Do You Speak Conservative?

Mona Charen

2/10/2012 12:01:00 AM - Mona Charen

Newt Gingrich knows the lingo. He makes conservative audiences roar with approval when he compares the efficiency of FedEx and MasterCard to the post office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He never loses an opportunity to attack the press for its moral preening. Conservatives adore this table turning. Nothing makes them angrier than to be derided as heartless by people who define virtue by their willingness to give away other people's money.

Rick Perry quickly lost his own conservative luster when he used the word "heartless" about his Republican rivals.

Want to see how conservatives behave? Rent and watch "The Blind Side." The family that adopted Michael Oher, a homeless black teenager, was conservative and Christian. Think that's an anomaly? Glance at the families of Republican office seekers. John and Cindy McCain adopted a sickly child from Pakistan. Jon and Mary Kaye Huntsman have two adopted daughters, one from China and one from India. Michele and Marcus Bachmann have five biological children and fostered 23 teenagers -- many with eating disorders and other challenges. Wander into any church or synagogue on the weekend and you will find more of a "rainbow coalition" than at a New York Times editorial conference.

Self-described conservatives, as Arthur C. Brooks demonstrated so cogently in his book "Who Really Cares," donate more to charity than do self-identified liberals. Perhaps that's because conservatives are wealthier? No. Liberals on average earn 6 percent more than conservatives. Yet conservatives donate about 30 percent more. Conservatives also volunteer more of their time -- and their blood. Brooks writes: "If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply of the United States would jump about 45 percent." Of the 25 states that had higher than average charitable giving, 24 went for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004.

Liberals define virtue not by one's personal behavior but by one's political positions. Thus, Bill Clinton could, without risking the ire of liberals, behave like a caveman with women who actually came into his orbit because he supported unrestricted abortion for those who didn't. Similarly, Tim Geithner gets a pass on failing to pay his own taxes because he favors raising taxes on "the rich."

Rick Santorum understands these fault lines viscerally. Mitt Romney lives and thinks like a conservative, but he's not a good polemical conservative. One aspect of his stump speech that falls particularly flat with Republican primary voters is when he describes President Obama as a "good man" who "just doesn't get it."

It isn't that conservatives think Obama is personally evil (well, OK, some do), but they don't want their candidate to concede the moral high ground. That really rankles. Romney fell into that trap by conceding that he would raise the minimum wage after his gaffe about the "very poor." No! Everyone knows that the minimum wage increases youth unemployment. The answer to the problems of the very poor (at least those not mentally or physically disabled), as Romney has elsewhere emphasized, is to unshackle the private sector to create jobs and to remove the government incentives to idleness (such as 99 weeks of unemployment benefits).

The Heritage Foundation has just released its annual Index of Dependence on Government. Since 2008, the number of Americans dependent on state subsidies has grown 23 percent, to the point where 1 in 5 Americans is now dependent on the government. That's the highest rate in history.

The 20 percent of Americans who depend on government receive an average of $32,748 in benefits, which is more than the disposable income of the average American. Fifty-three percent of all American infants are now enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Fifty-three percent!

The greatest enlargement in dependency in American history may strike President Obama and his liberal supporters as a moral triumph -- but for most conservatives it represents both an injustice and a fiscal calamity. It's an injustice both to those who pay for it (the minority who still pay income taxes) and to many of those enveloped in state subsidies. Dependence breeds intractable poverty and low self-esteem.

Someone needs to ask Obama how an increasingly impoverished nation, limping along on food stamps and housing subsidies, is going to pay for the existing beneficiaries, along with 77 million baby boomers set to retire in the next 25 years. A president who has impaired the vibrancy of the private sector so badly has long since forfeited the moral high ground.