A smiley call to arms from conservatism’s happy warrior

About half this many candidates in the primetime debate would be much better. (AP Photo / Chris Carlson)

A rarity during this presidential campaign: GOP candidates looking pleasant before their Sept. 16 debate. They should take a cue from the man whose presidential library hosted the debate: Ronald Reagan. (AP Photo / Chris Carlson)

A rarity during this presidential campaign: GOP candidates looking pleasant before their Sept. 16 debate. They should take a cue from the man whose presidential library hosted the debate: Ronald Reagan. (AP Photo / Chris Carlson)

It has been widely remarked that this has been the year of the angry voter. Public anger is said to drive support for such otherwise opposite candidates as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

So how can a candidate win over so many angry people? Try being happy.

That was the message of conservatism’s happiest warrior, Arthur Brooks, during his visit to Cobb County this past Thursday. Brooks, who runs the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, made the case for political leaders, especially angry Republicans, to put on their happy faces.

“You look at the Republican candidates, they look grim,” Brooks told a lunchtime crowd at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s annual Legislative Policy Forum. “They’re hating life, most of ’em. They’re walking around like they’re on some kind of death march. And listen to their rhetoric, it’s profoundly pessimistic.”

Arthur Brooks

Arthur Brooks

Brooks cited social-science literature showing happy leaders make employees 30 percent more productive and are viewed by followers as being 30 percent more effective. So why do political leaders ignore this fact of life?

“It’s short-termism,” he explained. “It’s like smoking. It’s never convenient to quit today, but once you do you can have a much better life. As a matter of fact, that comparison is quite apt. What we’ve been doing with our negativity, with the competing pessimism with the left, is doing something that does fundamental long-term damage.”

Brooks has been at the fore of arguing conservatives should talk more about why their policies will better the lives of all Americans, even those who tend not to vote for conservative politicians. Our tendency to lead with our heads — talking statistics and budgets — while ignoring the emotional aspects of arguments, prompted his recent (and very good) book, “The Conservative Heart.”

“People want to be on the positive side, on the side that’s fighting for people, on the side that’s more optimistic, on the side that is purely aspirational,” he said Thursday, “not on the side that’s saying the country’s going to hell. That’s a bummer. That’s not fun.”

While Republicans have fallen into this trap, Brooks doesn’t solely blame them for that.

“The greatest disappointment for me over the past 10 years is not that President Obama was elected,” he said. “I didn’t vote for him, because I disagree with him on policy. But you know what? I understand why he won in 2008. Because he campaigned on unity and optimism … what disappoints me is that he governed on pessimism and division. And you know what? He spawned an opposition of pessimism and division.”

To get out of that cycle, Brooks suggested Republicans emulate someone who first made Brooks, raised by liberal Democrats in Seattle, give conservatism a second look, way back in 1980.

“It was competing pessimisms. It was competing apocalyptic scenarios, like right now,” he recalled. “And Reagan won because he broke out of that. …

“Reagan gave his nomination speech at the (convention) in Detroit, five months before Election Day, and you know what the number one word was in his speech, which he said 89 times? ‘People.’ He talked about people who (wouldn’t) vote for him, who (didn’t) even know who he is.”

For all the times we will hear Republicans invoke Reagan between now and November 2016, that example of his is the most powerful.

Reader Comments 0

77 comments
FIGMO2
FIGMO2

I wouldn't say "most of them" come off as angry, unless of course, someone's looking for angry. Even Christie, with his "Joysie" approach to problem solving, doesn't strike me as angry.

I see eight that are, or were (Scott Walker) offering positive messages going forward.

Guess I'm not angry...not miserable looking for miserable companions. 

bu2
bu2

Reagan really was "morning in America."  He was such a breath of fresh air.


And W. and Obama both got elected running on optimism and uniting the country.



lvg
lvg

@bu2 People with Alzheimers smile a lot .

Mandingo
Mandingo

Trying to compare this list of clowns vying for the GOP nomination to Ronald Reagan is like trying to compare "neckbones" to "t-bones" and telling the customer it is essentially the same thing. Reagan had personal integrity and carried himself like a man that you could respect weather you agreed with his politics or not. The reason was he did not say one thing public and then do something else in private. “Trust everybody in the game but always cut the cards”....Ronald Reagan

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

"...the number one word was in his speech, which he said 89 times? ‘People.’

John McCain said "my friends" about 8 million times and it didn't seem to help a bit.


lvg
lvg

Was Ronnie being happy when he put a wreath on an SS cemetery at Bitburg? How about when he illegally sold arms to Iran?Was he happy when a member of his cabinet was indicted?or his national security advisor? or Oliver North? I bet he was smiling each time. That's what GOP need more of this time.

DMayr
DMayr

A seemingly intelligent, thoughtful GOP voice identifies a prominent and legitimate issue with the mindset of GOP leaders and voters, and then amazingly decides: it's all that dang Obama's fault. Amazing, but not too terribly surprising.


He mentions Reagan focused on being positive, and yet where would Reagan fit into today's GOP??!! He'd be painted as a treasonous RINO, and an angry mob of Tea Partyers would run him out of office. And somehow, that, too would be Obama's fault.


Brooks should get with Reince Preibus and do the prologue for the next Presidential Election Autopsy. For all the good it will do, he could write it now. 


M H Smith
M H Smith

@DMayr 


That old Obama. The House GOP cannot even elect a speaker.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@DMayr 

You're right about the autopsy, but not for the reasons you cite.

Republicans lose because they aren't the Handout Party in a country where half of voters get a check from the tax payer.  

It isn't complicated.

ByteMe
ByteMe

More Happy Talk!


If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) wants to impeach her on day one.

Brooks made the comment in a recent interview with conservative talk radio host Matt Murphy on WAPI, which was flagged Monday by The Huffington Post.

Dusty2
Dusty2

@ByteMe


No need to impeach.  Just get her out of reach.  Voters will be honored to do it at the polls.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

 You should be positive about the future and educate the voters on how your policies will make America function again.


That would be a disaster and they know it. Many of those policies are why we are in the shape we are in.


Unfunded foreign wars of choice. Huge tax breaks for the rich leading to higher deficits.


That would be one helluva tough sell. 

Dusty2
Dusty2

@Hedley_Lammar


Not a hard sell. Just look around.  Reading all the propaganda lies, useless budgets, debt, unhappy doctors & patients ,extreme deductibles, not to mention lost allies overseas while we get "support" from Cubans, Iranians and Russians . 


There will be a rush to vote  HAPPY Republican.  Can't fool Americans  AGAIN..  The PEOPLE get it very clearly.


kitty72
kitty72

Poor Republicans. Very funny article, Kyle. Not that you meant it that way. Good luck with getting happy faces. Oh and Reagan would now be a RINO. I doubt he will be brought up much except in passing to invoke his saintliness. Just too funny.

straker
straker

"it's short-termism"


Which is the exact mental state of their corporate sponsors, which they slavishly emulate. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

If this happy talk campaign approach worked, John Kasich would be polling higher than 3%.  All the man talks about is his policy success in Ohio.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

"...what disappoints me is that he governed on pessimism and division. And you know what? He spawned an opposition of pessimism and division.”"


No the repubs have relied on fear, intimidation, and lies for years. How could President Obama "improve" that? The repubs stated....quite proudly at the BEGINNING of President Obama's first term ....that they would oppose ANYTHING he would support. And it's the President's fault?????

bu2
bu2

@RoadScholar

The author hit the head on the nail on Obama.  He has been terribly disappointing.  It was that optimism and unity that enabled him to beat Hillary.  People didn't want more of Bill Clinton's time.  Obama is worse.


I think Bill Clinton is a low life scumbag, but he tried to be everyone's president.  Obama is only the president of those who agree with him.

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

@bu2 @RoadScholar 

"I think Bill Clinton is a low life scumbag, but he tried to be everyone's president.  Obama is only the president of those who agree with him."

It must have been very sad for you when Obama was re-elected in a landslide...

M H Smith
M H Smith

Yeah that old "FREE STUFF". Them old "MOOCHERS". Those old "TROUGH FEEDERS". 

You know Lil Barry it helps to give it a rest, not everyone or even everyone in the proverbial 47% are on the take, gaming the system, desire hand outs. In fact, in that 47% are some unable bodies who work but will never earn enough to live without some BIG GUB'MENT assistance

Step back and click this link _  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAdQEKqU5t0 _   to see some of that 47% you probably never consider when rightly blasting the cheats frauds and crooks.  

Many of the people who work for places like Lott or Goodwill will need help in some form of government assistance their entire life. 


For them I say, God bless'em and give them whatever support they need.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

I don't agree with this guy's focus on happy talk.  Trump has shown that you have to aggressively make your case that things are royally fouled up and be ready to respond when the response comes accusing you of being a racist, women hater, homophobe, nativist, etc. A refusal to back track or apologize for the attack attracts voters.  We had McCain and Romney who refused to adequately respond to charges and tried to win using the Norman Vincent Peal approach of being positive or never attacking Obama.  They were afraid of offending voters that weren't going to vote for them anyway, and therefore lost some votes from folks who decided they weren't fighters.  The voters seem to like those willing to mix it up and fight for American ideals.


You should be positive about the future and educate the voters on how your policies will make America function again.  You however, will never beat Hillary Clinton with happy talk and the hope that the voters will respect you for how well you treated and respected her.  I think you are going to have to concentrate on pointing out her failures, scandals, poor decisions and how ineffective she has been in her different careers, to drive down her support.  That is going to generate a tremendous backlash from her and her sycophant media and if you don't stand firm and answer those counter attacks with facts and clear concise explanations of why you have those opinions you are going to branded a wuss and lose. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister Part of what Brooks was talking about is being optimistic, and what does Trump pledge but to "make America great again"? He also specifically mentioned Trump as being the guy out there who looks like he's having the most fun. So maybe you and he aren't too far off one another.

He was not, to be clear, talking about acting like everything's fine and hunky-dory. Not at all. (And that's not what Reagan did, either.) He's just saying candidates should present a more optimistic picture rather than an apocalyptic one. "Vote for me because I'll do X" not "Vote for me or else the other side will do Y."

lvg
lvg

@Kyle_Wingfield @RafeHollister And the chief candidate for the GOP has nothing negative to say about his opponents? and Carly was just gushing about Hillary  wasn't she? 

bu2
bu2

@RafeHollister


McCain was in a bad position with the economy.  And Obama vastly outspent him.


Romney was just a terrible candidate.  He may have smiled, but he never gave anyone positive reasons to vote for him.  His campaign was basically negative.  "I'm not Obama.  Vote for me."  Even as someone who was certain to vote for him, I saw that.  He and his handlers couldn't.

STHornet1990
STHornet1990

@bu2 @RafeHollister  Lot's of excuses why you lost. Yet the truth is, you lost and lost big. Some of the people are always fooled but most are not.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

There is too much of the Republican base that actually believes the world is ending--as in literally ending--to put on a happy face. They're waiting for Jesus to whisk them away from us heathens.

kitty72
kitty72

@Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder 


I don't see Hillary as negative. She doesn't seem to hate everyone different than she is like Trump and some of the other clown car occupants do.

M H Smith
M H Smith

@Aquagirl And what has your alternative to offer, waiting for the universe to implode as it contracts from the big bang expansion or maybe you'll be consumed in one of those Hawking black holes. 

Oops wait a minute the version too would mean the world is ending. LOL 

Oh my we're doomed. Beam me up sweet Jesus.

lvg
lvg

@Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder Your GOP happy warriors want to drown the government in a bathtub; end all government entitlements; cut  healthcare for the working poor;  and do whateverr they can to get us into another war while turning most immigrants back unless they have high tech skills that can be employed at low wages  while shipping middle class jobs overseas. Very happy message- get  the champagne out and lets party!!!!!

Dusty2
Dusty2

@Aquagirl 


NO, Aquagirl.  we are waiting for all voters to whisk us away from a failing administration of Democrats. They are more than ready to do that.   

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@kitty72 @Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder She doesn't seem to hate everyone different than she is like Trump


Don't listen to her much do you.  She says daily she hates the GOP, which is still a significant portion of the population.  Of course tomorrow, she may change her mind as she learns and grows, ha.  She also hates gun owners, which is a large percentage of the population.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder It's not just one side here, and Brooks said as much. Hillary is about as negative a candidate as you'll get. And Sanders' bottom-line message is a negative one; any call for a "revolution," of just about any kind, is an inherently negative message. Republicans just shouldn't try to prove they can be even more negative.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder 

Hillary is about as negative a candidate as you'll get.

I was going to say you counter that by bringing aboard a running mate who is all sweetness and sunshine, but then I stopped and wondered--is hers really a "negative" campaign? That's not how I see her website, hear her speeches, etc.; it's all pretty upbeat, hooray-for-us, standard-issue horse-hockey.

She can do that about as well as anyone. Not like her husband but, well, she has her husband to do that, right?

GMFA
GMFA

Convenient for Brooks to blame Obama for pessimism when he was met with no cooperation from Republicans and even Jim Demint said his goal was to make him a one term President.  He wasn't re-elected due to pessimism, but due to the stupidity of Republicans who in their hast to hurt Obama went as far as to shut down the Government and to use the filibuster like one use a toothbrush. Read David Brook column about how Republicans became an angry group beginning with the rise of Limbaugh and Fox News 30 years ago. He said we now have clowns running for office, and he is a conservative.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@GMFA "even Jim Demint said his goal was to make him a one term President. "

The "one-term president" quote has been said so mistakenly so many times that now folks aren't even attributing it to the right person ...

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Kyle_Wingfield @GMFA 

It was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who said it, but what he said was quite unmistakable, undeniable and self-explanatory: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The SINGLE, MOST IMPORTANT THING Republicans wanted to achieve.

kitty72
kitty72

@Kyle_Wingfield @GMFA 


SO what is your version of truth about that comment? Was it said or not? I suspect it was said by a few GOP and they sure seem to have done nothing that didn't go towards that goal. How many times has the ACA been voted on for repeal? I mean, come on. smh

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Kyle_Wingfield @MarkVV 

Funny, how people try to change the meaning of a quote by ”context.” According to the link, “McConnell also said in the same interview that he is willing to meet the president halfway.” That does not change the meaning of what McConnell said - what he considered the single most important thing the Republicans wanted to achieve – one little bit.

Dusty2
Dusty2

@MarkVV @Kyle_Wingfield @GMFA 


What's wrong with that?  It is a statement used in every election with just a change in names.


Democrats said a whole lot more than that in much stronger terms in recent elections.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Dusty2 @MarkVV @Kyle_Wingfield @GMFA Wrong. They did not. Why don't you quote somebody like that (a high official of the Democratic party), saying that the primary goal of the Democratic party in Congress, the most important thing they wanted to achieve, was to defeat the Republican President in the next elections?  Not to improve the economy, not to do something in the foreign affairs, no, to win the presidential elections. Unless you can show that, your claim is just empty words.

ByteMe
ByteMe

 “The greatest disappointment for me over the past 10 years is not that President Obama was elected,” he said. “I didn’t vote for him, because I disagree with him on policy. But you know what? I understand why he won in 2008. Because he campaigned on unity and optimism … what disappoints me is that he governed on pessimism and division. And you know what? He spawned an opposition of pessimism and division.

His arguments were pretty smart right up to there... then he fell into his own trap.  "It's ALL OBAMA'S FAULT!"  As though Republicans are too mesmerized by Obama's governing to choose a better path than the one they've chosen.  It's a laughably silly argument coming from someone who is supposed to be a 'thought leader".

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ByteMe Honest question: Do you think Republicans have been more negative, less negative or about the same since Jan. 1, 2009, compared to before that day? Or maybe more accurately, before/after Obamacare was introduced in Congress?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ByteMe I don't think it's "blaming Democrats for the choice Republicans made." He puts the blame on Republicans for making that choice, but he recognizes Obama has governed in a way that fed into that mentality. It's not an either/or proposition.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Kyle_Wingfield So you're saying Republicans are predisposed to that "mentality".  You can't feed what someone doesn't want to eat.

Sounds like Republicans are just too weak to do otherwise.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ByteMe I would say the party out of power is always predisposed to that mentality. Or do you remember happy talk from Democrats when Bush -- I mean, Bushitler -- was in office?

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Kyle_Wingfield My 8-year-old actually says (out loud) "OMG" like he's a phone.  Doesn't mean anyone with much power says it.  So... Republican legislators and candidates for President are acting like crazed negativity drones and you want to blame Obama for it.  Weak.

Juanx
Juanx

@Kyle_Wingfield @ByteMe ...Kyle I have been reading your responses, and, I wish we could help you save the GOP. But, there is not enough dirt in the world to cover up the divide the GOP has created among themselves. The GOP is more broken than Humpty Dumpty who was broken before President Obama was elected, twice.

bu2
bu2

@ByteMe @Kyle_Wingfield


Obama is constantly denigrating the integrity of anyone who disagrees with him.  I've never seen a president anything like that in my lifetime.  If you treat people like a dog....

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @ByteMe More. The stakes are higher now due to the Presidential election. Just what have they done for the American people since 2009? Immigration? Transportation? Healthcare? etc etc etc


If I had done my job this way I would have been fired long ago or at least my pay docked. Them?

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Kyle_Wingfield Are you saying that Republicans were more or less negative during Clinton's years? I'd say the only difference is the rise of FOX and the creation of blog software since then.


So you buy the argument that Obama is soooo powerful that Republicans have no choice but to turn negativity up to 11?  How weak do you think Republicans and their media are??  Because blaming Democrats for the choice Republicans made to create this perpetual outrage machine that will survive long past Obama..... that's just weak.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Kyle_Wingfield Never heard that phrase.  "Shrub" for sure, but not that one.  Did that comes from the Democratic legislators or just blogs?


And I never heard ANYONE say that Bush made them say stuff like that, though.

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

@Kyle_Wingfield @ByteMe 

"Honest question: Do you think Republicans have been more negative, less negative or about the same since Jan. 1, 2009, compared to before that day? Or maybe more accurately, before/after Obamacare was introduced in Congress?"

Agree that the Rs have been more negative.  But to blame that on the President is to fail to take responsibility fpr your own actions.