Building a rainbow on the right

When I ran for Congress a number of years ago, I called my campaign the “Rainbow on the Right.” The name was a response to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, and reflected my belief that the Republican message — especially the power of free enterprise to lift people out of poverty, to provide opportunity and allow upward mobility — could eventually resonate in traditionally liberal communities if we made the case properly. I was as good a person as any to start a Rainbow on the Right: I’m a Jewish Samoan, married to an Indian, with an extended family that includes African Americans, Filipinos, Latinos, Tongans and, by religion, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Hindus and Muslims. And my campaign was indeed a rainbow coalition. It had more diversity than the campaign of the Democratic incumbent I was challenging, but his campaign had more money. You can guess who won.

I was a little ahead of my time. In the wake of President Obama’s victory, Republicans are fretting about “demographic trends” and the need to “reach out” to minorities. I’m glad the GOP power structure has come around to my way of thinking. We need to build a Rainbow on the Right.

The rainbow is not just about racial and ethnic diversity. I don’t use the “colors of the rainbow” analogy literally to just mean skin color, but also to represent the various hues of the political, social and socioeconomic spectra. I believe that Republicans can make at least some inroads in almost every segment of the population that supported President Obama, including young people.

The authority I bring to this subject derives not so much from my absurdly diverse family background as it does from something in my past: I used to be a liberal. I still remember how I used to think when I was a liberal. I still remember the things that some conservatives did that scared or repulsed me. And I still remember the arguments that eventually got through to me and allowed me consider conservatism with an open mind. I distill that knowledge in my book, Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies are the Best Way to Achieve Liberal Ideals. In the book, I illustrate how to advocate for conservative policies on a wide range of issues — entitlements, tax policy, education, health care, immigration, the environment, the War on Terror and others — using arguments that would have resonated with me when I was a liberal.

Here’s the secret that holds the key to making these arguments effectively: Conservatives tend to define themselves by what they’re for — limited government, free enterprise, strong defense, for example — and liberals tend to define themselves by who they’re for — the poor, the middle class, minorities, women, etc. When you realize that, it becomes easier to find common ground between what conservatives can provide and what liberals want. We simply have to demonstrate that what we’re for is the best way to help who they’re for.

So, for example, Left-Hearted, Right-Minded explains why free markets are the most effective way to fight poverty; why our unsustainable public spending will eventually make it impossible for the government to protect the most vulnerable in society; why raising taxes on the “rich” would primarily hurt those struggling to find work; why policies imposed by teachers unions rob poor children of their only shot at escaping poverty; why Obamacare will hurt all of us but the poor most of all; why environmental regulation, while furthering an extremely important goal, should always be evaluated in terms of its impact on people who desperately need jobs; why failing to secure the border results in the exploitation of those who toil in the shadows of our society. None of these arguments is original, but it’s a matter of emphasis. By consistently emphasizing how conservative policies will benefit the people liberals champion, we can make some headway in precincts that have not traditionally welcomed our message.