Friday, January 15, 2010

The Compassionate Conservative Unmasked

It's time we held a moment of silence for the mythological "compassionate conservative". Only a moment, because the corpse has long-since ossified. It doesn't even stink anymore.

Perhaps George W. Bush was the last conservative to dabble in compassion. He played it up pretty large in the 2000 campaign, before he became America's "Great Protector". The cornerstone of this era was No Child Left Behind, perhaps the most compassionate title ever inscribe upon the title page of a piece of legislation; enough so, to rope Sen. Ted Kennedy in, anyway.

That done, Bush's reputation as a compassionate conservative was secured and he could turn his attention to abstaining from nation-building. Other conservatives could feel free to return to their first love, bloating the Defense budget with new weapons systems and fighting multiple wars against people obviously not suited for displays of compassion.

Of course, ever since President Reagan's era, the standard mantra of their party was "low taxes, small government, and individual liberty". Sounds pretty appealing to many people. Just keep the government off my back and I'll do just fine. Problem is, it's not easy to constantly battle against higher taxes while still maintaining the infrastructure that keeps commerce flowing, neighborhoods safe, and the workforce well-educated with a growing and aging population and the tendency of things to wear out.

Conservatives don't seem to grasp the concept of wear out. They never stay in one house or drive one car long enough to have to maintain them. As George Lakoff inveighs, when their children reach the age of majority, they're expected to be fully independent and never trouble their parents for anything again. The same goes for roads and bridges. The neglect of our interstate highway and electrical distribution system during the Reagan Era led to the current crumbling crisis. Now, of course, conservatives' cash cow, business, is starting to complain loudly about the condition of the roads. It's taking workers too long to get to the job. Sometimes, they have blowouts from potholes. Call it "concrete compassion".

When it comes to compassion for real flesh-and-blood people, however, the conservatives' empathy seems to be in rather short supply. In quiet, private moments they may say a little prayer for those in need but don't bother asking them to pony up. That would be too much of an infringement upon their personal liberty.

Two recent examples come almost as emotional aftershocks of the terrible tragedy in Haiti. The first came from none other than a man who, if not the prophet of parsimony, is certainly the creative force behind the college of conservative orthodoxy, Regent University, alma mater of the man who has just been elected Virginia's new governor, Bob McDonnell. His name is Pat Robertson. Here's what Rev. Robertson had to say about the misfortunes that have befallen Haiti in recent years:

“They (Haitians) were under the heel of the French…and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you’…and so, the devil said ‘Okay, it’s a deal’ and kicked the French out....They need to have…a great turning to God.”

I guess, for conservatives like Robertson, compassion is caring enough to send the very best wishes for a spiritual revival, led, no doubt, by "the Man" himself.

Then, there was this gem from the most-influential conservative in the U.S., Rush Limbaugh:

“We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax.”

Limbaugh was upset that President Obama--a moderate and, thus, not of the belief that government is not the solution but rather the problem--was so quick to send aid to those people, of whatever nationality, who might have had the bad taste to get themselves buried under tons of wrecked buildings. No doubt, it was a fiscal conservative who wrote the building code that saved all the tax dollars that can now be used for reconstruction.

So, the next time you hear a conservative effuse the standard talking points of "low taxes, small government, and individual liberty", remember that policies just like those produce the offspring of societal decline and death. Offspring that can only be aborted by politicians who understand history, think outside their own skin, and give a hoot for the other--politicians who don't just pay lip service to Jesus but actually try to live as he did.

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