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home : opinions : opinions June 26, 2017

3/31/2017 7:28:00 AM
The False compassion of liberalism
Stephen Moore
Columnist

Last week on CNN I debated a liberal commentator who complained that the problem with President Donald Trump's budget blueprint is that it lacks "compassion" for the poor, for children and for the disabled. This woman went on to ask me how I could defend a budget that would cut Meals on Wheels, after-school programs and special-education funding, because without the federal dollars, these vital services would go away.

This ideology - that the government action is a sign of compassion - is upside-down and contrary to the Christian notion of charity.

We all, as individuals, can and should act compassionately and charitably. We can volunteer our time, energy and dollars to help the underprivileged. We can feed the hungry, house the homeless. Most of us feel a moral and ethical responsibility to do so - to "do unto others."

And we do fulfill that obligation more than the citizens of almost any other nation. International statistics show that Americans are the most charitable people in the world and the most likely to engage in volunteerism. Whenever there is an international crisis - an earthquake, a flood, a war - Americans provide more assistance than the people of any other nation.

But government, by its nature, is not compassionate. It can't be. It is nothing other than a force. Government can only spend a dollar to help someone when it forcibly takes a dollar from someone else. At its core, government welfare is predicated on a false compassion. This isn't to say that government should never take collective action to help people. But these actions are based on compulsion, not compassion.

If every so-called "patriotic millionaire" would simply donate half of their wealth to serving others we could solve so many of the social problems in this country without a penny of new debt or taxes. My friend Arthur Brooks, the president of American Enterprise Institute, has noted in his fabulous book "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism" that conservatives donate more than the self-proclaimed compassionate liberals.

The liberal creed seems to be: "We care so much about poor people, climate change, income inequality and protecting the environment (or whatever the cause of the day) that there is no limit to how much money should be taken out of other people's wallets to solve these problems."

Let's take Meals on Wheels. Is this a valuable program to get a nutritious lunch or dinner to infirmed senior citizens? Of course, yes. Do we need the government to fund it? Of course not. I have participated in Meals on Wheels and other such programs, making sandwiches or delivering hot lunches. And many tens of thousands of others donate their time and money every day for this worthy cause.

Why is there any need for government here? The program works fine on its own. Turning this sort of charitable task over to government only makes people act less charitably on their own. It leads to an "I gave at the office" mentality, which leads to less generosity. It also subjects these programs to federal rules and regulations that could cripple the programs. Why must the federal government be funding after-school programs - or any school programs, for that matter?

One of my favorite stories of American history dates back to the 19th century when Col. Davy Crockett, who fought at the Alamo, served in Congress. In a famous incident, Congress wanted to appropriate $100,000 to the widow of a distinguished navel officer. Crockett took to the House floor and delivered his famous speech, relevant as ever: "We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to so appropriate a dollar of the public money. ... I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

Crockett was the only member of Congress who donated personally to the widow, while the members of Congress who pretended to be so caring and compassionate closed their wallets.

It all goes to show that liberal do-gooders were as hypocritical then as they are today.

Stephen Moore is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a senior economic analyst with CNN. To find out more about Stephen Moore and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2017 CREATORS.COM



Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Article comment by: Tim Stolar

Jeff,

Your last paragraph there caught my eye above all.

I think like Mr. Moore, yet I also believe that Citizens United is a complete snow-job. And the truth of the matter is that I know MORE people who are against "corporate personhood" and also share my same belief structure. Matter of fact, I don't know of anyone in my personal or professional life who shares my political beliefs that agrees with C.U. Especially after the last election where Hillary garnered much of her campaign contributions from corporations or foreign governments.

The neo-cons on the other hand... yeah, I would agree with you there. But this country is not full of neo-cons either, and people like me are trying to do what we can to destroy that way of thinking. To me, neo-cons are just as bad if not worse than progressives... No offense.


Posted: Monday, April 3, 2017
Article comment by: JEFF LAADT

I suppose that, at some theoretical level, "government" is no more than an abstraction, or "force" as Moore would say. So government as an abstraction devoid of human emotion is incapable of anything so squishy as charity or compassion. And those do-gooder liberals who believe otherwise are not only naïve and misguided, but, to Moore at least, hypocritical. In his world what passes for governmental compassion is a strictly transactional matter of compulsion and thievery.

His is an odd way of understanding. Of course, governments do not possess human agency at an individual level. And, of course, only humans are imbued with the charitable impulse. Still, what is missing from this analysis is the recognition that democratically inclined governments represent -- at least in theory -- the collective political and moral values of its citizens, along with the implicit responsibility to do exactly what Moore argues against. Perhaps it might be helpful to revisit the opening preamble to the Constitution which broadly makes the point of the governmental mission:

"We the People of the United States, in
Order to form a more perfect Union, es-
tablish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence, promote
the general Welfare, and secure the
blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our
Posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States...."

Yes, the general welfare. Domestic tranquility. Justice. Certainly one can legitimately argue the limits of the role of government. That debate has been ongoing since the founding and will undoubtedly continue into the future. Nonetheless, it is clear that, at the very least, government has a basic set of obligations to its citizens.

One last thought. It is ironic that those who are most likely to agree with Stephen Moore are largely the same people who share a vastly different understanding of another abstraction, the Corporation. Somehow, those who, like Moore, feel that government is incapable of compassion or charity seem to have no problem with the notion of "corporate personhood." Under this concept corporations are understood to have many of the same rights as actual flesh-and-blood human beings. The 2010 Citizens United case granted a virtually unlimited right of corporate "free speech." In its most recent iteration -- the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby -- it was declared that corporations (legal abstractions) are capable even of holding religious beliefs. This is pretty odd stuff.

I think Stephen Moore should rethink his definitions of hypocrisy.

Jeff Laadt
Eagle River




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