Over the past several decades Democrats have excelled at framing the GOP as a bunch of moralizing stiffs. According to this popular perception of Republicans, they regularly point their fingers at a sinful society and promise an eternity of fire and brimstone to transgressors. To be fair, some of this reputation has been earned by their traditional views on social issues. However, Republicans are surprisingly shy when it comes to embracing morality while advocating for their positions, a fact that is especially apparent when it comes time for them to defend economic liberty and free markets.
In a practical sense, candidates have a choice between two arguments when making their case: the argument from effect or the argument from morality. The argument from effect holds that a given policy or position represents the most effective way to govern. The argument from morality, on the other hand, holds that a policy or position represents the right way to govern.
The contrast between these two styles was on display in our latest presidential contest.
The argument from effect is the natural language of the technocrat, and was enthusiastically embraced by Mitt Romney. While this style played to Romneyâ??s strengths –his history as an effective manager– it made for a flat and uninspiring campaign; a campaign that reached its inglorious crescendo when he literally whipped out a whiteboard at a rally.
Economic calculations on whiteboards! Sure, thatâ??s sure to get people to the voting booths!
Although his strength as a manager was his primary asset, technocrats like Romney often appear to lack moral bearings, a fact his opponents were happy to exploit. One of the most oft repeated criticisms of the former governor was that he appeared to be a man who would do and say anything to win. While Romney may very well be a man of great moral conviction, you wouldnâ??t know it by listening to him talk.
On the other hand, President Obama and the Democrats employed the argument from morality effectively and without hesitation. Obama routinely made biblical allusions on the stump, declaring on a number of occasions to be â??his brother’s keeperâ?ť. The message was clear to voters: support Barack Obama and be your brotherâ??s keeper, or support Mitt Romney and metaphorically bludgeon Abel to death.
Democrats strike a similar moral tone in their embrace of “social justice”. While the term itself might be an elastic catch-all for everything from redistributive tax reform to environmental policy, itâ??s anchored in almost universally held Judeo-Christian assumptions including concern for the poor and empowerment of the weak.
Let’s face it; no one was ever roused into action by the promise of being part of something effective. Rather, people tend to mobilize if they believe they are part of something good. The political warrior is rarely interested in a protracted war of attrition; he wants a crusade.
Were anti-slavery forces in antebellum America stirred by the fact that slavery was an ineffective means of cultivation farm land? Of course not. They were compelled to act by their belief that slavery was a moral abomination.
Did proponents of women’s suffrage achieve their goals by claiming that allowing women to vote would result in elected leaders of a higher caliber? Nope. They achieved them by convincing Americans that allowing women to vote was right.
The tea party arose, in part, from an awakening to the fact that many of the economic questions of the day have moral dimensions to them that are as important as their practical dimensions. Hundreds of thousands of people didn’t take to the streets because spending billions of dollars on bailing out investment banks was ineffective. They came out because it was wrong. They didn’t march on Washington because trillions of dollars in debt threatens to debase the currency. They marched because creating trillions in debt for the next generation to pay is immoral.
This awakening represented one of the few electoral bright spots in what has otherwise been a number of dismal years for the GOP and what has the Republican establishment take away from it? Whiteboards.
Much of the tension within the GOP arises from the fact that there is so much hesitation to stand by economic freedom as a moral concept, the party faithful are beginning to suspect â??whether theyâ??re correct or incorrect– that those at the top don’t actually believe it is anymore.
The argument from morality is where the real power is and economic freedom is nothing if not moral. It encourages peaceful cooperation. It elevates voluntary relationships over coerced ones. It empowers individuals without regard to race, gender, or class. Republicans need to understand that they can make the moral argument without sounding like out of touch moralizers. It’s not only an effective way to win campaigns; it’s the right thing to do.
Nick Rizzuto is the supervising producer of Real News on TheBlaze Network.