December 9, 2010 - 5:21pm ET
[please read the article with all videos at: http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010124909/compassionless-conservatism ]
In her 2003 column, "The Uncompassionate Conservative," Molly Ivins cited as an example of the above President George W. Bush's praise of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP] — which helps low income families heat their homes in the winter — during a presidential debate in 2000, only to turn around and cut $300 million from the program in his first budget as president — even as people were freezing to death. Ivins attributes this to a kind of pathological cluelessness on the part of Bush and his "compassionate conservatism."
The Reverend Jim Wallis, leader of Call to Renewal, a network of churches that fight poverty, told the New York Times that shortly after his election, Bush had said to him, "I don't understand how poor people think," and had described himself as a "white Republican guy who doesn't get it, but I'd like to." What's annoying about Bush is when this obtuseness, the blinkeredness of his life, weighs so heavily on others, as it has increasingly as he has acquired more power.
...What is the disconnect? One can see it from the other side -- people's lives are being horribly affected by the Bush administration's policies, but they make no connection between what happens to them and the decisions made in Washington. I think I understand why so many people who are getting screwed do not know who is screwing them. What I don't get is the disconnect at the top. Is it that Bush doesn't want to see? No one brought it to his attention? He doesn't care?
Okay, we cut taxes for the rich and so we have to cut services for the poor. Presumably there is some right-wing justification along the lines that helping poor people just makes them more dependent or something. If there were a rationale Bush could express, it would be one thing, but to watch him not see, not make the connection, is another thing entirely. Welfare, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps -- horrors, they breed dependency. Whereas inheriting millions of dollars and having your whole life handed to you on a platter is good for the grit in your immortal soul? What we're dealing with here is a man in such serious denial it would be pathetic if it weren't damaging so many lives.
Though Bush — the recent attempt to rehabilitate his image by publishing a memoir (that he hardly bothered to write) notwithstanding — has faded from the political scene, much of what Ivins noted in 2003 can be observed in today's GOP and its Tea Party base, with one very important exception.
As E.J. Dionne recently observed, conservatives have now abandoned even the pretense of compassion.
Christopher Caldwell, a columnist for The Financial Times, was one of the first political writers to pick up on the significance of [Vanderbilt University historian Gary] Gerstle’s essay. Caldwell, an American conservative, used it to critique Bush’s multicultural and compassion agenda and to explain the tea party’s rise. Intriguingly, he suggests that “many of the tea party’s gripes about President Barack Obama can also be laid at the door of Mr. Bush.”
For example, the main effect of Bush’s faith-based initiative, in Caldwell’s view, was to funnel “a lot of federal money to urban welfare and substance abuse programs.” The No Child Left Behind Act, which “meant to improve educational outcomes for minorities, did so at the price of centralizing authority in Washington.” And of course, there was Bush’s 2007 immigration reform proposal, “the clearest sign that he was losing the ear of his party.”
For liberals, the publication of Bush’s memoirs has largely been an occasion for revisiting all the areas in which they rate his presidency a catastrophic failure: the rush to war in Iraq, torture, tax cuts for the rich, the response to Hurricane Katrina. It’s hard for liberals (believe me, I know) to fathom that there are any parts of the Bush legacy we might miss.
But imagine if the main result of the tea party is a “correction” of the Bush creed involving a move away from its most open and tolerant features and a rebellion against even the idea that compassion is a legitimate object of public policy. A conservatism that abandons the redeeming side of Bushism will not be an improvement on the old model.
The difference between the "compassionate conservatism" of the Bush era and the compassionless conservatism ascendant in the GOP today is that there can be no claim of cluelessness or obtuseness. There is daily evidence that the people's lives are being horribly affected by the GOP's policies and political tactics — such as blocking the extension of unemployment benefits amid record unemployment and long-term unemployment. The rhetoric around this stomach-turning obstruction is a mixture of fickleness around "fiscal responsibility" and outright derision and hatred from the very people bearing the brunt of the economic crisis: the long-term unemployed who, after 99 weeks, face the exhaustion of their unemployment benefits. Today's conservatives can't claim not to know how their policies impact Americans' lives. Rather than not knowing, today's "uncompassionate conservatism" stems from not caring how their policies and political tactics impact people.
Lost in the debate of the president's proposed "deal" with Republicans to "temporarily" extend the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a 13-month extension of the emergency extension of unemployment insurance benefits is one devastating reality. The proposed deal holds nothing for the 99ers, those Americans who have exhausted or are close to exhausting their unemployment benefits. In the proposed deal as it currently stands, the 99ers get nothing.
The recent tax compromise between President Obama and the Republicans may be packed with treats for the upper middle class and the wealthy, but its benefits for the unemployed are perhaps not quite what they appear.
The 13-month extension of unemployment benefits offers no additional help for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have already reached, or are fast approaching, the 99-week limit on unemployment benefits. By contrast, my colleague David Kocieniewski noted in his article on Wednesday that a quarter of the savings from this compromise will go to the wealthiest 1 percent.
“There is nothing for someone who is in that unfortunate position,” Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said of the so-called 99ers."
READ THE REST OF TERRANCE HEATH'S ARICLE (WITH ALL VIDEOS) AT: http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010124909/compassionless-conservatism
Also read: "Fix Payroll Tax Cut for Low-Income Income Workers" by Michael Linden, December 9, 2010
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