the areas of policy analysis, data and language, and I listen to him every chance I get.
It turns out that, according to Brooks' research, those who give to others are more likely to be conservative and more likely to be happy. Since then, Brooks has published "Gross National Happiness," and "The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future."
An unlikely conservative champion, Brooks was raised in Seattle by college professor parents whom he describes as liberal. After teaching music for a while, Brooks earned an economics degree and then a Ph.D. in policy analysis. After working at Georgia State University and Syracuse University, Brooks moved to AEI, where he serves as president of the conservative think tank.
Brooks' background is important because it is nontraditional. His conversion to conservatism reflects his underlying research in behavioral science. He believes free enterprise, freedom of choice and limited government work because the underlying data prove that it does.
Brooks is worth listening to for ideas, approaches to policy arguments, and phrases that are memorable and descriptive. A few years ago, I first heard the comparison phrase "takers or makers" when talking to Brooks. Since then, I have used it numerous times and have heard it used by others even more.
Last week, Brooks' talk focused on the importance of raising the level of the argument against President Obama's policies in the coming 2012 presidential election. If, as a conservative, you believe that we need a policy revolution, the question then becomes: How does one make it happen?
According to Brooks, policy revolutions include four phases: 1) the moral case for change, 2) knocking over things in the way of the policy revolution, 3) proposing real solutions and 4) providing leadership to induce people to make sacrifices for the policy change.
According to Brooks, the moral case for change is hardest.
Margaret Thatcher, the great conservative former prime minister of England, understood this tenet. "First, you win the argument," she said, "then you win the vote." Ronald Reagan was the last American president to clearly articulate the conservative case at this high level.
That's why many conservatives love Reagan.