Those on the right may have the better arguments, but that doesn't always make them winning arguments. There is a moral case for free enterprise, for example, and that case has to be made before all the facts and figures are thrown around:
The dinner conversation will turn to politics and the economy, and it will be your job to stick up for capitalism and free markets.
You’ll say something intelligent about how it was never markets that caused all the pain in this country over the past four years, but rather the growing government and corporate cronies who gamed the system. Maybe you’ll throw in some facts about how realfree enterprise rewards entrepreneurs--the only true job creators—and how current leaders are actively hurting them with needless regulation and punitive, uncertain taxation. For color, you might throw in the fact that the U.S. corporate tax rate is now the highest in the OECD countries.
And then your liberal sister-in-law will stare at you. “You want to cut taxes for millionaires while working families lose their homes.” she’ll say. “I saw a little girl living in her car yesterday. That’s what free enterprise looks like.”
Guess what? You just lost the argument. It doesn’t matter that you had facts and all she had was a lame platitude and an anecdote. Everybody at the table is instantly on your sister-in-law’s side, and they can’t figure out how you turned out to be such a heartless guy.
What just happened?
The answer is that she captured the brain circuitry of everyone around the table by countering your material argument with a moral one. There is a growing body of research on this subject by scholars such as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia. Haidt’s research shows that when people are confronted with an emotionally evocative situation, they make a lightening-fast moral judgment. You are unlikely to persuade them based on logic and data that their initial moral judgment was wrong.
Paul Ryan has been making that kind of moral argument about government spending to answer those who start screaming about throwing Grandma off the cliff every time some modest cut is proposed.
Conservatives should refuse to cede the compassion argument to the left. There is more to caring than pumping an ever-increasing share of taxpayer dollars into programs that do virtually nothing to lift people out of poverty. And there is certainly nothing compassionate about standing idly on the sidelines while these programs bankrupt the federal government.
Too often, those who keep promoting futile programs get the benefit of the doubt from those who have made instant moral judgments because they get credit for mere good intentions. They don't have to live up to those intentions by providing evidence that the programs actually deliver what was promised.