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Pharisees and Conservatives—But I Repeat Myself

AEI President Arthur Brooks’s latest Wall Street Journal op-ed has been a little hard for me to take because it basically says conservatives are dumb meanies. But you know what? He’s right. Bear with me. This isn’t an “I turned liberal on you” missive. Marvin Olasky, who runs World Magazine and from whom I’m attempting to learn more about writing and accurate perception, talks about the church’s “older brother syndrome.” His reference comes from Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son. We all know the prodigal son runs away and wantonly spends his inheritance—not entirely unlike the generation before us, which has drowned us and our children in debt for the sake of their own comfort. But the older, responsible brother is not a role model, either. He dourly performs his duties, and like far too many conservatives, he begrudges his brother’s wasteful living, spending his waking hours condemning his brother, rather than offering him mercy. The father in the parable offers both sons mercy. But only the prodigal takes it. The older brother is still concerned about proving himself right. (This is my natural habit of mind, by the way.) As Brooks points out, the American public doesn’t care about absolute right and wrong. That may be bad, but there’s nothing we can do immediately to fix it. Americans do, however, care about people who are hurting, and they care about the poor more than they care about those who self-righteously justify themselves. You know what? So does God. The self-righteous are busy justifying why they don’t need God. Only the prodigal—and we are all prodigals—will go to his knees, in need of help. Of course, that’s not to say God ignores sin, or that stealing other people’s futures is fine and dandy. But as Dmitri Karamazov says in “The Brothers Karamozov” (paraphrased, and speaking non-theologically), everyone in society is responsible for society’s sins. The problem is not them. The problem is us. We conservatives can’t go around acting like the Pharisaical older brother, demanding that people start caring about debt-to-GDP ratios and endangering the world’s reserve currency and evil government bureaucracy, because “we’re right!” and “we have the facts on our side!” Instead, we need to show, as Brooks says, how each and every one of these realities hurts the vulnerable. You can read the entere piece here, but here’s Brooks’s opening:
America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children. Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular. According to Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin, the percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80% since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid. It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship. The left talks a big game about helping the bottom half, but its policies are gradually ruining the economy, which will have catastrophic results once the safety net is no longer affordable. Labyrinthine regulations, punitive taxation and wage distortions destroy the ability to create private-sector jobs. Opportunities for Americans on the bottom to better their station in life are being erased.