ACRU

Peter Ferrara: The New American Supermajority

ACRU General Counsel Peter Ferrara wrote this column appearing September 1, 2010 on The American Spectator.

The aerial photograph does not lie. Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally drew just about as many people as any other rally ever held at the Lincoln Memorial.

I took the train into town from home in Northern Virginia, packed in like in those Tokyo subway video clips, even though I was late. I marched down to the Memorial from the nearest subway stop at Foggy Bottom, where the D.C. bureaucrats had helpfully disabled the steep escalators from the underground tubes to greet the half a million or more celebrants of liberty on the way in.

From my perspective on the ground, arriving late at about 11:15 (the rally started at 10), I could never get close enough to the podium even to see. But I could hear. And that was all I needed.

On his radio and TV shows, Beck has emphasized economics, political history, and near libertarian political philosophy. He has previously indicated his personal belief in God. But in this speech, he revealed a vision that encompasses the whole Reagan coalition from 1980.

Beck tutored me once again with his insight that the founders grew up in an America where the evangelist George Whitefield crisscrossed the colonies inspiring a national religious revival, that they probably personally heard or read Whitefield sermons, and that this foundation informed their work in later founding America.

Of course, Whitefield himself suffered some moral blindness and shortcomings, as has Beck in his past, as we all have. That is why we all need God. As Beck said in explaining the message of the event:

Saturday’s message — shhh! It’s a big secret. I’ve only talked about it for six months on one of the biggest cable news shows in history and the third largest radio show in America…so…just between us. Don’t anyone tell the media: The secret is God…We’re running low on personal responsibility. We’ve got a loss of integrity, a loss of shame in this country, a loss of principles and values. We’ve lost our way because we have lost God…. And hopefully, we will mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor [as the signers of the Declaration of Independence did]. At least we will begin to look at those things, start to maybe challenge that we haven’t valued those things high enough –honesty, integrity, merit, personal responsibility, family, and God. That is why we call it the “Restoring Honor” event.

And that is why the event involved spotlighting those in the military who have earned honor by demonstrating merit, something many in the media also couldn’t understand. Beck explained that this is the road to the revival of America: “We have lost our honor. We must restore our honor first, our principles.”

But Beck’s point about Whitefield made clear to me that the Reagan coalition, which Beck embodies quite well, goes all the way back to 1740, and was the foundation of the American Revolution itself. Indeed, it goes all the way back to the Mayflower Compact.

The 70% Supermajority

Beck kept emphasizing to the crowd, “You are not alone.” That is fully documented in Arthur Brooks’ brilliant new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future. Indeed, Brooks goes on to make much the same argument as Beck and his Restore Honor rally, but in purely secular, academic, carefully logical terms. Brooks writes:

Whether we look at capitalism, taxes, business, or government, the data show a clear consistent pattern: 70 percent of Americans support the free enterprise system and are unsupportive of big government. By contrast, somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the adult population opposes free enterprise and prefers government solutions to our problems.

Here’s a wow moment from the book. An April 2009 survey of registered voters asked which of the following statements about the role of government comes closer to your view:

(a) Government should promote fairness by narrowing the gap between rich and poor, spreading the wealth, and making sure that economic outcomes are equal.

(b) Government policies should promote opportunity by fostering job growth, encouraging entrepreneurs, and allowing people to keep more of what they earn.

Only 31 percent chose (a), which is the foundational view of the liberal/left. Over twice as many, 63 percent, chose (b), which is a classic formulation of the conservative, libertarian, free market philosophy. And this was at the height of the reign and popularity of Obama’s liberal/left regime.

Brooks also recounts that in March 2009 the Pew Research Center asked Americans: “Generally, do you think people are better off in a free market economy, even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time, or don’t you think so?” Brooks reports that 70 percent agreed they were better off in a free market economy. Only 20 percent disagreed. And this was at the depths of the financial crisis, when the American people lost trillions in financial wealth, in their homes and in the stock and bond markets. Brooks adds:

Free enterprise is even more popular than [the terms] capitalism and free markets. In the same Gallup poll mentioned above [January 2010], a stunning 86 percent have a positive image of free enterprise. Only 10 percent have a negative image. Similarly, 84 percent have a positive image of entrepreneurs, while just 10 percent see them negatively.

On taxes, Brooks reports a spring 2009 poll finding that “69 percent of Americans think the top federal tax rate should be 20 percent or lower. Even 62 percent of Democrats think this.” A 2009 Pew Values Survey found that “76 percent of Americans believe the strength of this country is mostly based on the strength of American business…. In 2010, Gallup found that 66 percent of American believe that when big business earns a profit it helps the economy, while just 18 percent think it hurts the economy.” Also, “51 percent of Americans believe unions hurt rather than help the nation’s economy.”

On government, Brooks reports a survey which asked, “Overall, would you prefer larger government with more services and higher taxes, or smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes.” An overwhelming majority of 69 percent of Americans preferred smaller government, while only 21 percent favored larger government. Moreover, emerging Republican Congressional majorities take note, 63 percent of Americans favor cuts in government spending, with only 14 percent against.

The Moral Foundations of Liberty

But the more fundamental point that Brooks makes is that to win the battle for the future of America, advocates for the 70% majority need to do a better job of advancing their cause. They cannot concede that the left best represents fairness and the true interests of the poor, while focusing only on economic growth and materialistic concerns. They need to go back to the moral foundations for liberty and free enterprise, and explain that free markets best promote true fairness, equality, and human happiness, and the true interests of the poor and working people.

Brooks explains, “The main issue in the new American culture war between free enterprise and statism is not material riches — it is human flourishing. This is a battle about nothing less than our ability to pursue happiness,” which means freedom. But, Brooks adds, “Rarely do we use the aspirational themes necessary to make the moral case for free people and free markets that we know in our hearts is right.”

Brooks argues that it is the 30 percent coalition that advances the cold, mechanistic, crassly materialistic view. Just give the poor money, and they will be happy, as will everybody else that matters when we give them money too taken from the rich to attain greater income equality. He explains the moral foundations of the 70% view, saying:

By contrast, the 70 percent majority are New Age radicals. They have simple faith that ingenuity and hard work can and should be rewarded….They know that no amount of unearned money can ever heal the human heart. Money is fine, but it is something else entirely — something less tangible and more transcendental — that really brings satisfaction. The 70 percent majority understands that the secret to human flourishing is not money but earned success in life.

People flourish when they earn their own success. It’s not the money per se, which is merely a measure — not a source — of this earned success. More than any other system, free enterprise enables people to earn success and thereby achieve happiness.

Brooks goes on to explain exactly what is meant by “earned success”:

Earned success means the ability to create value honestly — not by winning the lottery, not by inheriting a fortune, not by picking up a welfare check. It doesn’t even mean making money itself. Earned success is the creation of value in our lives or in the lives of others. Earned success is the stuff of entrepreneurs who seek explosive value through innovation, hard work, and passion. But it isn’t just related to commerce. Earned success is also what parents experience when their children do wonderful things, what social innovators feel when they change lives, and what artists feel when they create something of beauty.

The point, in other words, is “The big problem is not that unhappy people have less money than others. It is that they have less earned success. Your mother was right: Money can’t buy happiness.” But the crassly materialistic, redistributionist left misses this point.

Brooks explains the implications of this for public policy:

Knowing as we do that earning success is the key to happiness, rather than simply getting more money, the goal of our political system should be this: to give all Americans the greatest opportunities possible to succeed based on their hard work and merit [Beck’s word again]. And that’s exactly what the free enterprise system does — makes earned success possible for the most people. This is the liberty our founders wrote about, the liberty that enables the true pursuit of happiness.

The Equality of Liberty

Included among the moral foundations of liberty is the principle of equality. “But for the large majority of us, this means equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome…. If this leads to income inequality — above some acceptable floor — so be it.” In other words, the 70% supermajority accepts safety net programs for the truly needy, to ensure that no one suffers in deprivation. But they do not support going beyond this to income redistribution, taking from the successful to give to the less successful just to achieve more income equality. That is just stealing. This is a fundamental, rock bottom principle that we should all promote with more awareness and fervor. As Brooks explains:

The majority believes government should protect the returns for hard work and merit. The 30 percent coalition effectively wants to penalize success…. [But] equality of income is not fair. It is distinctly unfair. If you work harder than a coworker but are paid the same, that is unfair. If you save your money but still retire with the same pension as your spendthrift neighbor, that is unfair. And if you stay in your house and make the mortgage payments even when its value drops but your neighbor walks away from his without recourse, that is unfair.

What most helps the poor, moreover, is not government programs, but free market opportunity and prosperity. Brooks further explains:

Only free enterprise truly addresses the root causes of poverty. Our solutions are not based on a reslicing of the existing economic pie by government officials and bureaucrats, effectively taking money from the well-off and giving it to the poor through punitive taxation and growing welfare. They are based on an expansion of the pie in ways that will increase everyone’s share through policies and a culture that creates incentives for Americans, allows them to tap into the generative power of entrepreneurship, and ultimately lets them earn their own success.

In contrast, “Because they do not strengthen culture and reinforce values, American welfare programs have spectacularly failed to end poverty.”

Consequently, let us not forget either the broad public appeal of economic growth and empowerment as a political and policy theme, and the common sense appeal of incentives in explaining how that works. Martin Luther King III told the Huffington Post on the day of the Beck rally that his father in 1967 and 1968 “was focused on economic empowerment….We have made great strides, but somehow we’ve got to create a climate so that everybody can do well, not just some.” That is a tailor made theme for the 70 percent Supermajority as well, as the late Jack Kemp demonstrated during his political career.

Moreover, blue collar labor union activists are really just after prosperity for their families as well. It’s just that they don’t recognize yet that general free market economic prosperity is the best way to achieve their goals. Better explaining how that works could vault the 70 percent Supermajority into the 85 percent Consensus.

A broad explanation of the appeal of free market economics seems to be necessary to win the votes of the whole 70% coalition. Adding the economic growth theme to Reagan’s traditional conservative themes seemed to be what promoted the Republicans from the mid-40s in their share of the vote to a long term governing majority. Because of the workings of the British political system at the time, Margaret Thatcher focusing on consistent conservative themes was able to dominate British politics for a record time with only that same mid-40s share of the vote.

This is not a prediction. But with perceptive leaders like Glenn Beck and Arthur Brooks lighting the way, I am expecting to see an authentic American political giant who truly understands the 70 percent Supermajority liberate America in 2012 with their record setting votes. I just note that authoring the introduction to Brooks’ book was Newt Gingrich.