Alexander's Column

Take Heart

Mark Alexander · Mar. 10, 2000

February, just past, honors our nation’s presidents and celebrates love with valentines and flowers. What better time, especially during election season, to contemplate a proper role for the heart in politics?

Voters often base their choices on emotional responses to candidates and campaign appeals. Consultants, pointing to Bill Clinton’s success in getting women’s votes, have advised Republicans to jettison conservatives (and their “thinking man’s” politics) to begin plucking heartstrings as shamelessly as liberals do, since Republicans are often falsely accused of “not having a heart.”

Of more immediate concern, though, is how disheartened many of our conservative allies are over the current campaign’s trends. Adding to their deep discouragement from the severe Clintonian damage wrought on our country, conservatives must contemplate bitterly how Clinton appears poised to “win” the next presidential election, with both major contenders George W. Bush and Al Gore having taken to heart such Clintonesque tactics as triangulation, purposely ambiguous rhetoric, and deceptive misrepresentation through political cutouts.

How many Americans are distressed by this state of contemporary politics? As Proverbs 29:2 points out, “when a wicked man rules, the people groan.” Nothing more aptly sums up these waning days of Clinton’s presidency.

We at The Federalist have repeatedly admonished that Bush junk the Clintonism of referring to himself as a “compassionate conservative.” This is far too reminiscent of Clinton’s infamous claim to the American people, “I feel your pain.” And Bush’s use of “compassion” is undeniably that same self-congratulatory impulse displayed so ostentatiously by liberals, as Thomas Sowell identified brilliantly in “The Vision of the Anointed.” Obviously (in yet another Clintonism) while proclaiming himself a “unifier,” Bush is being divisive, meaning that garden-variety conservatives aren’t nice folk like his “compassionate” self, but as mean as the liberals say. In his heart, you know he doesn’t understand the Right.

There’s an analogy to the financial adage “bad money drives out good,” in that bad programs – and especially government programs – drive out good, effective ones. Even when successful faith-based programs are taken into partnership with government, they subsequently lose their effectiveness, because they are then susceptible to such nonsensical, meddling overcontrol as now arises from our political debates (including the wrongly claimed requirement for “separation of church and state,” and collection of government statistics to assure workforce diversity).

Moreover, those who ostentatiously display their “compassion” through instruments of government and politics also quite cleverly relieve themselves from any actual, direct personal involvement in assisting sufferers around them. Convenient excuse – “I gave at the office … through my withholding tax paid to government, and I’ve therefore discharged my duties to those in need.” Besides, being overworked feeding the voracious maw of big government can also preclude even an honest desire to provide personal help. As James 2:16 might put it in this context, “If one of you says to [a requester for help], ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed [by the government’s program],’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (NIV)

Collectivized “compassion” is in truth no compassion at all.

Sowell has also noted the difficulty – often impossibility – of counting things that have disappeared. In assessing heart by totaling up compassion quotients for liberals and conservatives, the liberal media can easily find people served by Democrat-sponsored government programs, while there are no comparable images of the now-invisible actions individuals and families would have taken, had they kept more of their own money, from lower taxes.

But our presidents also faced daunting discouragement. Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, reportedly suffered bouts of depression. George Washington, “first in the hearts of his countrymen,” wrote in 1776, “Such is my situation that if I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings.” And, lest we forget, our beloved Ronald Reagan, America’s only modern conservative president, was reviled as “heartless,” simply because he favored returning power and control away from bureaucrats of the centralized superstate and back to citizens themselves.

How did these exemplary men triumph over discouragement? Through courage and perseverance. It is wise to ponder that “courage” comes from the Latin word for heart.

Fearful Republicans, confronted with the topic of compassion, may be tempted to change the subject, for example, demanding an honest accounting of numbers in partisan budget debates. Or, like Bush, Republicans may attempt the Clintonian tactic of claiming unverifiable internal emotions.

But if we abandon the legitimate aspects of the compassion debate because we conservatives are disheartened by liberal deceits, we will indeed lose the heart – the central part – of our message. We should instead demand an honest accounting of the compassion differences between conservatives and liberals, in measurable terms – and not from shouting matches of “I care more than you do!”

Conservatives know clearly: Government simply cannot be compassionate; only individual citizens can display true fellow feeling, and the cause of true compassion is thus served only when citizens may freely come to the aid of their neighbors, and treat others as deserving of precisely the same rights and liberties claimed for oneself. This is not an assurance of equal outcomes, but rather the free working out of choices freely made.

The conservative model of compassion is the Good Samaritan, who, instead of contacting the “appropriate government agencies,” took the wounded stranger in his own arms, carried him personally to an inn, and paid out of his own pocket for care with the innkeeper, a distinct individual who could be directly contracted and held fully accountable to provide care while the traveler recovered.

The Apostle Paul encapsulated the task confronting conservatives: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).

Now is the time for courageous conservatism, implementing programs that restore freedom to do good, and then demanding that truth be told about them. That’s the most “compassionate” thing we can do.

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