The Thanksgiving guide to making conservative arguments liberals can understand

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Article Highlights

  • When Thanksgiving talk turns political, do you feel like you and your liberal relatives can't communicate?

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  • Your liberal relatives generally trust government regulations to solve problems.

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  • Obama's food safety czar is Michael Taylor, former top lobbyist for Monsanto.

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  • For every $100 that white beneficiaries pay in taxes, they receive $113 in benefits.

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  • For every $100 that black beneficiaries pay in taxes, they receive $89 in benefits.

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  • For every $100 that Hispanic beneficiaries pay in taxes, they receive $58 in benefits.

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  • Social Security’s redistribution isn’t due to some racist Republican rule change.

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Your Baby Boomer aunts are unshakable in their faith in Hillary Clinton. Your nephew Trevor won't stop spouting vapid Democratic talking points in favor of Obamacare.

When Thanksgiving talk turns political, do you feel like you and your liberal relatives can't communicate?

It's okay. I can help you. I was born in Greenwich Village to a lawyer dad and community-organizer mom. I used to live on Capitol Hill, and now I live in Montgomery County in Maryland. I even served a year as an MSNBC contributor. This is all to say, I speak liberal.

You won’t win over your lefty in-laws with appeals to liberty. Those warnings about hubris that tickle your Edmund Burke nerve will ring hollow with Nephew Trevor, who is still infected with his 2008 case of Hope & Change. You need to speak their language.

So let me offer my conservative and libertarian readers the first annual Thanksgiving Guide to Making Conservative Arguments in Liberals’ Language.

Regulators will ban your organic kale.

Your liberal relatives generally trust government regulations to solve problems. They don’t sweat the costs to the economy as much as you do. Throw in a healthy distrust of Corporate America — often even an unhealthy disdain for it — and progressives (this is what they call themselves these days) end up regarding regulation as a force for good.

You can plant a seed of skepticism about regulators’ ability to do good, though, by pointing to the salad course Trevor brought. The organic, local, sustainable kale in it might be impossible to get after the Obama administration’s food safety rules go into effect.

The Food Safety Modernization Act that Obama signed is finally being implemented, and it has locavores up in arms. Quote Nathanael Johnson at Grist (your relatives know this site): “Everyone wants safer food, but some small farmers fear the rules could force them out of business.”

Proposed federal rules on manure-spreading and water-testing seem tailored for industrial farming, impossible for smaller farms to meet. As you discuss this, throw in references to author Michael Pollan.

At work here are two dynamics common to regulation: They’re called “regulatory capture” and “the overhead smash.”

Obama's food safety czar is Michael Taylor, former top lobbyist for Monsanto. (You'll be amazed at the power of the word “Monsanto” with some of your relatives.) Industrial farms and major food processors hire the best lobbyists and thus get a seat at the table when the FDA writes the rules. Thus, the biggest players in the regulated industry have “captured” the agency that regulates them.

“The overhead smash” is my phrase for the tendency of regulations to add to overhead — the fixed costs of doing business — which smashes smaller competitors while protecting the big guys. In the food safety realm, small farms are begging to be exempted from these rules that only big farms can afford.

In case your aunts think this is an aberration, point them to similar phenomena in the realms of handmade toys, taxi services, bakers, hair-braiders, casket-makers and so on. (All these links are prog-friendly.)

Social Security is ripping off minorities.

You may worry about Social Security’s long-term solvency, but Aunt Carol, on the verge of retirement, doesn’t give a fig. As a self-employed businessperson, you may resent the 12.4 percent you pay in Social Security taxes, but Nephew Trevor — still working on his Master of Arts in Social Justice — thinks FICA is a houseplant.

Also, FDR is still probably a god to these relatives, so you’ve got an uphill battle convincing them Social Security needs reforming. Here’s one place to start: Social Security is funded by a regressive tax and it redistributes wealth from minorities to whites.

Here's a line for you: For every $100 that white beneficiaries pay in taxes, they receive $113 in benefits, blacks receive $89 and Hispanics receive $58. That's from liberal blogger Brad Plumer at Wonkblog (Note: every progressive under the age of 35 flatters himself as a “wonk.” So impress your nephew by throwing in a humblebrag faux apology like. “Sorry to get so wonky, but ... ”)

Social Security’s redistribution isn’t due to some racist Republican rule change. It’s due to the nature of the tax (hitting your first dollar, but then stopping after about $110,000 in income) and the nature of the payouts. White people live longer and are less likely to be immigrants, so they earn more credits and collect for longer.

Remember these arguments, and you can nudge your relatives an inch to the right this year. On other topics, you’re on your own this year. But don’t worry, we’ll still all be talking about Obamacare’s failures at this time next year.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at [email protected] His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.

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