Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Do Conservatives (Or Liberals) Love People?

In his much ballyhooed speech before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) a week or so ago, Rush Limbaugh made the claim that "conservatives love people" - and everyone cheered. Actually, they cheered or laughed every time Rush exhaled so that doesn't mean much, but I thought his statement was a bit odd - mostly, I guess, because I'm not sure what he meant by it.

Did Rush mean that conservatives love people as individuals or did he mean that they love humanity in general? Liberals, too, often profess a love for mankind, but it's hard to credit their professions of love for their fellow man after they spent the last eight years heaping enormous dollops of hatred and contempt upon George Bush, Dick Cheney and everyone else associated with their administration.

Anyway, I think both Rush and the liberals are blowing smoke when they talk about their love for people.

After all, how do they define love? Is it an affection or fondness they feel toward others? Or is it, as I think it should be defined, a commitment to treat the other with dignity, respect, and kindness regardless of how we feel toward them? If it's the former then the self-professed lovers of mankind are being disingenuous. No one feels affection for everybody. If it's the latter, then both Rush and the liberal humanists are just kidding themselves and us: Rush certainly doesn't treat Bill Clinton or Barack Obama with dignity, respect, or kindness and the liberals certainly don't treat George Bush in particular, or conservatives in general, that way.

Dostoyevsky puts his finger on the problem when in his masterwork The Brothers Karamazov he quotes Father Zossima recounting the words of an acquaintance.

The old priest recounts the story of a disillusioned doctor who had great dreams of universal love but bitter disappointments in dealing with the real thing. "I love humanity," he said, "but the more I love humanity in general, the less I love people in particular." While his dreams portray visions of saving humankind, in his daily life the good doctor can't stand the people around him. "I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom." The slightest irritation rattles the poor man's nerves. He bristles at the way someone talks, sneers at the way someone walks or wheezes and can barely tolerate the manner of someone's dress or bearing. "In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me."

French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre put the same idea somewhat differently in his play No Exit which he concludes with the claim that hell is other people.

At any rate, I think that any claim to a universal love for humanity should be greeted with a tincture of suspicion until we're told precisely what is meant by "love." I'm doubtless too much a cynic, but I really have difficulty believing that people who despise particular individuals really love humanity in general, even in the abstract.



Senator Charles Grassley is so outraged over the AIG bonuses that he wants the execs to either "quit or kill themselves." Representative Barney Frank is fuming about "rewarding incompetence." The cause of their anger is that AIG gave millions in bonuses to top executives after receiving billions of dollars of taxpayer bailout money. We should all be outraged as well, but not just at AIG.

We should be outraged that congress irresponsibly wrote the TARP legislation in such a way as to put no restrictions on how the money would be spent.

We should be outraged that congress irresponsibly pressured financial institutions to make loans to people who had no way to pay them back, thus precipitating the mess we're in.

We should be outraged that congress votes themselves outstanding health insurance, retirement benefits (they're vested after only five years of service at age 62), and a hefty salary ($174,000 for rank and file members) with automatic pay raises, all from the public purse.

We should be outraged that congress puts hundreds of millions of dollars of wasteful earmarks in appropriations bills that are often little more than ways to reward supporters back home.

It's certainly arrogant and disgraceful that AIG executives accepted those bonuses (The company was apparently required by contract to give them), but no more disgraceful than the behavior of our political leadership in Washington who abuse their power everyday by taking money from taxpayers and using it, either directly or indirectly, for their own personal gain.

Barack Obama promised he would end this sort of politics, but so far from ending it he's simply turned out to be an enabler of it. That should outrage us, too.