Railing against big government (as a shorthand expression for rejecting government limitations on our personal freedoms) doesn’t resonate with people who reject governmental interference when it comes to sexual and reproductive matters but don’t understand that a growing government, however well-intentioned, encourages conformity and dependency and prevents individuals from cultivating their unique abilities. Mitt Romney might have done better by arguing that he would cut government red tape and give people more control over their lives (meaning that he would reduce regulation and the size of government).
No doubt conservatives have a daunting task. Their policies have proved effective but are difficult to explain. By contrast, Democrats have learned to use language to make their policies sound good (e.g., “fair taxes,” “free health care,” “green jobs”) and count on most people not to consider the unintended, adverse consequences of those policies.
In the short run, conservatives need to catch up with the Democrats in using data mining, pay greater attention to the words they use, and better explain how their policies will actually help voters.
Long term, conservatives need to focus on improving our educational system so that voters have a better grasp of such things as how free markets benefit their lives and how easily freedoms can be lost. Students should be taught to think at least as critically about issues facing our country as about cereal advertisements. Our country’s future depends on it.
David Gibberman, a lawyer, writes about legal and financial matters for professionals, college students, and the general public.