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Where Are the Compassionate Conservatives?

Posted on Sep 15, 2011

By Eugene Robinson

We heard plenty of contradictions, distortions and untruths at the Republican candidates’ tea party debate, but we heard shockingly little compassion—and almost no acknowledgment that political and economic policy choices have a moral dimension.

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The lowest point of the evening—and perhaps of the political season—came when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question about a young man who elects not to purchase health insurance. The man has a medical crisis, goes into a coma and needs expensive care. “Who pays?” Blitzer asked.

“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul answered. “This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody ... “

Blitzer interrupted: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?”

There were enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah!” from the crowd. You’d think one of the other candidates might jump in with a word about Christian kindness. Not a peep.


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Paul, a physician, went on to say that, no, the hypothetical comatose man should not be allowed to die. But in Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care—with government bearing no responsibility and playing no role.

Blitzer turned to Michele Bachmann, whose popularity with evangelical Christian voters stems, at least in part, from her own professed born-again faith. Asked what she would do about the man in the coma, Bachmann ignored the question and launched into a canned explanation of why she wants to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees that God commands us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” There is no asterisk making this obligation null and void if circumstances require its fulfillment via government. 

The thing is, Bachmann knows a lot about compassion. She makes much of the fact that she and her husband took in 23 foster children over the years. But what of the orphaned or troubled children who are not lucky enough to find a wealthy family to take them in? What of the boys and girls who have stable homes but do not regularly see a doctor because their parents lack health insurance?

Government can reach them. But according to today’s Republican dogma, it must not.

Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Bachmann, Paul and the others onstage in Tampa all had the same prescription for the economy: Cut spending, cut taxes and let the wealth that results trickle down to the less fortunate.

They betrayed no empathy for, or even curiosity about, the Americans who depend on the spending that would be cut. They had no kind words—in fact, no words at all—for teachers, firefighters and police officers who will lose their jobs unless cash-strapped state and local government receive federal aid. Public servants, the GOP candidates imply, don’t hold “real” jobs. I wonder: Do Republicans even consider them “real” people?

Government is more than a machine for collecting and spending money, more than an instrument of war, a book of laws or a shield to guarantee and protect individual rights. Government is also an expression of our collective values and aspirations. There’s a reason the Constitution begins “We the people ... ” rather than “We the unconnected individuals who couldn’t care less about one another ... “

I believe the Republican candidates’ pinched, crabby view of government’s nature and role is immoral. I believe the fact that poverty has risen sharply over the past decade—as shown by new census data—while the richest Americans have seen their incomes soar is unacceptable. I believe that writing off whole classes of citizens—the long-term unemployed whose skills are becoming out of date, thousands of former offenders who have paid their debt to society, millions of low-income youth ill-served by inadequate schools—is unconscionable.

Perry, who is leading in the polls, wants to make the federal government “inconsequential.” He thinks Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” He doesn’t much like Medicare either.

But there was a fascinating moment in the debate when Perry defended Texas legislation that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities. “We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you,” Perry said.

The other candidates bashed him with anti-immigrant rhetoric until the evening’s only glimmer of moral responsibility was snuffed out.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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Blueboy1938's avatar

By Blueboy1938, September 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm Link to this comment

The “Compassionate Conservative,” George W. Bush, coined the phrase - or his
campaign advisors did - in a cynical attempt to obtain the votes of those too
weak-minded to see through that charade.  There’s no use looking for that
non-existent entity, especially amongst the current crop of “preserve the
perquisites of the rich at the cost of everyone else” crop of Republican
presidential candidates.  At least they’re being candid about their callous

The currently leading Republican national office-holder, Speaker of the House
John Boehner,  makes no bones about the world as seen by members of his
party:  The rich give money to the Republican Party to ensure that their
interests will be protected and even enhanced.  That can only be done by
eviscerating the social and economic structure that has roots in the New Deal
and is intended to “take care of the little guy.”  The irony is that “the little guys”
will vote for politicians that will stick it to them because of the double-talk and
obfuscation the Republicans can afford to confound them with at election time
due to the support they receive from the rich, along with corporate interests.  It
isn’t technically buying votes, but it works the same way.

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By scotttpot, September 20, 2011 at 3:15 am Link to this comment

Where are the compassionate Democrats or Americans for that matter?
America has become a dyfunctional state.
It has failed to deliver basic human services, security or hope to a majority of
its people.
The “democratic process’’ and the media are toxic ,but effective at helping the
corporations maintaining control.

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Hulk2008's avatar

By Hulk2008, September 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment

They didn’t really mean it, Mr. Robinson. 
I mean that “compassionate” part - they DO mean to be conservative at all costs - even at the cost of the lives of fellow citizens. 

Scrooge woke up on Xmas morning - maybe the conservatives will too. 

(Note that Xmas morning is well after the November election they hope to sweep.  It’s easier to BE compassionate when one wins.)

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By Jayman, September 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Marian Griffith, thanks for adding a little sanity to a conversation that has gone completely off the rails and sound more like a community organizing hate fest than a discussion.

Robinson and Obama know how to motivate their base to chant, and rally around their fear mongering. There is a prohibition on thinking in the democratic party, and among the Obama cult members.

Many people have different definitions of what “compassion” is. What the Democrats do to pander for votes and call compassion is self-serving. It enslaves it’s victims for life to the federal government, and results in destruction of our society. It’s a joke. Eugene keep your compassion, give people a job instead, it will help us all.

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By Marian Griffith, September 18, 2011 at 4:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

—-Compassionate Conservatism was just one more lie from the Bush administration. It doesn’t exist.—-

I would say it does exist. It just is defined with a very narrow definition of humanity in mind. If you think of only the social circles that produce politicians and the people that buy them as ‘human’ then conservatives are plenty compassionate with their fellow human beings.

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By aacme88, September 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm Link to this comment

Republicans have discovered from polling, that through rigorous application of “political suasion”, they have sufficiently brainwashed their supporters and desensitized a significant percentage of the rest of us, that they don’t have to mouth that particular platitude any more. This entire process is what they call “democracy”.

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anaman51's avatar

By anaman51, September 17, 2011 at 6:04 pm Link to this comment

There is no such critter as a compassionate conservative. If there was, there would be voices heard from inside the GOP when their Nazi frontmen strut into Congress with demands for reductions in the social programs that keep the most helpless among us alive, and at the same time call for keeping the tax cuts for the rich. Those who should speak out against this remain silent, as they are told to do. If they were truly compassionate, they would speak out and come forward to name their party’s approach to this issue the inhuman abomination it is. Compassionate Conservatism was just one more lie from the Bush administration. It doesn’t exist.

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By April Campbell, September 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m not feeling the love from the democrats either. They should be jumping all over the monstrous remarks made by Paul, et al. Instead we get—silence. Obama’s lame-brained, trickle down economic policies have resulted in more cuts to state aid, more poverty and continued high unemployment. 36 democratic senators sent a letter noting their support for trillions more in cuts to the budget. Lack of compassion is not confined to the republicans, it’s part and parcel of what this country has become thanks to decades of corrupt leadership—both republican and democratic.

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By elisalouisa, September 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm Link to this comment

“The humanity we learned from it.”  Your words do apply for our generation. The term Compassionate Conservative is now an oxymoron PatrickHenry. The dehumanizing effects of war are slowly surfacing, compassion may be a thing of the past.

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By berniem, September 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

Those who actually believe that there is such an animal as a “compassionate conservative” are also, undoubtedly, ignorant of the concept of the oxymoron! FREE BRADLEY MANNING & TIM DeCHRISTOPHER!!!!

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Misfiteye's avatar

By Misfiteye, September 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

Compassionate Conservative.

I got mine.  Sucks to be you.

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By felicity, September 17, 2011 at 11:51 am Link to this comment

Michael B - And of course, Rand is the darling of
today’s Libertarian.  The same Libertarians who
subscribe to the drivel of Rand (I’ve actually heard
this) won’t visit India because they won’t be able to
stomach dead bodies lying in the streets.

Of course, I’ve picked up the lead reminding them that
Rand’s prescription for a well-functioning society will
guarantee ‘dead’ bodies lying in their suburban curbs.

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By bill63, September 17, 2011 at 11:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 17, 2011 at 7:55 am Link to this comment


The point I was trying to make was that at life has a natural progression. 

We grow into something conservative, whether it is compassionate or not depends on each of our school of hard knocks and the humanity we learned from it.

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By Dale Johnson, September 17, 2011 at 7:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Human evolution took a wrong turn.
The Neanderthals are back!
They call themselves Republicans,
But they are Zombies,
Risen from the grave of history
Now chasing Homo Sapiens
With their big sticks
Clubbing every social advance of human kind,
Torturing and killing non-white peoples in distant lands
Jailing and deporting those considered aliens in their heartland.

The Zombie Machos party with tea spiced with Texas bourbon,
Cooled with Alaska ice and served by a stylish Haus Frau.
Through their control of yellow journalism
They force those with residues of tolerance and humanity
To swallow the piss and bile of once defeated anachronisms.

The Zombies, bankrolled by their friends in corporate board rooms
Prepare to remove the Nation´s heart
And replace it with a Made-in-China machine.
They coerce and blackmail the reasonable yet complaint politicians
To appoint the plutocrats and murderous Generals to controlling government bureaucracies
And to follow their dictates to roll back social progress.
The bankers succeed in reversing the American Dream,
Immiserating the masses.
Big Money inspires economic suicide
While Fox News glorifies the perverse
And CNN presents Big Lies as balanced journalism,
Most all the media offering Pentagon programmed militarism
To torture reason, degrade the noble, imprison the valiant
And strain to devour what remains of civilization.

The Zombies, their mental substance mummified,
Have no human sensibility
But yes one modern vice in gross excess, Greed.
Greed requires obfuscation to dress it up,
Inspires viciousness and requires forceful pursuit.
Greed, obfuscation, and force infuse the mentality of the Rich and Powerful
Everywhere the stirrings of the Many frighten the Few
Everywhere the social gains of people´s struggles are vulnerable.
The social pathologies fostered
Infect the consciousness of the petty-privileged—
The tea toasters partying the death of decency,
The white-skinned Machos reviving the vileness of racism,
The Homophiles bashing gays,
The Xenophobic waving flags, spreading fear, spouting hate and torturing victims,
Those so morally confused that they believe that a fertilized egg is sacred life
But celebrate killing a million people in Holy Oil Wars,
Those who thump the Bible and make doublethink of the term Christian.

The germ of these social pathologies?
The substance of work and life that the Few appropriate from the Many
And yields the power that corrupts absolutely.
Exploitation denies justice, buys social privilege, incites reaction, requires oppression
And eventually impels rebellion.
The pathologies are embedded in a panoply of institutional forms that facilitate thievery,
Oppress and suppress the victims.
With televised lies, printed distortions, and subliminal messages of the culture of domination
The social pathologies feed on subverted consciousness and obliterated humanity.

We are witnessing the death agony of a system that has lived out its time.
The Neanderthal Zombies espousing the latest fashions of fascism need be buried
In the grave of history to be mummified for eternity.
Not by driving a golden stake through their cold hearts,
Violence is their way not ours,
But by reasoned decency, the reclaiming of the notions of the common good,
Social justice and human progress,
Taking energetically and massively to the streets that lead to a better world.

Actung Herr Comander-in-Chief Georg Werner von Bush
You are going up for War Crimes.
Listen up plutocrats the flood of bailouts and bonuses will drown you.

Hear this Hypocrite-in-Chief Obama
The age of false promise and dirty deeds are numbered.
We don’t want politicians who prostrate themselves
Toward the Mecca of Wall Street,
Pray to the Idols of War,
And coddle aid and abet the Zombies.

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By elisalouisa, September 17, 2011 at 4:54 am Link to this comment

Patrick Henry In our youth we were revolutionaries, young and indestructible.
After having a family we became more moderate and less radical because of ‘responsibility’.
Now that we are older and look at our grandchildren in the world of today, we reflect back to our past revolutionary days?and fear for them.

As the thirst for global power takes center stage the young are seduced into joining the military, a sizable bonus and/or a good education among the items dangled before them. Our endless wars are now accepted with warriors lucky enough to survive paraded before the hometown folk upon their return, msm
right there creating a spin intended to lure other innocents. Our candidates dare not discuss such a situation.

We the unconnected individual who couldn’t care less about one another . . . are in the here and now, their numbers growing with each passing day.

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By Jayman, September 17, 2011 at 1:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ll tell you where they are NOT Eugene. In the compassionate White House Where the current “democratic” occupant has been so busy raising money, campaigning for reelection, and doubling down on the evil George Bush’s policies he hasn’t had time to do anything but throw band aids, and rubber bands at our economy, and try to take credit for any of Bush’s policies that succeed.

The only policies he has implemented himself are your so-called “compassionate” policies that have consisted of pushing sexual perversion as healthy lifestyle on our children and shoving a horrific,
costly, unmanageable, national health care bill down our throats, that has not covered everyone, not lowered costs, and only stifled business and hiring in this country.

Since 2007,when unemployment stood at 4.6%, Democrats have controlled both Houses – Exactly the period of the current economic collapse. we have seen REAL unemployment explode to somewhere between 16-20 %, increased poverty rates consecutively for the last three years to the largest number in the 52 years, our country put into a depressing funk, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 1930’s, while your Democratic leader cruises the world in Air Force One, takes vacations at Martha’s Vineyard, and plays golf—There’s compassion for you.

I have nothing against a president playing golf, or taking vacations, but back in the bad old days before the hope and change dog and pony show swept into Washington they used to DO something first.

Let’s elevate to the debate from name calling and fear-mongering to dicussing policies and substance, Oh, I’m sorry you can’t.

Compassion ?  try getting honesty down first, before you try to sell the compassion bit.

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By I'm Done, September 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Noam Chomsky explains (excerpt from his Democracy Now interview Tuesday, September 13:

The idea of solidarity, sympathy, mutual support, that’s doctrinally dangerous. The preferred doctrines are just care about yourself, don’t care about anyone else. That’s a very good way to trap and control people. And the very idea that we’re in it together, that we care about each other, that we have responsibility for one another, that’s sort of frightening to those who want a society which is dominated by power, authority, wealth, in which people are passive and obedient.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment

In our youth we were revolutionaries, young and indestructable.

After having a family we became more moderate and less radical because of ‘responsibility’.

Now that we are older and look at our grandchildren in the world of today, we reflect back to our past revolutionary days
and fear for them.

Report this

By BeReal, September 16, 2011 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

“I wonder: Do Republicans even consider them “real” people?”
Well ‘I” wonder if the Republicans are ‘real’ people! Surely not!

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OzarkMichael's avatar

By OzarkMichael, September 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment

“Where are the compassionate conservatives?”

You called them fascists, remember? No matter what they did or said, you hated them and encouraged others to do so.  And now they are gone.

Deal with it.

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By dzent1, September 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a chimerical creature, existing only in the PR departments of the GOTP.

The terms compassionate and conservative are by definition mutually exclusive, and are on a hypocritical par with similar phrases such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, and No Child Left Behind, to say nothing of The Patriot Act.

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Deirdre's avatar

By Deirdre, September 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment

My favourite line in Eugene Robinson’s article bears repeating:

  There’s a reason the Constitution begins “We the people ... ” rather than “We the unconnected individuals who couldn’t care less about one another ... “

Thank you, Mr. Robinson!

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By Michael B, September 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Compassion. LOL Conservatives use their second bible to tell them how to deal with that issue. That second bible are the writing’s of Ayn Rand. Here’s a nice quote.  “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”

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By CenterOfMass, September 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment

@sharonsj: “Perhaps the insurance lobby isn’t paying them enough money for their help?”

Nah.  It will morph into a bigger giveaway as “Boehner-Perry Care”.  They just want to get Obama’s name off, first.

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By jojojo, September 16, 2011 at 9:18 am Link to this comment

The what?

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By sharonsj, September 16, 2011 at 7:16 am Link to this comment

Well, if the host or the candidates had brains (which they don’t), they would have pointed out these facts: the reason “Obamacare” mandates insurance for everyone is that the insurance industry itself says that the healthy people must purchase insurance because their money is what pays to care for the sick.  The industry needs everyone to pay into the system for it to work.

I find it interesting that the Repubs, who always stick up for corporations, are trying to stop Obamacare, which would bring in billion of dollars to the insurance industry.  Perhaps the insurance lobby isn’t paying them enough money for their help?

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By JMD, September 16, 2011 at 6:33 am Link to this comment

Eugene Robinson:          9/16/2011
    This might be a strong indication,you know not
who your friendenmies are.Awakening one morning to
find it is too late? Yes,indeed!And as President
Ronald use to say,“You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
    This is only meant as constructive criticism -
Your column contains the same lack of compassion and
understanding that you rail against.Consider if you
will,a decade of being in a permanent state of
war,and having “our” political economy show deference
to the powerful elite,while allowing many citizens to
hang in the balance.Questioning the state of mind?
    There is no better example to show how we the
people,although not kings,are treated like Sisyphus.And we dare not prove the oligarchy,wrong.
    “Does anybody REALLY know what time it is?”
    Thanking you for this opportunity to comment -
    James M. de Laurier

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By elisalouisa, September 16, 2011 at 6:17 am Link to this comment

So where is msm in all this Mr. Robinson? People now watch FOX, mesmerized by what they see and hear. Would Roosevelt have been elected if radio main stream media spewed out the venom that it does today? I don’t think so.

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By A Bird in the Hand, September 16, 2011 at 5:56 am Link to this comment

Where are the Compassionate ‘anyone’ in The US government right now?? All of the Rebubli-crats otherwise known as all of them in each ‘fake party’ could care less about the American people..

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