The Myth of Liberal Compassion


Your neighbor comes to your door. Holding a Glock .45, she tells you that she is collecting money for your local soup kitchen, and that your donation will be $500. As she drives with you to the ATM, she explains how concerned she is about the well being of those who rely on the struggling soup kitchen, and while not wanting to donate herself she is making sure that her neighbors contribute their fair share to support the charity. As she walks away with your $500, are you heartened by her compassion for those in need, or is she just a thief?

There is an enduring myth of the compassionate liberal and the heartless conservative. But, much like your concerned neighbor, it seems that liberal “compassion” often just means a willingness to take and spend other people’s money. In their personal lives, studies have consistently shown that conservatives give more of their time and money to charity than their liberal counterparts. And, in public policy, liberal plans to “invest” in infrastructure, education, health care, etc. are almost universally sold as being funded by somebody else (unless you happen to be the 1% of all liberals who are in the top 1% of income earners).

Indeed, it has been the long-standing practice of liberal politicians to promise that new government programs will be funded with someone else’s money. In 1992, Bill Clinton pledged to raise taxes on the “rich”, but to cut them for the middle-class. Barack Obama famously promised that nobody making under $250,000 a year would see a tax increase, and has repeatedly emphasized how few people (only those greedy bastards in the top 2% of incomes) would be affected by his various tax increases.

Hillary Clinton now makes the same pledge, explaining that she could not justify raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 per year “no matter what the taxes will pay for.” Even Bernie Sanders, who considers himself a disciple of Scandinavian economics where tax structures are far less progressive than our own, has promised that he will not raise income taxes on families making less than $250,000 per year (notwithstanding the impossibility of him keeping this promise and funding his over $18 trillion in new spending).

Liberal politicians talk about how “we” need to “invest” in more government programs; but then they make clear that “we” does not include the vast majority of their supporters. They know that liberal “compassion” goes only so far. “Compassion” compels liberals to support “free” college, universal healthcare, and expansive welfare programs — but only so long as somebody else is paying for it. Liberal politicians know that it would be political suicide to ask their supporters to pay for new programs by personally paying higher taxes. Perfectly encapsulating this liberal form of “compassion”, one Obamacare supporter dismayed by her higher premiums under a new government-approved plan explained: “Of course, I want people to have health care. I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”

And, that is the problem. It is easy to feign compassion when you have no skin in the game. It is easy to be charitable with other people’s money. But voting to take and spend other people’s money, even for a good cause, is neither charitable nor compassionate; it is merely government-sanctioned theft. True compassion is evidenced by giving of ones own time or money, not by telling other people that they need to give of theirs. Liberals should not get credit for being “compassionate” simply because they are willing to use the coercive power of government to compel other people to help those in need (even assuming that the “compassionate” government programs actually accomplish this goal). Likewise, conservatives and libertarians should not be labeled as “selfish” merely because they believe that theft is wrong — whether by your gun-wielding neighbor or a gun-wielding IRS agent — and they voluntarily choose to exercise their compassion through private charity.