“If you’re young and conservative you have no heart. If you’re old and liberal you have no brain.”
Much like this quote, when fellow Penn students hear that we are conservative, they often jump to some assumptions. They might assume that we want to cut entitlement programs, or that we “want to go back to the 1950s.” Perhaps ultimately, people assume that we are not compassionate — that we do not have empathy for the most vulnerable in our society.
We are people who care deeply about public policy, and plan to dedicate our lives to finding ways to empower the less fortunate. Our compassion is rooted in our ultimate yearning for human flourishing — the ability for each and every person to pursue happiness, to be productive, to thrive in a community and to reach their full potential.
And to us, our conservatism and our compassion are not only compatible, they are reciprocal.
We understand that many liberals may not feel like conservatives care for the most vulnerable. It is interesting that, on average, and controlling for income, conservatives are actually more generous in charitably giving their time and money than progressives. However, we fully admit that conservatives do not express enough empathy and benevolence in their rhetoric for struggling Americans. This should be remedied. However, we also believe that progressives too often act as if they exclusively are compassionate, and this is misleading.
Neither side has a monopoly on caring for our neighbor. As conservatives, our policies are rooted in the same compassion — the same desire for human flourishing — that we believe motivates many progressives as well. All of us want to lift up the poor; we all want progress towards a society in which every person is afforded equal opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential. Though conservative ideas on how to achieve this diverge from progressive ones, let us not assume ill-will of the other.
One high-profile way this divergence appears is in the area of welfare policy. We acknowledge that in a society as rich and advanced as ours, we have a responsibility to ensure a basic social safety net. However, an increasingly materialistic safety net is not sufficient to protect human dignity and provide a path to prosperity. We as conservatives believe that reform is imperative to alleviating intergenerational poverty and inequality, and desire a welfare system that promotes economic opportunity and social mobility.
We are not afraid of change, as some may posit. In fact, we are not satisfied with the status quo. We want to reform the system, but maintain that change for its own sake is not an intrinsic good. As President George W. Bush once said, “The true measure of compassion is results.” Our compassion is intertemporal, not just immediate.
We beg the question: Will a given person in need be better off in five years because of this program? Will they be more independent? Our goal is not to see people merely sheltered and fed; this is not fulfillment. No, we wish to see people lead lives of freedom and dignity. A way to reach this is to prevent the unnecessary, counterproductive control of a paternalistic state.
In order to achieve these reforms, conservatives fight for policy goals that would alleviate the root causes, and not merely the effects, of the hardships of many Americans. Many of these policies, such as those put forth in a joint American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution working group on poverty studies, have garnered support from both conservative and liberal scholars. They include strengthening families, innovating access to and delivery of education and expanding opportunities for work. We also need to have tough conversations about poverty as not only an economic, but a cultural problem as well.
Our care for the poor, and our desire to bring them to lives of prosperity, leads us to champion entrepreneurship and reduce barriers to free enterprise. Some may look at this with skepticism. But let us be clear — we believe in free markets not to benefit Wall Street, to make rich people richer or to propel ourselves to wealth and glory. In our view, it is the path to ensuring the greatest amount of prosperity for the greatest number of people.
We do not ask you to believe that all conservatives care for the poor as much as they should — I don’t think we could believe that of all progressives, either. We ask that you consider that many conservatives do indeed hold compassion for others, though our way of putting it into action may look different than your own. Neither side has a monopoly on compassion, and when we understand this, we can work together towards our common desire for human flourishing for all.
TAYLOR BECKER is a College senior from Lebanon, Ore., studying political science. His email address is email@example.com. “Right Angles” usually appears every other Wednesday.
NILE NWOGU is a Wharton sophomore from Ann Arbor, MI, studying finance, public policy and French. He is the representative for College Republicans on the University Council.
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