The following is an interview with Peter Schweizer, author of the newly released Makers and Takers (Doubleday, 2008). Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of a number of books, including Reagan’s War, The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty, and Do As I Say (Not As I Do)
Dr. Paul Kengor: Peter Schweizer, welcome to “V&V Q&A.”
Peter Schweizer: Paul, I always enjoy the opportunity to speak with you.
Kengor: This is your 11th book. You became famous with your 1994 work, Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union. You’ve co-authored two books with your wife, Rochelle, and two others with the late Cap Weinberger. You’ve tended toward biographies. In that sense, this latest book is somewhat of a departure. What inspired you to write this book?
Schweizer: A couple of things motivated me. First, there is a stereotype in the media about conservatives. Basically, anyone who is conservative and holds traditional values is considered greedy, angry, authoritarian, intolerant, and selfish. I wanted to look at actual research and determine whether this was true. (Short answer: absolutely not!) Second, I’ve noticed that many conservatives are feeling defensive these days about their values and the merits of what they believe. We have no reason to be defensive.
Kengor: What is a Maker and what is a Taker, and why are conservatives in the former category and liberals in the latter?
Schweizer: The research shows that conservatives are much more outward-oriented and liberals tend toward looking at themselves. There is a sense of entitlement on the left. They are concerned with rights, but not responsibilities. The data clearly shows that.
Kengor: The subtitle is quite a statement in and of itself: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less … And Even Hug Their Children More than Liberals. Surely, Peter, you’ve exaggerated. Can you back up every single one of those claims, or is this book just a diatribe against liberals?
Schweizer: No, this is not a diatribe. Each one of those areas gets a full chapter, and I only included research from the top academic journals and research programs. I didn’t include research from conservative think-tanks, which I purposely avoided.
Kengor: I suppose that of all the charges against liberals in the subtitle, the one that liberals will probably protest most vehemently is the point on materialism. And in their defense, Peter, I must say that I’ve seen some pretty darned materialistic conservatives.
Schweizer: Well remember, in all of this we are talking about tendencies. Not all conservatives are one way and not all liberals are the other. That said, the research really does indicate that liberals value money more than conservatives. After health, they are more likely to consider it the most important thing in their life. And they are more likely to say that there is no wrong way to make money. I think this actually makes sense when you look at modern liberalism. After all, what do liberals use as their measure of justice and equality? Income, or money! This is the reason I believe that modern liberals are also much more likely to be envious of other peoples’ success. They are constantly looking at the money yardstick.
Kengor: Let's switch gears from money to honesty. You argue that conservatives value honesty more than liberals. Explain that.
Schweizer: This was one of the most surprising findings in my research. On basically every question about honesty and cheating: is it alright to cheat on your taxes? Is it okay to cheat on your spouse? Is it acceptable to take money that doesn’t belong to you? What about taking welfare that you don’t qualify for? What about jumping on the subway without paying the fare? In all of these cases, and more, liberals were much more likely to say that it is alright to lie for your own benefit. The question, of course, is why? I think it goes back to the idea of absolute truth vs. relative truth. Modern liberals are much more likely to believe that truth is relative. So if you believe truth is relative, doesn’t it make sense that you would be more likely to say honesty is a subjective thing?
Kengor: How about donating money, particularly as a percentage of income? Tell us what the data show about this.
Schweizer: Conservatives are much more likely to give to charity and they are also much more likely to donate their time to charity. This goes for all income groups and all age groups. For all the talk of youthful liberal idealism, conservative young people volunteer more than liberal kids do.
Kengor: The numbers on Barack Obama’s charitable giving, as well as the Clintons, is shocking. Obama is very miserly, with only Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church getting any meaningful money from Barack and Michelle Obama, and the Clintons’ donations are appallingly self-serving—basically going to themselves, or, more specifically, to Bill’s presidential foundation and library. Based on your research, this is not a surprise?
Schweizer: You bring up an important point, Paul. It’s not just a question of giving to charity, it’s a question of what kind of charity. And the research shows something very interesting: Conservatives tend to give to charities that help people in need; liberals tend to give to cultural organizations or advocacy organizations that try to change the system. In the book I compare the charitable giving of Rush Limbaugh with that of Nancy Pelosi. The data is quite shocking. It will surprise a lot of people to know that Rush is not only more generous but he gives to people with real needs. Pelosi gives to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and to elite prep schools.
Kengor: How does the giving of Barack Obama measure up to, say, George W. Bush, or the nefarious Dick Cheney?
Schweizer: Obama, like John Kerry or Al Gore, has traditionally given a very small portion of his income to charity, approximately 1 percent. Bush gives 10 percent or more on a regular basis. In 2005, Dick Cheney gave 77 percent of his income to charity—and got criticized for it! I also went back and looked at the numbers for Ronald Reagan and FDR. Reagan gave nearly twice as much as FDR did during the height of the Great Depression.
Kengor: But doesn’t Obama care more than Dick Cheney?
Schweizer: Supposedly. At least that is what he tells us. And liberals tell us that in surveys, too. They are much more likely to say that they “feel close” to the poor. The problem is it kind of ends at the feeling part.
Kengor: You cite evidence that liberals tend to be angrier than conservatives.
Schweizer: The evidence is overwhelming. Liberals tend to be angrier at more people and their anger is deeper. They are twice as likely to take revenge on those that make them angry. And they are three times more likely to throw things when they get angry. I think the reason is simple: modern liberalism says anger is a good thing. It’s about authenticity, and fighting social injustice. The left offers a “Rage for Justice” award every year. (Senator John Edwards’ wife won it last year.) Can you imagine the National Rifle Association offering a “Rage for Justice” award?
Kengor: Have you experienced this anger anecdotally in your own life? I can tell you that I’ve received some incredibly hateful emails from liberals over the years, and the worst of which have been from liberal academics who’ve literally called me everything from the devil to a common whore. I have one sitting on my desk right here. On other hand, I know some very kind, even charitable liberals, and I’ve read some nasty emails from conservatives. Are you generalizing? Are you being fair? Aren’t you being mean, Peter?
Schweizer: I repent. I’m being mean. Seriously, I’m not saying that all liberals are angry and all conservatives are calm. And obviously there are times when anger is necessary. What I’m saying is this: the data indicate that those on the left have a greater tendency to be angry, and modern liberalism encourages anger. It’s a sign that you care.
Kengor: Are you now receiving angry emails from liberals complaining that they’re not angry?
Schweizer: Yes, believe it or not, I got one from someone saying that it was a lie that conservatives are happier than liberals. He ended it with, “Go to hell.”
Kengor: Who is the angriest liberal? Do you have a top three or top five?
Schweizer: I don’t have a list. I offer numerous examples in the book of prominent liberals venting their anger and then justifying it later on.
Kengor: Does this anger have an appeal? Howard Dean used it in 2004 to not only eviscerate George W. Bush but to almost propel himself to the 2004 Democratic Party nomination for president.
Schweizer: Yes, anger is a powerful motivating tool. This is what the New Left learned in the '60s. The problem is that it constantly burns. Liberals are almost twice as likely to say that they have been angry at someone in the last five days and twice as likely to be angry at a total stranger. Gloria Steinem talks about “the gift of righteous anger.” Another feminist said, “anger is an act of self-love.” Yikes!
Kengor: Despite his problems with honesty, wasn’t Bill Clinton largely a happy liberal—or at least appeared to be? If so, do you think that positive image was a key to his likeability? In the end, does happiness win?
Schweizer: I think people like an optimist. I can’t look into Clinton’s psyche and know if he is happy or not. What we do know is this: liberals are more likely to attempt suicide, and they are more likely to complain about their spouse, their kids, their job, their hobbies, and their income … even when they earn the same amount as conservatives. One study found that feminists do less housework than traditional women but complain a lot more about it. Victimology is not going to make anyone happy.
Kengor: So, this book is not so much about denigrating liberals as much as their ideology? The problem is not people who are liberals, but, in your view, the ideas behind liberalism, which you feel, in a way, coarsen individuals and even the culture?
Schweizer: Yes, I think that Richard Weaver is right: “Ideas have consequences.” Ideas are what motivate us and shape the way we view the world and interact with others. The problem here is liberal ideas. They often bring out the worst in people.
Kengor: On the other hand, doesn’t liberalism seek the collective good, even to the point of using government to force income redistribution? No doubt, the intentions here are good.
Schweizer: No, I don’t believe that liberalism really does seek the collective good. I think that modern liberalism is so attractive to people because it is an emotionally satisfying belief system that really doesn’t require much from you. Modern liberalism allows you to outsource your responsibilities. The government will take care of the less fortunate. All you need to do is vote for the right candidate and support government programs. Other than that, you are off the hook.
Kengor: On a more personal note, I was moved to open the book and find that you dedicated it to Cap Weinberger, who died in March 2006. Tell us why you did that, and a little about your relationship with Cap and what he meant to you and even the country.
Schweizer: You knew Cap, too, and the kind of man he was. I’ve never met someone who has been at such high levels of power but was so kind to just about everyone. He was a true gentleman. He was also so courageous. He was for a strong military before being for a strong military was cool. He got called lots of names but just chuckled about it and moved on. He was both a friend and mentor to me, very much like a grandfather that I never had. We wrote a couple of books together and numerous articles together. But he was also genuinely interested in me, for which I will be forever grateful. I really believe that Cap was vital to winning the Cold War. Ronald Reagan was the train’s engineer, but Cap was the guy shoveling coal to make sure the fire stayed hot and the train kept moving.
Kengor: Cap was a Maker, wasn’t he? How did the Takers treat Cap Weinberger?
Schweizer: Cap was definitely a Maker. And don’t get me started on how he was mistreated.
Kengor: By the way, I would like to close by informing our audience that you’ve got some Grove City College connections. You and Rochelle are friends of Paul and Bonnie Schaefer, who you met at Oxford. (Dr. Paul Schaefer teaches in our Religion Department.) You and I know one another, of course—we did one book together and are working on a second. And our superb man-behind-the-scenes here at the Center for Vision & Values, Cory Shreckengost, helped you with research on some of your latest books. I guess the next step is to bring you to campus to speak pretty soon, eh?
Schweizer: Is that an invitation? Should I pack the bags? Grove City College is a wonderful place. I’m glad you and the Schaefers are there. If I were a liberal, I might even say that I was a little envious….
Kengor: Peter Schweizer, thanks for talking to “V&V Q&A.”
Schweizer: Thanks, Paul.