Listening to speakers at the RNC, I had to think some Republicans have gotten the message. It seemed like all of them had stories about how people had worked hard and succeeded — that, as Brooks might put it, they earned their success, and that such earned success is the basis of a prosperous, fair society.
I was also struck by how the moral argument is not just words and ideas, but emotions. Let’s look back on history. Wealthy Democrats such as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy were able to convey the feeling that they cared about fairness and how ordinary Americans fared in life. And they did so partly through their tone of voice, the look in their eyes, their whole demeanor. Like them or not, they convinced voters they cared. That is a moral argument, and maybe the most important one.
Consider Condi Rice’s speech. The words are important; it took courage to tell war-weary Americans the importance of our nation’s role. But the tone was just as important. To my ears, she spoke with an anxious, even desperate tone, seeking to convince the nation that we must continue to fight evil across the globe. That tone too is a moral argument. It is the argument that we would be just flat wrong to abandon those in other lands who want to be free. It is moral in that is conveys real moral passion about the justice of our cause.
Ditto for Ryan’s speech. He didn’t just defend policies. He’s been called a wonk, but he showed he was much more. He conveyed the feeling he cares deeply about the difficulties average people face. Who cares when the darned factory closed or why it didn’t reopen or whatever? He conveyed that he cared about the plight of the workers; that it mattered to him if they suffered and especially if their suffering was unjust.
The same goes for speeches by Rick Santorum and Rand Paul. Both could be critiqued. Big deal. Both conveyed genuine outrage at injustice and concern for people. They made moral arguments, with words and tone and gesture.
Not all speeches succeeded, of course. Tonight we’ll see how well Mr. Romney does in understanding Brooks’ point — to win, conservatives must make the moral case for freedom.