One of the manifest failings of conservatives in the battle for public opinion has been to cede arguments based on fairness and compassion to the Left. Conservatives care about fairness and compassion every bit as much as liberals do. However, following the advice of Milton Friedman, they have been reluctant to make arguments on that basis. In part, this is because they pride themselves on making fact-based and (in the case of the more libertarian-inclined) philosophically clean arguments. In part, this is because they consider fairness and compassion to be subjective, and a slippery slope to accepting the basic liberal thesis of an activist government.
Ultimately, this has been a mistake, leading many in the middle to conclude – incorrectly – that since conservatives only talk about poverty in terms of numbers, rather than people, conservatives don’t really care about poor or vulnerable people.
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, we got a chance to see what happens when conservatives make fairness and compassion arguments, and defend the poor and vulnerable. Virtually every one of those testifying against the Bag Tax brought up the fact that it would disproportionately hurt the poor. Here’s how liberal Democrat Paul Lopez, who was a strong supporter of Occupy Denver, responded:
If you’re on SNAP benefits, you’re food is paid for. If you can carry five bags, that’s fifty cents. It’s not that big of an impact.
In his manner, his style, and his words, he sounded exactly like every liberal’s caricature of a conservative talking about how the poor don’t carry their weight.
Here was Councilman Debbie Ortega:
You know, I get the Mayor’s concern about the fee and the impact to people. I just had the budget office pull for me a list of all the fees that we’ve done in the last two years, and we’ve got over twenty-three different fees that have been brought forward, so to say that we’re concerned about a 5-cent fee when – and, and that’s not all of them that are on the table. We’ve got some others that are being discussed right now. So I’m not real sure what the real angst is, about a 5-cent fee…
Wow, we’ve already jacked up fees on poor people twenty-three times over the last two years, so why do they care about about five cents every time they pick up some groceries?
This is what happens when conservative learn to properly point out that liberal policies hurt the poor the most, and conservative policies offer them the best chance at a better life. Liberals react by saying the same, tone-deaf things that conservatives have earned a reputation for saying over the last few years.