Today, compassion fuels the American political bus. No one can expect to lead the country without proving that he or she feels our pain.
That is a fatuous basis for policy, notes political scholar William Voegeli in a calm and reasoned book that carries the impishly inflammatory title, “The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion.”
Compassion creates a co-dependency between the empathizers and the empathizees: Liberalism is an “alliance of experts and victims,” in the words of Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield.
To top that up to 51% of the voters, says Voegeli, liberals argue that “those who do not recognize the expertise of the experts are stupid, preferring ignorance, and those who do not recognize the victimhood of the victims are wicked, lacking compassion.”
If the empathizees ever disappeared (by, say, having their miseries extinguished) then the empathizers would lose their purpose, the soothing soul balm of caring.
That’s why, no matter how much money gets poured into poverty alleviation ($22 trillion, not including Social Security or Medicare, in the last 50 years), “You will never hear the words “Phew! We cured poverty.”
Indeed, official poverty measures simply leave out anti-poverty benefits. That’s like saying you’re carless if you were forced to accept a Chevy paid for by other taxpayers.
So the poverty rate never really changes — it’s been around 14% or so for the last half-century — even as living standards for today’s poor surpass those of yesterday’s middle class.
Ah, but the poor are less healthy, argue liberals. True. But whose fault is that? Many avoidable illnesses that disproportionately afflict the poor are traceable to ill-advised consumption, not deprivation.