COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM OR SOCIALISM?
November 23, 2004
The word “socialism” has lost much of the stigma historically and rightfully attached to it. The evil that word conveyed for generations of Americans has been all but lost. More problematic, however, is the fact that many of those who understand the historical meaning of the word and profess to abhor the concept, practice outright socialism, but call it something else.
Let’s get a couple of things straight. There is no such thing as a generous politician. Generous people give away their own money, not money they used the power of government to confiscate from other people’s bank accounts.
There is no such thing as a generous or compassionate government. Government is at its essence force and power, not giving and sharing. Governments do not have the capacity for compassion or generosity. Those are human characteristics. Government takes by force and redistributes by formula. These are hardly charitable acts.
A government that forcibly takes from those who produce and redistributes to those who don’t, is socialistic. Plain and simple. By that standard, our federal government and the governments of all fifty states are socialist or turning more socialistic every year.
Conservatives appear to have already lost this battle. Worse yet, many of us have given up the fight and joined the other side.
The heart of the conservative philosophy is really pretty simple: Government, rightly formed, should encourage individual responsibility, insure that the its citizens are secure in their property and left free to enjoy the fruits of their own labors. That freedom includes, of course, the right to give away as much of one’s money and property as one’s conscience dictates, and the right to keep as much of what one possesses as one wishes.
What then are we to think of all this talk about “compassionate conservatism,” which is so common these days within the ranks of self-described conservatives? Compassionate conservatism was a major plank in the Bush campaign for election and reelection and he ran as a conservative.
What does this mean? Is this something new under the sun? Is this doctrine some kind of long desired middle ground between conservativism and liberalism? Is it a healthy balance between two extremes? I think not.
Compassionate conservatism is, simply put, Republicans embracing just enough socialism to get elected. It is their effort, for political purposes, to outbid the Democrats in the competition to see who can be the most “giving and sharing” with other people’s money.
All this would just be politics as usual, if compassionate conservatism was merely a clever label created by politicians and political consultants to help elect more Republicans by taking the edge off of traditional conservative views regarding taxpayer funded social programs.
Republicans consultants have long sought some cosmetic way to make Republicans appear as warm and caring as welfare state Democrats. But what is going on today this is more than political posturing. It is not just a cosmetic makeover. The compassionate conservative movement prevalent in America today is much more dangerous than that. It is a sign that some top Republican officeholders and their handlers and consultants have given up on the conservative message.
Understandably, Republicans have become weary of the beatings they have taken from liberals in the media. They have grown tired of being labeled cold or uncaring, while their tax-and-spend Democrat counterparts are described as generous, visionary, and community-minded.
Given the time, true conservatives can explain why their approach is in reality more compassionate than the socialistic approach of the Democrats. Problem is, conservatives are rarely given the time. The political attention span of the average citizen is about one lousy minute. That is hardly enough time to educate someone about a political philosophy, an economic system, and the resultant worldview.
We can expect no help from the media. Most liberal reporters and editors simply are not capable of comprehending the conservative philosophy. Conservativism is entirely antithetical to their worldview and their understanding of human nature, or more accurately, their misunderstanding of human nature. Thus, explaining the logical and philosophical basis for conservativism to your average close-minded, liberal reporter or editor borders on casting one’s pearls before swine.
Given the opportunity, conservatives could explain that it is immeasurably better (and more compassionate) to teach a man to fish, as conservatives would do, than to simply give him a fish, as the Democrats would. Problem is, the average citizen would rather just spend his time fishing than hearing about all this stuff.
Given the chance, conservatives could explain that the sense of pride that comes from self-sufficiency is vastly superior to the debilitating entitlement mentality that is engendered by the Democrats’ big government welfare programs. They could explain that the pie is not a fixed size, as Democrats generally believe, but rather can be increased to provide plenty for all, if governments would get out of the way and stop taxing and regulating the incentive out of the economy.
But then, besides the choir, who is listening?
Perhaps it took too long to explain such things and the politicians got tired of all the wasted effort. Maybe it was too much work. Maybe they wanted to win elections more than they wanted to change the world. Whatever the reason, many have decided to take the path of least resistance. Now they are compassionate conservatives.
Instead of being stingy, cold-hearted conservatives, who let people keep the money they make and take care of themselves, they are now “compassionate conservatives.” As such, they are free to embrace increased spending on social programs, not because they are socialists intent upon redistributing the wealth, mind you, but because they “genuinely care.”
It is so much easier this way. Trickle down, supply side economics always was a bit difficult to explain and appeared so self-serving. Never mind that the process is natural, effective, and consistent with sound economic principle. Never mind that history has shown that it leads to economic vitality while socialism leads to stagnation and what Churchill called an equal distribution of misery.
In the final analysis, the compassionate conservatism we see in America today is merely a sign that many Republicans have decided that they would rather compromise their principles and get elected as moderate Republicans than lose elections as conservative ones. It is a triumph of pragmatism over principle.
Compassionate conservatism is political expediency in action. It is a recognition by some that a candidate can garner more votes in a general election by being a compassionate conservative than a real one.
The adherents of “compassionate conservatism” apparently have forgotten the true nature of socialism and its unavoidable effect on human nature. Socialism is like quick sand. You make the mistake of wading in just a little, perhaps ignorantly, only to find yourself being sucked in deeper and deeper with no easy way out.
Remember Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who said that he would bury America? Some thought he would launch a nuclear attack to bring about his prophecy? Hardly. Khrushchev was perfectly willing to let America move to the left incrementally; here a little, there a little.
When speaking about FDR’s New Deal, Khrushchev said, "We can't expect the American people to jump from capitalism to communism, but we can assist their elected leaders in giving them small doses of socialism, until they awaken one day to find that they have communism."
Khrushchev recognized the New Deal for what it was, socialism, pure and simple. Too bad the neo-conservative Republican crowd leading America today doesn’t see things so clearly. Their “compassionate conservative” approach to politics is only taking us deeper into the entitlement quicksand.
Changing terminology and calling socialist programs “compassionate conservativism” doesn’t change the nature of the beast itself. Redistributing the wealth to win votes will produce the same devastating end as redistributing the wealth because you are an outright socialist.
History has shown us that socialism is addictive to the people who live under it. Once they realize that they can vote themselves a piece of someone else’s pocketbook or a piece of the public treasury, they are not going to willingly give up that power and they are not going to be satisfied with what they get. They will always want more, no matter how much they are given.
For that reason, Karl Rove and President Bush are playing a dangerous game. The compassionate conservative movement is a swamp that is quickly swallowing the relevance of the Republican Party and making Republicans every bit the big spenders the Democrats are. Republicans already are spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars each budget cycle, just so they can appear generous and compassionate in their campaign ads.
I close with this thought: There is such a thing as compassionate conservativism. It involves two things. First, we dismantle the welfare state incrementally rather than overnight, so as to not throw out into the streets those who have become addicted to government “freebies”. In some sense, we are partly responsible for enabling them in their addiction. Those people, we teach to work. We teach them that society does not owe them a living, but the freedom to earn a living.
In other words, compassionate conservatism is freeing people from dependence on government .
Second, compassionate conservativism is accepting the responsibility for giving our own money to those who truly are in need. It is thus that we find a balance between two powerful scriptural admonitions; one that says that pure religion and undefiled before God is to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction; and the second, which says, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.
The first is loving and compassionate. The other is what we call tough love, the only kind of "love" government can legitimately practice.
© 2004 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.