Friday, January 14 2005
Earlier this week Carlos Alberto Montaner argued in the Miami Herald that they are not:

Governments have no heart; they have only rules and laws. The politicians and bureaucrats who manage them have only interests, clients and voters. The huge drama provoked by the tsunami was a matter of the heart, of deeply affected people who wanted to help fellow humans who had been battered by nature. It was the moment for compassion, and emotions do not fit within the cold institutional structure of states.

It's certainly an interesting and complex question. Generally speaking, small-government conservatives would tend to associate themselves with the idea that compassion comes from individuals, not government.

On the other hand, it's impossible to look at the larger picture and not conclude that certain types of government are more compassionate than others. Democracies versus fascist dictatorships, for example. Governments may not have "heart" but they definitely have "spirit" - and in many cases that spirit is defined by the dignity and respect with which they treat their own people.

In the case of the United States, those cold, heartless rules and laws Montaner refers to are the spirit that protect the individual freedoms and rights that make America one of the wealthiest, most free, most tolerant, and yes - most compassionate - places on earth. Put another way, America's great wealth and compassion is due in large part to an adherence to the belief instilled by the Founders that we are a country of laws, not men.

Clearly, America's tradition of compassion is also built upon the strength of the Judeo-Christian value system that undergirds our system of laws. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the influence democracy has on fostering a culture where compassion is represented in both the people and its government.

Put this in the context of the historic tragedy of the Asian tsunami. Is it a coincidence the top four donors (Australia $1 billion, Germany $650 million, Japan $500 million, United States $350 million) are all democracies? But, you say, they're also four of the wealthiest nations in the world. True, though that's just another argument in democracy's favor.

But what about China, which currently has the world's second largest economy and has at least as much strategic interest in the region as Japan and Australia? To date the Chinese government has pledged only $62 million in aid. And why have the governments of oil-rich Gulf states ( a few of which are among the wealthiest in the world on a per capita basis) been so slow to respond, especially considering much of the suffering is occurring in a predominantly Muslim country?

The answers to these questions becomes clear by asking yet one more question: why should we expect the governments of China or the Gulf states to make a big display of compassion to people in Asia when they aren't even compassionate towards their own citizens?

The Middle East is the least free region on the entire planet. The Chinese government remains ruthlessly repressive and a serial abuser of human rights. It's simply unrealistic to expect regimes that spend such a great deal of energy depriving their own citizens of fundamental rights to react to the world around them with compassion and benevolence.

Furthermore, it much harder to harness the compassion of individuals in societies that aren't free. Abdullah al-Faqih, professor of politics at Sanaa University in Yemen, explains in today's Christian Science Monitor:

"Keep in mind that the Arabs live these days in extraordinary circumstances. They lack the freedom to organize and to express opinions, and consequently the freedom to initiate positive responses to crises.

A culture of giving is associated with a culture of tolerance, equality, openness, and respect for others' freedoms and rights. Therefore, a culture hospitable to giving is still largely missing in the Arab world."

This is yet another reason why President Bush is on the correct, but very difficult path of supporting the spread of freedom and democracy around the world. Democracies further the cause of peace and stability. They promote enterprise and create wealth. And they help generate a respect for individual rights and freedoms which is, in many ways, the most compassionate act of all. - T. Bevan 11:00 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, January 12 2005
Metaphorically speaking, of course. And no, I haven't been off hiding in a self-induced cone of silence because Kaus ridiculed my last post as "flabby" and "cartoonish" (He also called you "estimable" - though that adjective was, quite conspicuously, sans bold. - ed.). Truth be told we've had some other obligations that needed tending to, and that tending is now done.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS & CBS: On one hand we have a rather obscure conservative commentator who already favored a certain piece of legislation, took money and continued to write favorably about it. Regardless of Armstrong's prior feelings about No Child Left Behind, taking the contract was a mistake and it has been rightly denounced by people across the ideological spectrum as an example of "paid propaganda."

On the other hand, we have a group of individuals working for one of the largest, most influential news organizations in the country who presented themselves as "objective" reporters and who violated almost every rule (ethical and otherwise) in the book of journalism to slap together a report intended to influence the outcome of a Presidential election. Even more damning, these same people then spent two weeks defending the original report by churning out yet more misrepresentations and distortions.

But we don't dare call this propaganda. Many of the best and brightest can't even bring themselves to call it "political bias." Instead, the entire sordid affair is officially chalked up to "haste" and "competitive pressures."

Why is it so easy for people to call the first case by its proper name but not the second?

BOXER FIGHTS FOR 'ELECTORAL JUSTICE': Here's another question worth pondering. Last week Senator Barbara Boxer made an historic and tearful objection to to the certification of Ohio's electoral votes in Congress:

"While we have men and women dying to bring democracy abroad, we've got to make it the best it can be here at home, and that's why I'm doing this."

Boxer said her protest was "not designed to overturn Bush's re-election" but instead came from a desire to "fight for electoral justice" and to "cast the light of truth on a flawed system."

So shouldn't Senator Boxer be holding a press conference in Seattle to "cast the light of truth" on the Washington Governor's election? After all, in a race decided by only 129 votes we have documented cases of dead people voting, military absentee ballots being excluded, etc. - not to mention that the Democratic stronghold of King County continues to have trouble reconciling the fact they counted about 1,800 more votes than the number of people who are known to have signed in to vote on election day.

With such obvious passion and such a deep commitment to 'fight for electoral justice' you'd think the problems in Washington state would have Senator Boxer more than a little verklempt. Then again, maybe not. - T. Bevan 1:00 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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