This summer, as Barbara Elliott graciously brought me along to a banquet for a charity in Houston, one thing struck me as particularly sobering: While the two Democrat representatives were present, not one Republican representative made an appearance. Why is it that Democrats have complete reigns on the issue of poverty? It is quite legitimate for Republicans to discourage and oppose public funds, but if they are adamantly opposing public funds, they must be willing to promote private charities.
I do not dare equate Republicans and Conservatives, for we all know that in this day and age they often diverge more than they intersect, but if the Republican party is in fact the more Conservative of the two, why are they neglecting poverty issues? As Russell Kirk often highlights, liberty must be married to order, rights must correspond with duties, and capitalism must have a conscience.
The conscience of capitalism is essential for a flourishing society. It is the moral root that grounds our society, and reflects the generous hearts of the people, rather than self-centered greed. Our Founders understood this, and wrote about it often. In a letter to Mercy Otis Warren, John Adams wrote, “Public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good…established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty… Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasure, Passions and Interest, nay, their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in competition with the Rights of Society.”
“A positive passion for the public good.” Is this something that is evident in the Republican candidates of 2010? Do we see free market advocates promoting charity just as much as they promote hands-off government? If the government removes their hand from public poverty, the free market conservatives must be the ones willing to reach into their pockets and give to the hungry, the orphaned, and the sick. This is not to say that many conservatives do not already donate much time and money to people in need, and often do it quietly and humbly, but it is to say, that public conservatives must take a stand on the issue, instead of being content to let the Democrats have that one, while they convert more and more inner city communities and factory workers and poor agrarians to the socialist policies of the liberals because the needy see no alternative. We conservatives must give them an alternative, and we must do it with boldness and compassion. We must step out of our SUVs, finely furnished homes, and comfortable communities, and walk into their world for a moment. We must befriend those in need, provide ways to bring them out of poverty, and serve them with our resources, our time, and our hearts.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.