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A Book for Tin Men: “The Conservative Heart” by Arthur Brooks

“I’d be tender; I’d be gentle and awful sentimental, regarding love and art…. If I only had a heart,” sang the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Conservative Heart” written by Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), provides conservatives with a yellow brick road toward political victory along with ideas to shake off the perception of being a heartless party. The book is a primer for anyone trying to persuade Americans that conservatism provides better and more innovative ideas when it comes to helping people. Brooks believes that conservatives must couple their arguments with heartfelt compassion for the problems facing real people right now. For example, in the early days of Christianity, St. Paul knew that by showing their true hearts to everyone, the fledgling Christians would magnetize themselves and draw in outsiders organically. Brooks asks conservatives to do the same.

Brooks, a former classically-trained musician who lived and performed mostly in Europe, was originally raised in Seattle by a politically left-leaning family. He has a less than typical resume for the head of one of Washington’s top right-leaning think tanks.  At a recent Georgetown University forum, Brooks’ infectious stage presence, even opposite President Obama, seemed to disarm the left with his cogent arguments filled with emotion and people-focused antidotes. Brooks has often said his ideas “are a sneak attack on the other side,” who mischaracterize the conservative view on caring for people in poverty. He argues that liberals have been using the same old policy tools for the last 50 years which don’t work and leave people without hope, character, or tangible skills. One could say, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day (liberal thought); teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime (conservative thought).”

Brooks gets to the heart of the matter of why people don’t think conservatives care or have viable options to solve problems. Because conservatives “don’t speak in a way that reflects our own hearts, many Americans simply don’t trust conservatism and are unwilling to give us the chance to implement those solutions.” Brooks demands conservatives to understand that all “economic issues are moral issues.” He laments that Republicans have done a terrible job explaining how the free enterprise system has lifted billions of people around the globe out of poverty. Meanwhile liberals, progressives, and socialists have sent us on a detour towards government serfdom. However, don’t think Brooks is against all liberal ideas.  Brooks wants conservatives to be “the guardian[s] of the social welfare system.” He claims that the safety net is one of the greatest accomplishments of western civilization, as long as only the indigent use it. Anyone else taking from the system would not just be robbing from the taxpayer, but robbing themselves of their own true happiness.

The book also deals with the question of what makes people happy and what is the meaning of life. Brooks believes it is those who have faith, family, community, and meaningful work who have clear purpose and are happy. “Work gives people something that welfare never can provide, a sense of self-worth and mastery, the feeling we are in control of our lives.” He believes we need to view the poor as an “underutilized asset” instead of a liability to society. Conservatives need to bring back real social justice.  A system that provides equal opportunity and success based off of merit.

After reading “The Conservative Heart,” I am reminded of Jack Kemp, the “bleeding heart conservative.” Kemp served as congressman in my own area of Houghton, NY and was the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. He is credited with the supply side economics revolution during the Reagan era. Yet Kemp’s true passion wasn’t just cutting marginal tax rates. Rather, it was fighting for the opportunity and aspirations of the poor, minorities, immigrants, and the marginalized.  He worked with folks who simply did not fit with the typical conservative voting bloc.  Many of Kemp’s ideas are still used today, like entrepreneurial zones in poor neighborhoods. In 1996 Jack Kemp noted “democratic capitalism is not just the hope of wealth, but it’s the hope of justice. When we look into the face of poverty, we see the pain, the despair and need of human beings. But above all, in every face of every child, we must see the image of God.” Kemp passed away nearly seven years ago and left a void for the “heart” of the conservative party.  Arthur Brooks and his book, “The Conservative Heart,” pick up where Mr. Kemp left off.

Conservatives are often criticized for having hearts like the Tin Man, but they now can take solace.  Near the end of “The Wizard of Oz,” in a symbolic gesture, the Wizard gives the Tin Man a heart shaped clock that ticks. We come to understand the Tin Man always had a heart, which was demonstrated by his thoughtfulness, compassion, appreciation, and love. Now, Brooks is playing the role of the wizard, giving us this symbolic book to help conservatives realize they too have always had a heart. They just need to show it.