Above is the link to the article I am responding to from one of Boston College’s student publications, followed by my abbreviated response that I unashamedly borrowed from Senator Joseph Welch.
For those of you who do not want to read the article or listen to a 17 second Youtube clip, I will summarize. The article makes the claim that conservatives are essentially heartless bastards who not only are indifferent to the poor, but actually hate the less fortunate. By the way it is written it seems to imply that ALL conservatives have this mindset. But I will try to be less vitriolic than the article I am criticizing for being vitriolic and assume that the author does NOT think this way about all conservatives. But who knows. (In an attempted to not mudsling, I will also not talk about anecdotes of people abusing welfare programs, conservative states giving more to charity than liberal states etc., even though these things do exist)
The second link to the Youtube video is a clip of Senator Joseph Welch famously asking Joe McCarthy “Have you no sense of decency?” (Joe McCarthy, of course, is most famous for going on communist witch hunts in the 1950s in the name of national security).
So now my more formal response (which unfortunately can only be short compared to all that I could say)
First and foremost, I completely reject almost every single word of that article as ridiculous. Are there some conservatives who really don’t care about poor people? Of course there are. But is anyone going to seriously argue that there are not also liberals who only support “charity” when it consists of taxing other people besides themselves in order to pay for welfare programs? The point is that there are unscrupulous and selfish people across the political spectrum, not just on the right.
No doubt someone may reject my above paragraph by saying “There may be bad people on both sides, but the GOP’s own platform calls for cutting welfare and other policies that hurt the poor.”
I do not have the time needed to fully refute this criticism, but in short I will say that conservative policies are meant to HELP the poor, not harm them. I don’t have enough time to go through every policy, but I will briefly discuss welfare as an example. The main crticism of liberal “anti-poverty” programs is that they often have the effect of trapping people in poverty against their will due to offering perverse incentives for the poor to stay poor. This is not the fault of the poor, they are just being rational people.
To use one example from the New York TImes, some parents in Appalachia take their kids out of school because they fear that if their kid gets educated they will no longer qualify for a disability check from the government. This is a depressing scenario, but it highlights my point. Many poor people are trapped in poverty because if they try to improve their lives by working more, marrying or in this case getting educated, they will no longer qualify for as many welfare programs and may actually end up worse off than before they “improved their lives” (or the benefit may be so small that it is not worth the effort). For all the econ buffs out there, there is often an extremely high de facto marginal tax rate on the incomes of the poor that discourages them from working more. Again, this is NOT the fault of the poor. It is the fault of politicians who would rather be populist demagogues CLAIMING to help the poor, than honest people who REALLY help the poor.
I must admit that while the author from The Gavel is wrong in his characterization of conservatives, conservatives must be better at articulating what we stand for. I will admit that conservatives have an unfortunate knack for sounding heartless, but just because the messenger is bad doesn’t mean the message itself is not good. But again, is saying stupid things really only a problem on the right? No. The right just gets put under heavier scrutiny (in my opinion at least). Take for example Obama and Paul Ryan. Both say similar things about poor inner-city neighborhoods, but when Paul Ryan says it, he is racist (I’ll link to a WSJ piece detailing this incident at the end of this post).
There is also a larger lesson about politics in general to be learned form this whole situation. How are we supposed to come together as a nation to solve problems if we have people who will not even acknowledge that his opponents are not evil? How are we to solve problems if we are so focused on inflammatory rhetoric that we cannot even take the time to try and understand what our opponents viewpoints are? We cannot pride ourselves in “never reading the opinions of the other side.”
I could write a book on this topic, but this post seems long already. The only other point I want to make is essentially the same one made by Senator Welch. If we are ever to solve the challenges of this country we must at least have the decency to assume that our opponents want what’s best for America just as much as we do.
I don’t want this post to be interpreted as me endorsing all politicians as “great moral leaders who want to help people.” I actually believe that an honest, moral politician is rare and that most of our “leaders” are just out to protect themselves and their well connected buddies. I think the real divide in America is between the political class and the people, not between rich and poor.
Here are the articles I mentioned above.