19 November, 2006

Liberals and Conservatives and Valour-IT

A new book correlating charitable giving and political philosophy has been making a big splash on the blogs these last couple days. Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism makes a good case for the idea that (adjusted for income), people who follow a conservative philosophy give far more to charity than liberals, in every measurable way: time, money, blood, etc. Many people around the blogs are confirming this anecdotally (see comments).

One of the most recent commenters on this topic is Neptunus Lex, who posits that the explanation for this is the liberal attitude, "It might be a good cause, and all. Just needs OPM (Other People's Money). I think there's some truth to that in many cases, but that's just the average (non-communist) liberal's version of the excuse used by anyone who is basically selfish, a way to assuage guilt for doing nothing.

Assuming both liberals and conservatives have good intentions for the world, just different ways of doing things, there has to be a different explanation. I think that explanation is embedded in the fundamental differences between Liberal and Conservative philosophies.

In their core, liberals believe in government's ability to do good. When confronted with a problem, their first reaction is, "Is the goverment helping? If not, why not?" Then they'll either find the applicable government agency and direct its attention to the person/problem, or create an action plan to persuade the government to start addressing the issue.

In their core, conservatives distrust both the government's effectiveness and intentions. Therefore, conservatives are much happier choosing for themselves how to disperse their charitable impulses (financial or otherwise) than having a bureaucrat choose for them. Thus the conservative's first reaction is, "No need to involve incompetent government here. How can I directly, with great speed and efficiency, help this person or fix this problem?"

While Valour-IT has enjoyed the support of a few liberal (even New Age-ish) bloggers, getting liberals to join the blogger competitions has been largely a losing proposition. And the responses we often get when a liberal encounters Valour-IT prove my points above. Even among the few commenters/bloggers who donate, the first reactions are usually (in order), "The government should be doing this! It's another example of how Republicans/conservatives don't care about the military. I'm going to write my congressman to tell him to fund the VA better." [Please note, I am speaking here of liberalism and conservatism as life philosophies, not as political parties].

I think many conservatives wouldn't argue with that first point, and probably agree with the liberal's course of action as a start. But those of a conservative bent take things a step further and their reaction is, "Stupid, incompetent bureacracy; it doesn't matter how much money they have, they'll still screw it up. Let's do an end-run around it so we can make sure wounded soldiers really get what they need and get it sooner." And so they open their pocketbooks, volunteer their expertise, hit up their businesses for used laptops, and tell everyone they know about Valour-IT.

The liberal attitude towards charity was on display Election Day when I served as a poll worker in a very ritzy suburb in SoCal. The head poll worker was a German immigrant (40 years ago), who had retained her European liberal philosophies. She started lamenting how America was so rich, "but they don't care about the world. They're too comfortable. Nobody here wants to give up of anything they have. The other wealthy nations give so much more to the poor parts of the world than America does."

We were in the middle of the Valour-IT fundraiser (had just passed $100,000) and so I was seeing firsthand the generosity of the American people and--considering the wealth of this particular precinct of which she was a resident--I was sorely tempted to ask when was the last time she'd donated. And how much was it? But I kept my mouth shut.

Her lamentations went on and on, with another worker chiming in about America's great wealth and supposed stinginess, until I finally spoke up, "Acutally, no country gives even close to the amount of aid the U.S. does to the rest of the world, per capita." She literally bristled, and flatly contradicted me. I replied, "On an individual basis, U.S. citizens on average give hundreds of dollars more to poor countries than the 2nd place country does, if I recall correctly."

Obviously, it "didn't count" for her unless the U.S. government was doing the giving. She sputtered and stuttered and finally said, "Well, yes. But since it's not the government, they can give it to just anybody and not where it really needs to go. And it doesn't get to the people who need it because..." She trailed off, realizing the elitism and near-communism of her first sentence.

I finished her second sentence, but probably not the way she would've wanted "...because the dictators in third-world countries are so corrupt that official U.S. government aid never gets to the needy."

She again sputtered and stuttered, then finally saw her opening: "And the U.S. Government supports the dictators!"

At that point I left the room for a short stroll because, had I opened my mouth, the next words out would've been, "So then I'm sure you supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein because it meant the end of U.S. support for him and that he could no longer steal the aid intended for Iraq's citizens, yes? And Syria would be a good next choice, yes? And why don't we go around toppling all the dictators? A new imperial America!" And I was already disgusted enough, having listened to her spend the morning talking politics within earshot of the voters (including discussion of "American Imperialism"), surely a violation of her responsibilities and position.

Which was all just more hypocrisy than I could take at that moment.