The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Kaus in 1999

Mickey Kaus recently relinked an old column of his, on "The Curse of 'Compassion'". Written in the early stages of the Bush-Gore race, when "compassionate conservative" was untested new rhetoric, it discusses the moral and pragmatic weaknesses of compassion in government.

One particular observation is striking:
Because it appeals to an essentially charitable impulse, Compassion Politics is fragile. If citizens believe the government is engaged in a big United Way drive, they'll give generously when economic times are good. But they will naturally stop giving when they feel pinched themselves.
If true, this would imply that Republican incumbents are partly inoculated against the effect of economic hard times -- as long as they are not seen as big spenders. This would be more easily accomplished if they were not in fact... big spenders. Who would have known "compassionate" meant "former"?

[Update: I find myself, if not in agreement, at least in synchrony with Matthew Yglesias. Immediately afterwards, though, he proceeds to remind me why I have no options. It seems to me that Mr. Yglesias's vision of the Republican party -- as greedy plutocrats seeking power at any cost -- is almost identical to his vision of the Democratic party.]

[Update 30 June: Jonah Goldberg joins the ranks of the uncompassionate.]