Friday, February 10, 2012

The Wages of Compassion

Charles Krauthammer's latest op-ed compares Obama's appeal to religion as a justification for increasing taxes on the wealthy with his fundamental disregard for religion, as demonstrated by the rules being established for Obamacare (which I have previously addressed). Krauthammer sums up the administration's hypocrisy succinctly:
To flatter his faith-breakfast guests and justify his tax policies, Obama declares good works to be the essence of religiosity. Yet he turns around and, through Sebelius, tells the faithful who engage in good works that what they’re doing is not religion at all.
But the first issue--the idea that there is religious justification behind raising taxes on the rich--deserves some more analysis.

Obama said the following at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2nd of this year:
And when I talk about shared responsibility, it's because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it's hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense. 
But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that "for unto whom much is given, much shall be required." It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who've been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.
The gist of Obama's words is that those with more owe more. Who do they owe? As Krauthammer points out, they owe the government in Obama's world, in the world of progressive and liberal leaders and thinkers. This is hardly a new idea; objections to increasing taxes are almost always met with emotion-based criticism of those who object. They are labeled as "uncaring," "greedy," or the like, the assumption being that they have too much and should be more willing to share with those in need.

And who can argue against such an appeal, as given? It's a powerful bit of rhetoric. But it's also based on a fundamental idea that is grossly flawed: that the government exists to redistribute wealth and that paying taxes is, in essence, equivalent to "giving" in a charitable sense.

In this world view, compassion is measured by funding; the compassionate people are those who desire greater funding for government programs to help the poor, the needy, the sick, and the young. The more aggressive one is in this regard, the more compassionate one is. But it's easy to be compassionate under this rubric, since you don't actually have to give of yourself; instead, you target others and complain that they should give more, that the onus is on them, not you.

Actual charitable works are inconsequential. For the standard is not based on behavior and giving, but on support of government programs and taxation. And it's a powerful delusion, for it allows people to be morally indignant, to argue that their happiness is contingent on others who do not pay their "fair share." The government is by definition the agent of morality, the principal arbiter of social justice. The more it takes in, the greater the level of justice it can deliver.

For the individual, success through hard work is not a road to self-fulfillment, financial security, and happiness under this rubric, but rather a road to greater obligations to the government. And those obligations are not to be viewed as costs, per se, but as badges of honor. The more one can pay in taxes, the better they are as a person. And those who cannot pay more earn their honor by castigating those who can.

And through it all, responsibility for one's own life, own happiness, own success or lack thereof, is abrogated in full to the government, the New Church, which then demands more. And more. And more.

Cheers, all.


  1. "It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

    People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint."

    Penn Jillette