The Corner

The Matter of Rhetoric

There was a question that Bill Buckley asked over and over, trying to get an answer that satisfied him: How do you explain the success of socialist politicians against free-market politicians in democracies all over the world, despite the manifest failure of socialism, and the manifest success of a free economy? I remember an answer that Jeane Kirkpatrick once gave.

Their rhetoric is better than ours, she said. More appealing. They talk of “fairness,” “community,” “solidarity” — “We’re all in it together!” They also promise to solve your problems by demanding more of others, namely the “rich.” (But the problem with socialism, as Margaret Thatcher noted, is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.)

Free-market types, by contrast, talk about “self-reliance,” “entrepreneurship,” “independence” — which, frankly, are words and concepts that scare the hell out of a lot of people.

I thought of this repeatedly last night, listening to the Democratic convention. I mean, how do we ever win?

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