Arthur Brooks: Speaker from the Heart

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on October 9, 2015

I write this column with some trepidation — because it involves the office of the speaker of the House of Representatives. And, as I write, anything can happen. Is Pope Francis available? Can we make an Argentinean exception just this once if no one else wants the job?

No, no, no. Pope Francis has his own unenviable task before him, but one with eternal rewards. And despite his largely warm and moving welcome before the joint session of Congress — a first for a pope — last month, I’m not drafting him for the job. But in a somewhat epic rant on Twitter, an up-and-comer on the other side of the Capitol had a brilliant idea. Freshman senator from Nebraska Ben Sasse tried to recruit Arthur C. Brooks for speaker.

Sasse wrote some quite true things of which we need to be reminded: “Truly American leadership starts with politicians admitting that politics and DC are not the center of national life. A vibrant citizenry is.”

Brooks, if you don’t know him, is the president of the right-leaning think tank the American Enterprise Institute. And when he was selected for that job, he was a quite unusual choice.

As he tells the story in his new book, The Conservative Heart: “I didn’t start out as a conservative. First I was a musician, and a liberal bohemian one at that. My hometown of Seattle is one of the most progressive cities in America. And my early path made me exactly the sort of slacker that right-wingers love to make fun of. I dropped out of college at nineteen to pursue my dream of making my living in classical music.”

He would move to Spain as a French horn player. “I had defined happiness as the freedom to pursue my dreams to make music and travel the world, and I’d attained exactly that,” he writes.

He realized that wasn’t making him happy, though, and he wanted to learn more. He headed back to America to study economics.

“(I)t blew my mind at every turn. I learned that market forces tend to win out even when we don’t want them to, and that good intentions are no guarantee of good results. I learned that we can’t change behavior just by passing a law against something we don’t like. I learned that people are complex and respond to different incentives, which is why so many social problems are not fixable through government programs. But most of all, I learned that American-style democratic capitalism was changing the world and helping billions of poor people to better their lives.”

This is not a knee-jerk position for Brooks. It is one that he has arrived at through deep research, rigorous analysis and profound meditation.

He writes: “Millions of Americans believe that the American Dream is no longer within their reach and that conservatives don’t care. Millions of Americans don’t see the benefits of democratic capitalism extending to them, their families, and the poor. Millions of Americans no longer believe that their children will be better off than they had been. And millions of Americans see conservatives as oblivious to these problems.”

How do we change this?

Brooks finds the answer in first principles: “There are many characteristics of American conservatives — some better than others. But the one that is non-negotiable has to do with the inherent dignity of every individual and his or her right to equal opportunity. I know there are a lot of times that we don’t express this so well; occasionally maybe we even forget it a little.”

“Since I was a child,” he writes, “the percentage of the world’s population living at starvation levels has declined by 80 percent! At least 2 billion people have been pulled out of absolute poverty. It was not progressive para-state entities such as the United Nations that did this; it was American conservative ideas that spread around the world, such as globalization, free trade, property rights, rule of law, and entrepreneurship. We should be shouting this from the rooftops.”

If that truly were the message of conservatism, who wouldn’t want to subscribe to it?

At the end of the day, whoever wants to be a successful speaker, or any other kind of leader, has to have a heart for uniting. Not diluting, but uplifting, and never losing sight of humanity in the midst of our politics.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].

COPYRIGHT 2015 United Feature Syndicate

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