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When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, he made headlines by describing himself as a “compassionate conservative.”
Clever political insiders knew what Bush was doing. He was trying to set himself apart from the notion that is common about conservatives: that they are basically selfish and greedy and short on compassion for those who don’t have what they have.
In Bush’s case, it may also have been a play to the religious right, whose support he ardently desired. Bush had cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher, and he knew that the Nazarene hadn’t sanctioned the “I got mine; you get yours” approach of most conservatives.
Many of us suspected all along that this was only rhetoric on Bush’s behalf, and that proved mostly correct. During eight years as president, Bush never proposed any serious comprehensive health care reform. His “compassion” apparently did not extend to the many millions without health insurance.
On the one issue where he did show some compassion, an attempt at some kind of amnesty for illegal aliens living here by the rules and not breaking the law, he was beaten back by party regulars, who took the Virgil Goode/Tom Tancredo approach: Get out of our country, you dirty rabble.
Bush might indeed have wondered how it is possible to actually make conservatism truly Christian. But the rank and file shock troops of his party - and of the larger “conservative movement” - showed no inclination to care.
Today, things haven’t changed. Bush’s cry for “compassionate conservatism” never really caught on; most conservatives don’t make much of an attempt to show compassion for the least fortunate in this society. They deride government - the only entity that can really carry out a just social policy - as The Great Evil of Our Time. They pretend that capitalism has no faults, and that “the private sector” can solve any problem, despite the fact that our economic history has repeatedly shown this to be false.
If the right really wants to show its compassion, couldn’t it organize private forces to do what government - The Great Evil - mustn’t? Imagine, for example, that if you lost your job suddenly, you wouldn’t need unemployment benefits from government, you could turn to conservatives.
Let’s say they called themselves the CCC (no, not the Civilian Conservation Corps from the “socialist” New Deal of FDR), the Committees of Caring Conservatives. They’d show up at your door to present to you - out of their deeply compassionate hearts - what government shouldn’t do.
Yes, it would cost great deals of money. But don’t conservatives have easy access to that? The Koch brothers, funders of the supposedly “spontaneous” tea-party movement, could certainly pitch in some millions. So could the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which recently spent many millions to elect a Republican House of Representatives.
There they would be, at your door, to present “private sector” funds, if you needed money to pay for health care, so that you don’t go into deep debt. You would also, of course, be keeping “the Great Evil” out of your life.
In every area of life, the great Christian conservative troops of the CCC could protect the innocent from the evils of big government. But it won’t happen, will it? And we know why, don’t we?
It’s because what we suspect about them is true: conservatives are driven by selfishness and greed. Compassion is simply not a part of their philosophy, despite George W. Bush, and despite others who might like to change that.
Government is not evil; selfishness and greed is.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com