by Rod D. Martin
August 3, 2000

This Republican Convention week, we are all hearing a lot about “compassionate conservatism”, and a lot of what we’re hearing consists of guffaws from the Left. The Republican nominee’s catch-phrase is an oxymoron, we are told, most notably because, in Jesse Jackson’s words, “If you say ‘leave no American behind,’ that must be a budget priority, not just a speech.”

Or to put that another way, if you’re not for big government programs with bureaucrats telling everyone what to do, you hate women, children and poor people.

This used to be the dominant view in American political life, but it’s hardly a recent invention. The gap between Left and Right on this issue is age-old, and comes down to a difference in what the two sides think of the nature of man.

To the Left, man is basically morally good, and indeed morality itself is a relative term if meaningful at all. This is the Left’s most deeply-held, quasi-theological premise, a denial of the Fall of Man. There’s a problem with this, of course – the empirical evidence of the entire wicked history of humanity – but the Left solves this very simply. Since man is basically good, all he needs is to be “educated” into perfection. And in the meantime, government can step in to control society for the good (and for the “perfecting”) of the “unenlightened majority”.

This is the “everyone’s an idiot but us” theory of government. Spend ten minutes in the honors lounge of any liberal arts school in America and you’ll discover just how ingrained it is. Or just listen to a Hillary Clinton speech sometime.

Conservatives have always rejected this view. Coming as they do from Christian roots (even the secular folk among them), they believe that man is basically corrupt; but they do not see this as a reason for more control. Quite the contrary: conservatives demand limited government and personal freedom. Why? Because governments are made up of people, and men in power are not merely corrupt and selfish, but have courts and armies to enforce their greed at everyone else’s expense.

The Left claims the Right is “mean-spirited” in this, while liberals are “compassionate” and “loving.” To leftists like Jackson (or Orwell’s O’Brien), more government equals more love.

But is it really “compassion” to force poor black children into a failing government school? Or is it more compassionate to give their parents a choice – by way of a voucher, a tax credit, an Education Savings Account, or even a home school – to do what’s best for them, as individuals? Is this issue more about “compassion for the children”, or about controlling the curriculum and propping up a labor union?

Is it really “compassion” to force our grandparents to live in poverty on an $800 Social Security check? Or is it more compassionate to give them control over their retirement savings – just as Britain, Australia and even Chile have already successfully done – and let them retire on as much or more than they made while they were working? Is this issue more about “compassion for the elderly”, or about the Left raiding the Social Security Trust Fund for its other “compassionate” programs?

Is it really “compassion” to force everyone into a socialized health-care scheme that has already failed in Britain and elsewhere? And is it “compassion” to over-regulate private health care so much that everyone’s forced into an HMO or out of insurance entirely? Or would it be more compassionate to quit taxing health care expenses at all, letting people accumulate hundreds of thousands of tax-free dollars in accounts just like their IRAs and 401(k)s? Is this issue more about “compassion”, or about control?

Is it really “compassion” to make it difficult (or impossible) for honest citizens to get a gun? Or would it be more compassionate to help a young mother learn how to use a gun safely to defend herself and her children? In the wake of this week’s findings by a senior scholar at Yale Law School that the chief effect of the Brady Law has been a 3 percent jump in rapes and assaults on women, is this issue more about “compassion”, or about elitist snobbery?

And is it really “compassionate” to pay for all this “compassion” – not to mention “compassion” for pornographic “artists” and North Korean dictators and $75 million Presidential junkets – by taking almost half of the average family’s income, forcing both parents into the workplace whether they and their families want them there or not? How is this “for the children”? Is the Left’s belief that “we know how to spend it better than you do” compassion, or just unbelievable arrogance.

Liberal “compassion” is just another form of tyranny; but freedom works. George W. Bush is not creating an oxymoron with his slogan “compassionate conservatism.” Quite the contrary: he’s being redundant.