“Don’t be cruel”: The limits of Republican compassion


Since when have cruelty and greed have become politically and ethically acceptable in America? From the looks of the base of the Republican Party, both seem to be selling in 2011.

Just look at Republican presidential contenders and the debates so far. Rick Perry gets applause from the audience when he stated that he presided over more than 200 executions in his state. Conversely he gets attacked for using the word compassion when advocating some route for illegal aliens to get citizenship in America. States such as Arizona pass laws to randomly stop and question individuals who look illegal; Alabama adopts a law punishing the children of illegal aliens. Republican candidates jockey for position to show who is tougher on immigration. They talk of building fences and deploying troops to barricade the Mexican border, and proposals to amendment the Fourteenth Amendment to limit citizenship receive applause.

An openly gay solder Stephen Hill asks a question at the Orlando, Florida Republican debate and he is booed by the audience and then literally denounced by the candidates. No one thanks him for his service, for placing his life on the line. Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and the rest of the candidates acted as if he did not exist, denouncing homosexuality as wrong and gay marriage as evil.

But there is more cruelty and greed. Unemployment is 9% and underemployed near 16%. The delinquency rate for homes (homes foreclosed or facing foreclosure) is above 8%–nearly one out of twelve owners are in danger of losing their homes. In 2010, 15.1%, of the population, representing a record 46 million, are in poverty. Record numbers of women, children, and people of color are in poverty. Nearly 50,000,000 are without health insurance. Better girls get cervical cancer than receiver the HPV. Better that children get aids or sexually-transmitted diseases than talk of birth control. Better women give birth to unwanted babies the product of rape than allow for the sale of RU 486. Children go hungry to underfunded schools.

But the GOP fiddles while America burns. They say we need to slash government spending, cut back on social services, preserve tax cuts for millionaires, and punish people who come to America seeking a better life. Cut back on disaster relieve and FEMA funding to extract budget cuts. Somehow the free market will save us all. Yes, the same free market that brought us the market crash, the mortgage crisis and the subprime problems, tainted meat and cantaloupes,

At one time America was the embodiment of the inscription of the Statue of Liberty–“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But no more. How did this all happen?

Perhaps it began with Ronald Reagan asking in 1980 “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Such a question made greed acceptable. Maybe it was Rick Santelli’s 2009 rant on CNBC against government bailouts to help owners that spurred the emergence of the Tea party. Who knows! The issue is that the anger expressed this year in the Republican presidential debates is so un-American and unpatriotic. And an unchristian.

Social conservatives talk of America as a Christian nation. I thought compassion and charity were the essence of Christianity. At least this is the version I learned growing up. But somehow the social conservatives seem inured to social compassion. They fail to practice what their faith preaches. This is not my Christianity, my America, my vision of socially responsible capitalism. Adam Smith, author of the economic classic Wealth of Nations, also wrote the Theory of Moral Sentiments and of the virtues of social compassion. America’s legacy is one of open arms to help others. Christianity of a religion embracing the golden rule.

America is not a suicide pack. We are in it together–we are supposed to be one nation-indivisible. We should be helping one another–with the thought that on another day they will help us. This is the America I grew up in.

My question to the Republican presidential candidates and members–“Have you no sense of decency?”