But I digress. Today, Tony challenged the notion of compassionate conservatism. For one, he also believes what many liberals (at least on this blog) have always thought--that conservative evangelicals focus on sexual sins and ignore those of greed, or environmental destruction. Second, he notes how conservatives (and we have had proof of this on Streak's blog) often identify their approach to the poor purely in opposition to what they perceive as the "liberal approach." As Tony quoted from the BP article on poverty and conservatism:
Over the next several minutes I explained that of all of the conservatives that I know, while they want to help those less fortunate than themselves, they do not believe government was the best vehicle to get the job done.
When it comes to government-run programs, I said, there seems to be a tremendous amount of waste. Not only that, but there is virtually no accountability. At best, most government programs are only placing a Band-Aid on the problem and, at worst, are only perpetuating the plight of the poor.
“An old adage states, ‘Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for life,'" I told the reporter. “The conservatives that I know want to teach people how to fish.”
I understand that some government programs are wasteful. In fact, his comment about lack of oversight reminded me of the entire Bush administration, and specifically how billions of dollars have been wasted in Iraq because of no oversight. Their Jesus President actually undermined such oversight, so if they are arguing against waste, they need to look in the mirror.
Again, I digress. But I am annoyed at how this conservative framed the use of government. Yes, some are programs that just hand out fish, but we have a lot of programs dedicated to helping people learn to fish. Conservatives have been trying to cut those too. College is more expensive and access to loans and grants is more difficult, not easier. Governments have subsidized education, roads, and entire industries that have had ripple effects of jobs and access to opportunity.
Not only that, but there are some unique issues where the government may be the only one to help. Can churches clean up toxic waste? (Actually, that was a trick question, because our conservative evangelical friends tell us there is no problem with toxic waste, so no need to clean it up. sigh.) Can churches address the needs of the disabled poor? What about the mentally ill? Those with chronic and expensive health issues?
None of this is meant to attack the work that conservative Christians and liberal Christians and non-Christians of all perspectives do to help the poor. Every soup kitchen helps. Every volunteer who collects clothes for the poor. Every dollar given is good.
But there is no need to choose. We don't have to say "either the government helps the poor or the church helps the poor." Since the New Deal, both have worked at it. Both have their problems and difficulties. But shouldn't we work to find out how to encourage each to do what they do best?