CP: You mentioned in the book that AEI privately consults politicians on their messaging and policies.
Brooks: Yeah, for both political parties.
CP: I assume that part of that is the message of this book — you have to lead your message with your concern for people. What has been the response from politicians?
Brooks: They agree. They want to do it. Many politicians are in the bad habit of not doing that and old habits are hard to break. That's the reason I actually have a section in the last part of the book that's about how to break bad habits.
With some of them we've seen pretty dramatic turnarounds in their ability to talk to people, which is fantastic.
CP: OK, so you can actually see the results, when you see some of these politicians in TV interviews, for instance?
Brooks: Oh, yeah. We can see when they start to talk about the people they're actually fighting for, as opposed to obsessing over the things they're fighting against. It's very gratifying because, whatever their politics, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, they seem like they fight for us.
CP: You wrote most politicians are in politics because "they truly love their country." You also wrote that cronyism is a serious problem. How can both of those be true?
Brooks: They're true because cronyism is a way that business, in particular, special interests insinuate themselves into the halls of power. When you're a politician, sometimes you just don't know what the right thing to do is. You understand that you want to get reelected, you want to help people, you know where money is coming from, for example.
A system that was more competitive, less cronyistic — that would help politicians more. It would make it easier for them to make the right decisions in the course of fighting for their country.
CP: And, by definition, cronyism is hard to uproot because it keeps people in power. So, how do you tackle that?
Brooks: One of the ways you tackle cronyism is by promoting much, much greater competition. We need policies that celebrate competition, as opposed to collusion and special power.
One way that people often talk about it is getting money out of politics, but I'm actually not of that view. What is much more important is finding ways to keep the influence of special interests out of the lawmaking. So what you find, for example, is not that paying for campaigns is such terrible thing, it's really a form of speech.
The biggest problem is [cronyism] affects laws that are designed toward particular special interests. Getting rid of earmarks was a step in the right direction. But we need to do the same thing all across the board.
When we root out and redesign the tax system, which we deeply need to do in this country, we should make it fair for everybody. There's, literally, 17,000 pages of [tax] code, and you look at these weird things — you can find where some guy got some special thing in the tax code. That's what has got to stop.
CP: Anything else you would like to add?
Brooks: I think we have a big opportunity. Your readers, as Christians, are going to lead the way. Christians, people of good conscience, understand much better than many others what it means to fight for people, what it means to fight, as a matter of Christian conscience, to design everything we do for the benefit of people with less power than us.
I think Christians, in particular, can design their own thinking about politics around the 25th Chapter of Matthew, and thinking about people with less, and especially people with less power. It's very important. When they do that, they can live their beliefs in a way that are gifts to others, as opposed to a cudgel. I think this could really be the true Christian moment in a way that public policy is more optimistic, and not just for conservatives, for everybody, and serves America better.