197 Who Really Cares?

The fact that Vice President Dick Cheney gave away millions of dollars every year (amounting to 77 percent of his income in 2005) while both his predecessor (Al Gore) and successor (Joe Biden) have been notoriously niggardly in their contributions may be expanded to a generalization:  conservatives routinely share more of their income and personal property, time and blood, than do progressives.  This is demonstrated by Arthur C. Brooks in Who Really Cares:  The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism (New York:  Basic Books, c. 2006).   Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, begins his book by contrasting Jimmy Carter with Alexis de Tocqueville.  Whereas Carter, a few years ago, pompously chastised the American people for their selfishness, Tocqueville celebrated Americans’ generosity—mainly evident in voluntary associations and charitable institutions.  “This book,” Brooks says, “is about these two Americas and the reasons they behave so differently” (p. 2).  

People who support charities “behave generously in informal ways as well” (p. 5).  They give blood, offer seats to older people on busses, and live more honestly.  “The worldview and lifestyle of charitable people are usually just more in sync with the right than they are with the left” (p. 11).   For example:  “If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply in the United States would jump by about 45 percent” (p. 22).  The generally conservative “working poor” give more than the politically liberal upper-income people who frequently refuse to share their wealth.   Thus families in South Dakota give as much ($1300) to charity as families in San Francisco, though “the average San Francisco family enjoys 78 percent more personal income than a family in South Dakota” (p. 32).  

This difference primarily results from religious factors, for religious people give “3.2 times more money per year” than their secular counterparts who earn the same income.  In literally every way religious people prove more generous than non-religious folks.  “Data show that people who were taken to church every week as children were 22 percentage points more likely to give charitably than those who were never taken to a house of worship” (pp. 102-103).  The religious are also much more politically conservative than the secularists, who “give away less than a third as much money as religious conservatives” (p. 49).  Secularists do, however, favor spending other peoples’ money!  “For many people, the desire to donate other people’s money displaces the act of giving one’s own.  People who favor government income redistribution are significantly less likely to behave charitably than those who do not” (p. 55).   Consequently, people dependent upon government rarely share with others.  It’s traditional, intact families that incubate generosity, whereas, conversely, “single parenthood is a disaster for charity” (p. 105).  

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Arthur Brooks followed up his delineation of “who really cares” with a treatise entitled Gross National Happiness:  Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It (New York:  Basic Books, c. 2008).   That people everywhere always want to be happy is one of the more indisputable self-evident first truths of philosophy.  And, as the American Declaration of Independence put it, all men have an equally “unalienable” right to pursue it.  Furthermore, real happiness, as Aristotle discerned long ago, comes from living rightly, being virtuous.  It comes from living the “good life,” which entails being good.   Happy people, consequently, help make a good society and “the pursuit of happiness is a deeply moral obligation” (p. 16).  Brooks takes it as given that “we may not know much, but we do know when we’re happy.  It is a universally human cognition.  Even more amazing, researchers can measure it fairly well by surveying people about their own happiness” (p. 9).  

Brooks looks first at “the politics of happiness,” wondering whether happiness accompanies certain political positions.  Though Hubert Humphrey once declared “that the Democrats represented nothing less than the ‘politics of happiness’” (p. 21), he erred, for it’s conservative Republicans like the cheerful Ronald Reagan who are most happy.  This surprised the author, for he had always assumed the converse.  But in fact, “people who said they were conservative or very conservative were nearly twice as likely to say they were very happy as people who called themselves liberal or very liberal (44 percent versus 25 percent)” (p. 27).  Still more:  “in a 2007 survey, 58 percent of Republicans rated their mental health as ‘excellent,’ versus 43 percent of political independents and just 38 percent of Democrats” (p. 27).  

Though some on the left would argue that Republicans are happier because they are wealthier, the surveys reveal that “income does not matter in the left-right happiness gap.  But there are two demographic differences between liberals and conservatives that do matter:  religion and marriage” (p. 28).  Culture and faith, not income levels, determine happiness.  This explains why folks in eastern (largely rural) Tennessee “are 25 percent likelier than people living in tony San Francisco to say they are very happy, despite earning a third less money, on average” (p. 116).  Conservatives are more religious, marry more frequently and stay married better than their liberal counterparts.  To be specific, “two-thirds of conservatives are married versus only a third of liberals” (p. 30).   Conservatives are also more self-reliant, whereas liberals depend upon the government and fret about allegedly inadequate entitlements.  

One of the more celebrated sociological studies in recent years was Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone:  The Collapse and Revival of American Community.   Putnam, a professor of political science at Harvard, argued that “voluntary association is a key to American quality of life and happiness” (p. 47).  By nature we are social creatures, and social ties naturally increase our happiness level.  For millions of Americans, furthermore, churches provide a wealth of social support and personal satisfactions.  Wanting to give of themselves, they find in their churches suitable outlets.  Their religious ties even seem to have economical advantages, for religious people “do better financially” than secularists.  

“Finally, faith correlates with happiness because many religious traditions uphold the idea of an afterlife, in which many Americans take solace.  The early Roman Christian Vibia Perpetua, martyred for her faith in 203, put it aptly in a vision of her impending death:  ‘Thanks be to God that I am now more joyful than I was in the flesh.’  And still today, afterlife believers are about a third more likely than nonbelievers to say they are very happy” (p. 48).   Rather than being “the opiate of the masses,” religion seems to be an elixir, energizing hope and stimulating creativity.  Nor does the stereotype of “ignorant” believers hold!  “Religious individuals today,” Brooks says, “are actually better educated and less ignorant of the world around them than secularists.  In 2004, religious adults—those who attended a house of worship every week—were a third less likely to be without a high school diploma, and a third more likely to hold a college degree or higher, than those secularists who never attended a house of worship” (p. 51).   

Religious traditionalists generally champion traditional marriages.  Though radical feminists have denied it, the evidence is overwhelming:  most men and women find happiness in good marriages.  “It turns out that it’s being married itself that makes people happier:  If two people are exactly the same but one is married and the other is not, the married person will be 18 percentage points more likely than the unmarried person to say he or she is very happy” (p. 61).   Though more problematic, since secularists with children often have fewer of them and regard them as a burden rather than a blessing, “52 percent of religious, conservative people with kids are very happy—versus only 14 percent of single, secular, liberal people without kids.  Kids are part of a happy lifestyle” (p. 70).  

So too freedom (intellectual, political and economic) nurtures happiness.  Indeed Brooks insists:  “Freedom causes happiness” (p. 89).  Consequently, people “who favor less government intervention in our economic affairs are happier than those who favor more” (p. 90).   Neither government spending for others nor hand-outs for ourselves make us happier.  Rather, it’s what we earn for ourselves—and what we freely give to others—that satisfies this most basic of all human hungers.  Politicians manipulating our sinful penchant for envy promise to “level the playing field” with the assumption that such endeavors make constituents happier.  But the data reveal “no link at all between rising inequality and unhappiness” (p. 136).  What makes us happy is the prospect of improving our own standing, doing well without government assistance.  “That is why egalitarian policies always hold out the promise of happiness but never deliver on that promise.  Every movement to stamp out economic inequality has looked toward, as George Orwell termed it in 1984, ‘our new happy life.’  Yet that happiness is always out in the future, never in the present.  Stalin called himself in Soviet propaganda the ‘Constructor of Happiness’—a moniker that would be comical today were it not for the tens of millions of Soviet citizens who died as a result of the repression that accompanied his pursuit of egalitarian projects such as the push to collectivized farming” (p. 146).  

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The thesis of a similar book by a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Peter Schweizer, Makers and Takers, is spelled out in its lengthy subtitle:  Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honestly More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less . . . and Even Hug Their Children More than Liberals (New York:  Doubleday, c. 2008).   This contravenes the liberal mantra, articulated by the popular radio personality Garrison Keillor, who declared that “Republicans are swam developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, aggressive dorks’” (p. 8).  

Keillor represents, Schweizer says, not simply a political stance but a way of life—a worldview.  Careful, scholarly studies reveal that “those on the political left are much more likely to complain about their jobs, their families, their neighbors, their health, and their relative wealth—even when they earn the same as conservatives.  In short, the major surveys show that those on the left tend to be chronically dissatisfied with almost everything in their lives” (p. 21).   In fact, liberals are more selfish, less generous with their money, less hardworking, less honest, and less knowledgeable about public affairs and economics.  Conservatives, on the other hand, are happier, better parents, more charitable, and less angry about things in general.  

The allure of liberalism is easily explained:  it enables one to occupy a moral high ground, to feel good about oneself, simply by demanding the government care for everyone.  “Today’s liberalism is completely wrapped up with the notion of itself.  The legacy of the sixties’ ‘if it feels good do it’ ethos is alive and well” (p. 31).   One study of students in elite universities revealed that “those who were very liberal or radical tended to have a ‘narcissistic pathology,’ which included ‘grandiosity, envy, a lack of empathy, illusion of personal perfection, and a sense of entitlement’” (p. 41).  Thus those on the left frequently refuse to marry, and if they do they refuse to procreate.  In San Francisco, for example, “there are more dogs than children” (p. 32).   Liberal enclaves, such as Vermont and Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, reveal similar trends.   Whereas 65 percent of very conservative respondents highly valued marriage, only 30 percent of the very liberal agreed.  When asked if “parents should sacrifice their own well-being for those of their children, those on the left were nearly twice as likely to say ‘no’ (28 percent to 15 percent) when compared to conservatives’” (p. 34).  Echoing one of their paladins, Hillary Clinton, liberals insist child-rearing is a societal, not a parental endeavor.  “Supporting government programs to ‘help the children’ is a convenient way for liberals to ‘love’ children without demanding anything of themselves’” (p. 40).  

Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, appointed Robert Reich to serve as his secretary of labor, a position which enabled him to recurrently regale the public with laments regarding economic inequities in the nation.  The real problem, he insisted, was the stingy, Social Darwinist, tight-fisted ness of those conservatives who opposed the expansion of the welfare state.  But when forced to release his own tax returns when he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Reich reported an income of more than one million dollars, of which he gave away a grand total of $2,714—some 0.2 percent of his income!  So it goes with our liberal leaders!  As the great Samuel Johnson once quipped, regarding a stingy public figure who spoke grandly of philanthropy, he was a “friend of goodness” rather than a really good man.  

Illustrating Johnson’s observation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt lauded the virtue of charity.  Charitable giving, he said, is a way of loving love for others.  He himself, however, limited his charity to speechifying!  Amidst the depression he declared (in 1936) that fully one-third of the populace was “ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished,” but he managed to give away a meager three percent of his yearly income ($93,000).   His giving pattern has been duplicated by our current president, Barack Obama, who also talks much about the dismal disparity between the rich and poor in America.  In fact, Obama, when still a senator, gave less to charity than President Bush:  “In 2006, Bush made a third less than Obama, but actually gave more to charity” (p. 64).   To Schweizer, it seems evident that “what modern liberals like is a feeling of solidarity and compassion for the poor.  Liberals are often ‘friends of goodness,’ bur fall woefully short when it comes to doing any actual good” (p. 69).  

Liberals do less good, quite frankly, because they are “more envious and less hardworking than conservatives” (p. 81).  They routinely denounce the “greed” and “consumption” of conservatives, but in fact they (like Bill and Hillary Clinton) take advantage of every opportunity and institutional perk open to them in a capitalist culture.  “Time after time, reputable surveys show that liberals are more interested in money, think about it more often, and value it more highly than conservatives” (p. 87).   But whereas 80 percent of Republicans believe hard work and perseverance enable one to succeed, only “14 percent” of the Democrats surveyed thought “that people can get ahead by working hard” (p. 93).  To illustrate this, Schweizer notes that Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush found satisfaction working on their ranches, “Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore prefer to use their leisure time playing—jogging, socializing, shopping, sailing, skiing, and the like” (p. 99). 

Adding to his indictment, Schweizer insists that “conservatives value honesty more than liberals” (p. 105).   Philosophically this follows, since many liberals (as relativists) doubt the reality of truth itself!  Embracing Nietzsche’s famous aphorism (“there are no facts, only interpretations”), liberals (especially of the postmodern variety) uphold epistemological skepticism and moral relativism.  So Oliver Stone entertains “’severe doubts about Columbus, Washington, the Civil War being fought for slavery’” and even wonders (he expects us to believe) “’if I was born and who my parents were’” (p. 125).  “If truth is relative, Schweizer argues, “then honesty is a subjective thing.  As Sidney Hook once put it, ‘The easiest rationalization for the refusal to seek the truth is the denial that truth exists’” (p. 106).   

Scholarly surveys demonstrate this dishonest tendency, for “Liberals were more than twice as likely as conservatives to say it is okay to get welfare benefits they were not entitled to” (p. 107).  They were also “two and a half times more likely to illegally download or trade music for free on the Internet” (p. 111).  “More than a third (35 percent) of self-described ‘progressives’ said ‘there are some situations where adultery is understandable.’  Only 3 percent of conservatives agreed” (p. 114).   Lying may be justified, according to Al Gore, under the rubric of “rhetorical excesses and leaps of faith” (p. 124).   Or, to follow the prescription of Saul Alinsky (whose Rules for Radicals influenced both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama), “lying for justice” is utterly praiseworthy.  

Added to their dishonesty, liberals are more angry than conservatives.  There is much talk about “the angry white male,” but there’s little evidence that they exist.  Instead, as Peter Wood details in a book on anger, “the left has embraced ‘anger chic.’  It is now stylish to be angry” (p. 139).  Somehow anger is taken to be a sign if sincerity, of deep commitment to social change.  The vitriol vented on President Bush, the students on university campuses who shout down conservative speakers (but never their liberal counterparts), the profanity that laces the language of leftists such as Al Franken, all testify to the endemic anger fueling the liberal agenda.  “Perhaps,” Schweizer says, “this is what Jean-Paul Sartre meant when he praised anger and rage as a form of heroism:  ‘irrepressive violence . . . is man re-creating himself’” (p. 150).  

Still more, though George McGovern declared that virtually “every educated person I encounter in the world is a liberal,” conservatives “actually know more” than their leftist counterparts (p. 157).   The mirage of liberal intelligence is magnified by their dominance in universities and media outlets, but “authoritative studies show that conservatives are actually better informed, more knowledgeable, and better educated than liberals” (p. 162).  Take President Bush, for example.  Though nightly lampooned by Jay Leno as a numbskull, he is demonstrably (on SAT and IQ tests as well as college grades) smarter than either Al Gore or John Kerry.  “Bush’s scores were also higher than those of Sen. Bill Bradley, another liberal often described as learned and brilliant” (p. 165).   In politics, conservatives know far more about their congressional representatives, candidates for office, ballot issues, than liberals.  Though derided by the left, Rush Limbaugh listeners—talk radio listeners—are better educated than those who don’t listen to the radio.  And though accused of being brainwashed by talk show hosts, in fact “talk radio exposure was associated with greater faith in people, lower authoritarianism’” (p. 171).  Conservatives have better vocabularies and score higher on analogy tests.  

Finally, liberals complain more than conservatives and endlessly recite a litany of victimization.  Bill Clinton famously whined when things failed to favor him.  Doing so he followed one of his liberal progenitors, LBJ, who “groused, ‘Nobody loves Johnson’ mere weeks after trouncing Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election!   Since folks who complain are generally unhappy, no one should be shocked to discover that the Pew Research study “found that 45 percent of Republicans reported being ‘very happy’ compared with just 30 percent of Democrats” (p. 188).  Liberals are three times as unhappy with their jobs as Republicans (with incomes make no difference) and equally apt to seek treatment for mental illnesses.  “Another survey found that feminist women do less housework than traditionalist women, but complain more about it” (p. 191).  

Concluding his study, Schweizer declares that liberalism harms both individuals and societies.  It provides a certain solace since it allows one to give “lip service to virtuous ideals” without personally doing anything.  But there is always a price to pay for hypocrisy—the persistent misery that beguiles it.  

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