Point of View

Compassion, freedom, socialism - Rescuing good words from Republican distortions

March 6, 2014 

When President George Bush launched his campaign as a “compassionate conservative,” it was meant to create a new public relations image of the Republican Party .The dictionary defines compassion as “the deep feeling of sympathy or sorrow for another who is stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the pain or remove the cause.”

The legislative record has given little indication of the accuracy of this description. Consider that Republicans in the current Congress voted to slash funds for food stamps, promised at Christmas to return to pass legislation extending compensation for the unemployed but didn’t, stood firmly against any attempt to raise the minimum wage, voted ad infinitum to repeal health care for the uninsured (and red states refused to expand Medicaid for millions of the poor who need care most), talked the talk about creating jobs but offered absolutely nothing to actually do it and refused to move forward on immigration reform with little empathy for those who live with fear in the shadows around us while they praised the patriotism of those who serve us in the military but voted to deprive them of benefits when they returned home!

With such a litany of doing nothing to help those who are hurting, how can conservatives be called “compassionate”?

The answer: You hurt people when you help them. Depriving people of basic needs can teach them how to be self-reliant. Never mind that many of those who are in crisis are children and the elderly.

Another good word frequently heard to provide cover for such an abysmal record is the word “freedom.” Listen carefully, and you will discover that this word cherished by all Americans is used to justify neglect. It often means that you are on your own. You are free to save yourself without any assistance from anyone.

Remember in the last election cycle when a Republican candidate was asked in a GOP debate how the government should respond to someone with cancer but has no insurance?The shocking reply from tea pary audience members was to let him die. You should be able to find a job when there are no jobs to be found. There is no sympathy for people who suffer misfortune through no fault of their own.

We have just witnessed the most shocking use of the word “freedom” in Arizona where the legislature passed a bill to permit any business to refuse service to any customers it chooses (allegedly for “religious reasons”). Imagine what such a law could mean in the South. It could be the first step toward turning the clock back to segregation. Freedom to discriminate! Fortunately, after agonizing over the law for a week, the governor vetoed it.

Another word that we hear frequently as a scare word in politics is “socialism.” It is often associated with a dictatorship or even the Nazis or Communists. However, it is an idealistic form of government that seeks to meet the basic needs of everyone. In the New Testament book of Acts, there is a description of communal living among believers that sounds similar to socialism. It is a biblical passage that free market capitalists never quote. It reads:

“All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed.” (Acts 2:44-45)

The ideal behind this is a government that is sensitive to the needs of all its citizens, one where every law is intended to serve the common good. We like to think our country has a capitalist competitive society, but in reality it is best described as having a “mixed economy,” even including socialism. For example, we have public schools for everyone. We supplement private homes with public housing. We have a postal system that reaches every person. We have a public highway network. And we are moving rapidly toward universal health care based on the assumption that access to good health should be a basic right for everyone.

Compassion. Freedom. Socialism. These are good words. Let’s not erode their meaning.

Robert Seymour is the minister emeritus of the Olin T. Binkley Baptist Church of Chapel Hill.

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