If you haven't read Laura's debut post, check it out now. It's an interesting one.
I have to say, it's an inspiring story. But in rereading her post, I looked at it through the lens of conservative history. While I have quite a few thoughts on it from that perspective, I'm a little limited with time right now, but I wanted to bring up one thing. At the end of her post she poses the question:
Compassionate conservatism means reforming and investing in the system so that more people can help themselves. Isn’t that something Democrats and Republicans should agree on?
I think that kind of captures the decade-long (or longer) internal debate we conservatives have been having. See, I don't think the debate is so much a Democrat v. Republican question as it is a conservative v. libertarian thing. We all know how the Democrats are going to jump on a general rhetorical like that: "What? Spend money? mmmmmmmOK!" The debate on that side isn't so much over the proposition of reforming and investing in the system, but rather the form it will take. That's a settled question as far as that quarter is concerned.
I think the more interesting debate is on the other side of the spectrum...which is whether such reform and investing in the "system" (and by extension, involvement in general) is something that government should even be doing. And this is a debate that has been going on for a very long time, and one in which the GOP has been embroiled with at least since Reagan left office. And it goes to the heart of what is really meant by "conservative."
The general description of conservatism tends to be along the lines of wanting small, limited government. But that doesn't mean functionally non-existent government (for that, you'll have to swing over to the moonbat wing of the big L Libertarian tent). The debate tends to center around how small is "small" and how limited is "limited," and this is where the debate gets most interesting.
My own personal perspective (which coincides with a couple of factions in the GOP) is that government is useful when it comes to conserving or defending those things in our society which are good and useful. In other words, I'm not on board with deep-sixing government simply because it's government. That's why there is a conservative case to be made for things traditionally considered non-conservative, with the end result tending toward (the rhetorically clumsy) "compassionate conservatism." Others disagree with what's good and/or useful. That doesn't make one faction any less "conservative" than another. It's just a question of details.
And where I start to leave the path is precisely on those details. I mean, it's indisputable that there's a rich, anecdotal archive of all the good things government assistance has done for individuals. And just as rich is the anecdotal archive of the welfare queens who exist to cash that benefit check. But I think it bears pointing out that the first welfare programs were started up with ideals that were just as noble, but they began to take a life of their own and ended up causing more problems than they solved. In the end, the trade-off just wasn't worth it. Preventing a repeat performance is something else I would hope everyone would agree on, and ought not be considered the antithesis of "compassion" in any event.
Posted by John Tant at April 11, 2005 02:20 PM
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|# April 11th, 2005 2:40 PM kris|
I think you're exactly right about this debate, at least on who the debate is between. I think the temporary help that people need to get back on their feet is undeniably needed. It's in society's interest to make sure that a single setback doesn't doom an otherwise productive individual. Of course, I think you can ask whether these kinds of temporary programs should be administered by the government, or by private individuals and organizations. I think the kinds of things Laura talked about could just as easily be done by a Church, a charitable organization or various service groups. Groups like that are already out there, but people aren't as involved with them and in them because they have the attitude that it's the government's job to provide for us in our hour of need. If we took that expectation away, I've no doubt that private organizations would step in.
Now, I'm not necessarily saying that we should do this, but I don't think it's out of the question. Americans don't need to be forced to be charitable. We respond generously time and again to those in need at home and abroad (witness the millions and millions donated to 9/11 and tsunami relief).
When conservatives advocate cutting programs, it's just important for people to realize that that doesn't mean they're heartless. It means that they believe there's a better, more efficient way for society to show compassion.
|# April 11th, 2005 3:56 PM Laura|
|I agree with a lot of what you said, and in retrospect I would not have cut all of the 600 words I did from the original article because my position would have been a lot more clear. In a perfect world, charities and churches would take care of all of this. Was poverty really any worse before Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" than it is now? I don't have any numbers to prove it, but I suspect that Kris is right and charities used to do a lot more than they do now. But government paying the charities is not a good solution either; failure to tax is fine, but direct payments from the government seems like a really bad idea to me.
One thing I wanted to point out is the the definition of poverty has been changed to include more people. A lot of people deemed to be in poverty - like me before my husband died - just don't fit the picture of what most people call poverty. Those people can be helped pretty easily, with a lot less "system" than we currently have, if administered conservatively.
|# April 11th, 2005 6:16 PM JohnTant|
|Laura, I'm a huge nerd when it comes to dissecting conservatism and its various flavors, so I tend to read things with that perspective. I didn't think you were taking the position that government assistance was all peaches in Candyland. Rather I thought your post neatly illustrated the very debate small c conservatism has been having for at least the past 30 years. I fall on the side of not thinking government in and of itself is a bad thing, but on the other hand I think there should be a pretty high bar when we talk about government taking over something. It's a value judgement, to be sure...just one of those inherent contradictions conservatism tends to fall prey to.
I think you do a great job illustrating the disparity between what we Americans call "poverty" and what the rest of the world would term it. That disparity is actually quite disgraceful. If anything, it serves to cheapen the predicament truly impoverished people are in.
|# April 11th, 2005 7:02 PM cheeseandbacon|
|Check out http://www.drudgereport.com
look at the right where it has the tom DeLay t-shirt.
I guess he pulled it, but the shirt was put up by http://www.goodwinart.com
I sent him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Just let him know i thought it might be cool if Tom Delay made a similar t-shirt about him saying the same thing.