Compassionate, fair, and conservative?

The American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks is well known for trumpeting the morality of free markets. Writing in The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin uses a recent monologue by Brooks to underscore the importance of conservatives talking about helping the poor and bringing greater fairness to society:

I’ve written about Brooks’s view, namely that to win the public debateconservatives need to hook into the values of compassion and fairness shared by nearly a hundred percent of the electorate. This doesn’t mean changing conservative views; it means explaining why conservatives’ views are more compassionate and fairer than the liberal welfare state.

The implications of Brooks’s argument (essentially, tell voters that you are for them, not the things that you are against) are both philosophical and pragmatic. As for the latter, it’s no secret that Mitt Romney lost the “cares about people like me” question in the 2012 campaign by a 20 to 80 margin, or that his 47 percent remark conveyed that he didn’t care about nearly half the public. You can’t win hotly contested elections with that mindset.

But the more important aspect of Brooks’s argument is philosophical. What should conservatism be about? What should be conservatives’ priorities? If you say “small government” or “free markets” you’ve made the mistake of confusing means and ends. Conservative believe in small (or smaller) government and free markets because … they lead to results for people that are fairer and more compassionate … In its simplest form, conservatism is better for people than the alternative.