Lame anti-government preaching


Ranting against the government fails to persuade anxious voters to consider a different approach to addressing America's problems. Anti-government language may be a perfect strategy to galvanize a shrinking American demographic of "conservatives," but the rhetoric will not resonate with a generation of voters who have demonstrated a preference for government involvement in too many things. For instance, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's response to President Obama's address to Congress and the nation last night seemed to employ the same rhetorical strategy that resulted in many Republicans in Congress losing their seats, as well Sen. John McCain losing the presidential election.

Those who support the limited government described in the U.S. Constitution, restrained government spending, and a de-centralized economy are desperately in need of a new lexicon in order to persuasively communicate these principles to an American public who misunderstand these ideas as merely "conservative," instead of ideas that provided the context for America's federalist success.

The rhetoric of "we want to put money and decisions in the hands of the American people and not the government" is not going be persuasive in the future. The majority of Americans see a positive role for government to play in many aspects of our civil society. Preaching the rhetoric of "lower taxes," "welfare state," "individual responsibility," and so on, further isolates political conservatives from America's center.

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At one point, Gov. Jindal said:

"The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and enterprising spirit of our citizens."

While we understand the sentiment behind this principle, this type of language is unappealing to most Americans and sets up a false dichotomy. Whoever wrote this sentence for Jindal may have inadvertently narrowed the appeal to this historical fact: The strength of America is found in our government knowing exactly what its limited positive contribution is to create conditions for peace and human flourishing---a role that frees its compassionate and enterprising citizens to personally do more, not less.

Pitting government against the taxpayer will all but guarantee future election losses. A better approach would be to speak about the positive role of government in a republic coupled with a compelling vision for strengthening the nation's mediating institutions to sustain our flourishing so that the burden of our nation's recovery is shared by all of us as citizens.

Perhaps, it would have been better to say, "The strength of America is found in its government being free to do the things that governments do well while also freeing the compassionate hearts and enterprising spirit of our citizens to personally involve themselves in leading other effective institutions to create a context for sustainable progress." Speech writing is not my gift, but campaigning against government alone only appeals to a generation of folks putting the final touches on their wills and their bow-tie wearing Burkean grandchildren.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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