Jonah Goldberg

While this may seem obvious, the fact is that one GOP's worst tics is its habit of reading its stage directions out loud. For instance, Republicans often talk about how they're not going to "go negative." George H.W. Bush had such contempt for Bill Clinton's gift for wholesale empathy, he felt the need to proclaim, "Message: I care."

Obviously, Republicans should care about what is best for the country and the voters -- and they should demonstrate that concern -- but they will never beat liberals at the game of whose heart bleeds the most. As liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne observes, Cantor's rebranding maneuvers the GOP into a contest on Democratic turf: who cares more about workers, the poor, immigrants, etc. As Dionne notes, that's why Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer immediately praised Cantor's remarks.

The reason that game is so perilous for conservatives is not that liberals necessarily care more than conservatives but that they are always willing and eager to prove their concern by cutting a check, even when all we have in the checking account is IOUs and cash on loan from China. Moreover, they are perfectly happy and eager to say that anyone who opposes more check-kiting is greedy or selfish, even if what Democrats are doing is making the problem they seek to solve worse. All too often, liberals act as if government has a monopoly on compassion.

"There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism," Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, "joined with a certain superiority in its fact." Children often think their parents are being mean when they tell their kids to do their homework. That doesn't make the parents mean, it makes them responsible. Eventually, the lessons of life persuade children their parents were right all along.

Voters aren't children, but too many of them have the childish notion that the best policies are those that pander to their immediate desires. The challenge for the GOP is to persuade them to put away childish things.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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