Monday, September 19, 2005

The State of Conservativism

Andrew Sullivan links to some good posts today about what conservatism really is and how the Bush administration has abandoned those tenets.

Jack Balkin notes how cold and heartless conservatism has become in that it has to add the qualifier "Compassionate" before the word conservative. He quotes F.A. Heyek, which has been considered one of the fathers of conservatism. Many have seen him as anti-government, but Balkin quotes the Austrian who wrote The Road to Serfdom tended to see a role for government in free societies:

[T]here can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody...

Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance...the case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong....

To the same category belongs also the increase of security through the state's rendering assistance to the victims of such "acts of God" as earthquakes and floods. Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.

I think some who call themselves conservatives today would wonder if this really was Hayek talking. But as someone who considers himself progressively conservative, it does. One doesn't have to be a socialist to support some minimal standards to ensure people have proper housing, medical care and food. To not care about whether people have these doesn't make someone a conservative in my book, but a heartless...well, this is a family blog, so I will just say a heartless person.

For some reason, conservatives have started to believe the small government means a government that buys into some sort of economic darwinism; continually cutting taxes for the well off, cutting services for the less fortunate and piling up debt for the next generation. People like Grover Norquist talks about some kind of anti-government utopia, but to me it seems more like something out of
Lord of the Flies.

Republicans doesn't have to develop large government programs as Democrats have (save President Clinton) to tackle poverty. But we do need to find ways to bring economic freedom to the poor. The poor can't simply do it on themselves when they are faced with poor education and crime.

My liberal friends talk about social justice and for some conservatives, it brings up this image of the bloated welfare states found in Europe. But for me, social justice means setting things right for the poor; giving them a chance to get out of poverty. It comes from the Bible where we are reminded to care for those less fortunate. Conservatives don't have to become liberals in order to deal with these issues, but they have to have a heart about this.

There needs to be a wholesale intellectual revolution within conservatism. It starts by doing this: Republicans need to start reading your Bibles, beyond the few scattered verese that talk about homosexuality. The Bible is filled with verses about caring for the poor, so it seems that God is a bit more concerned with people being well-fed, than with two guys holding hands.

If the father of conservatism can see the importance of helping the poor, maybe other conservatives need to take notice.


At 7:21 AM, Blogger halfback jack said...

For those of us that are moderate Republicans, we live in the Gray Zone. The media live in the "black" zone or the "white" zone. The "silent majority" watches this, shakes their head in amazement and turns the channel to a reality TV show.

Being a compassionate conservative/moderate liberal seems to be generally viewed (and presented) by the media as an oxymoron. More later.

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Shay said...

Why is not the responsibility of people's relatives and friends, non-profits, and religious institutions to ensure that folks get fed, clothed, and get medical care? Not to mention the individual himself or herself. Fiscal conservatives don't argue over whether folks should be helped, but rather the means and efficiency. Not to mention the fact that 60% of government dollars earmarked for such purposes don't even REACH the affected people themselves, but rather funds (primarily) middle-class white and black women's careers. The private sector has shown itself much more effective in this regard.

Detached government outlays are not compassion, Giving from the heart is such, and demands more out of us. It also helps to place strings on folks' behavior, while government demands little from aid recipients. Meanwhile, fiscal liberals just want more government handouts and to reinforce dependency.

Here's real social justice:


1. Did you graduate from high school?

2. Did you wait until marriage to have children?

3. Did you stay out of jail?

4. Do you have a decent work ethic?

Over 90% of poor Americans (and we're not talking temporary setbacks or recent immigrants) have broken a couple, often all, of these rules. The focus should be on these cultural / personal responsibility issues.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger halfback jack said...

Some very good points. I agree with the overall premise, but the devil is always in the details:

* Relatives and friends of poor Americans are often in the same situation themselves.
* Nonprofits rely heavily on corporate contributions. When the shareholders demand higher dividends or the corporation experiences a downturn, charitable giving is usually the first item whacked to reduce expenses.
* Our society (unfortunately) still has this "thing" about separation of church and state. Some of the best services come from religion-based organizations, but they too rely heavily on corporate giving (see previous point).

Your four points on "How Not to be Poor in America" are spot on.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Shay said...

But with lower taxes, more folks could give money to charities and religious institutions (i.e., charities would rely significantly less on corporate donations).

At 10:54 AM, Blogger halfback jack said...

The operative word here is "could."

Having worked in the nonprofit sector for several years (in a previous life), the concern/issue becomes the costs associated with fundraising. Yes, you can do the internet thing but I am not certain of the success rate for ongoing nonprofits. A Katrina-type situation obviously is the exception here, but I would be interested in seeing what a nonprofit has to take off the top to cover even internet-based credit card transactions.

People are going to contribute to events like Katrina, but the rising costs of living--energy in particular--are going to have a negative effect on charitable giving across-the-board for the same reason I outlined earlier, regardless of whether you are an individual or a corporation. Individuals are no different from corporations in that if expenses go up, charitable giving is usually one of the things that gets reduced.

At least in Minnesota, the Attorney General's office has for the last several years watched not only HOW nonprofits raise funds, but--more importantly--what percent of the money actually ends up providing direct services to the constituency they are fundraising on behalf of. My friends who work there will tell you that the largest chunk of phone calls they get from the public relate in some way to fundraising by nonprofits (are they legit, etc.).

The corporate world is the "Holy Grail" of fundraising. If nonprofit X can raise $10,000 in one corporate check, the cost of raising that $10k is cheaper and easier to secure than if the nonprofit secures 100 contributions at $100 each.

Depending on the industry, a company can contribute donated product or services at a fraction of the cost that you or I would pay.

I agree with your principle that we as individuals should contribute to the extent we can. The escalating energy costs have, however, pretty much swallowed up most of what I would otherwise contribute above and beyond what I already provide through payroll deduction here at my work.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Kirkrrt said...

I would respectfully disagree on your four points on how not to be poor in America.
It is obvious you have not had a lot of experience with poor people and this is why you can say things like that.
I don't have the link at home, but at work I have bookmarked a study by a large foundation that looked at the working poor in America.
The vast majority have graduated from hish school.
More than half work more than 48 hours a week.
I don't remember the study addressing the other two issues, but realizing that being poor isn't a racial issue and being incarcerated is, leads me to think that large percentages of poor people have never been in jail.
email me at and I will send you the link on Wed.
I won't be back in the cube until then.

At 1:41 AM, Blogger Sean said...

as much as you attack others for using the Bible to suit their political views, you then turn around and tell conservatives to read their Bibles- and of course, they shoudl also conclude the same interpretation that you have concluded. LOL. i call that hypocrisy.

The bible does not say to make sure the govt feeds the poor. To conflate helping the poor, with ensuring that the federal govt helps the poor is not a Biblical backed idea, and you are conflating two different things.

here is my problem. for many, the standard is never satisfied. Notice Kirk is talking about some nebulous "working poor." Shay is talking about poverty. They are not the same. Kirk is talking about a level of comfort, or freedom from struggle. that is a utopian socialist ideal at its core, because it is unachievable. Each person has different desires and different levels of comfort and need. Those on the left want comfort guarenteed, not just a guarentee that basic needs are met. Comfort is not owed to anybody.

Many comments ignore that THERE IS A LOT OF HELP GIVEN TO THE POOR IN THIS COUNTRY. thats my problem with comments like sanders, is that they almost act as if whatever is being done, does not count, because it is not up to their personal standards.
he is a pastor, how many poor has his church fed this week? how many children have they tutored in basic english?

I am still trying to find a single conservative or republican idea or policy Sanders supports. But even hsi entire foudnational perspective of focusing almost entirely on the federal govt is nto conservative. Just being to the right of a socialist does not make one an economic conservative.

halfback jack
you are correct about the cost of fundraising.
But i think the govt (not the corporate world) is the "Holy Grail" of fundraising.
Corporations usually hold non-profits to higher standards in order to maintain funding. Govt is a whole different ball game. i personally think people would find a huge amount of inefficeincies and waste if non-profits were closely scrutinized.


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