The case for populist rhetoric — and the false promise of compassionate conservatism

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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My latest column for The Week is a rebuke of “libertarian populism” and a defense of compassionate conservatism.

In the column, I cited Tim Carney and Ben Domenech (who are proponents of the idea) — and both graciously responded with thoughtful posts worthy of attention and discussion.

For example, in response to my notion that conservatives should eschew “the sort of populist victimhood rhetoric about how the game is ‘rigged’ to favor the wealthy,” Carney wrote that:

“Voters want to vote for people who are on their side. One good way to show people you’re on their side is to make it clear that you are fighting for them against the powerful. Mitt Romney was never going to convince blue-collar voters that he was fighting for them. A libertarian-leaning candidate who inveighs against corporate welfare and self-dealing elites will at least get an audience with the disaffected.”

Meanwhile, over at RCP, Ben Domenech poked holes in the notion that compassionate conservatism ever worked as a campaign issue or governing philosophy. And he made an especially interesting argument as to why compassionate conservatism might be even less likely to work in the future:

“The difficulty in advancing compassionate conservative paternalism is exacerbated in a post-Iraq, post-Katrina, post-TARP environment where Republicans are viewed even more as a party of incompetent administrators who are no longer the adults in the room.”

These are just excerpts. If you’re really interested in this topic and want to develop an informed opinion, be sure to read my full column here, Carney’s here, and Domenech’s here.