Is Greed the Conservative Creed?

As the tax debate in Maryland heats up, one of the more persistent stereotypes about conservatives that's being dragged out of the mud by the liberal tax-and-spend crowd is that conservatives are greedy and only want to keep the money they make for themselves. This is why liberals believe in income redistribution by the government through taxation and entitlement programs; if the government doesn't take it and do the right thing with it, their logic goes, those greedy conservatives certainly won't. The book, "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism," by Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks, blows this stereotype to pieces, and no one was more surprised by its findings than the author. Brooks is a behavioral economist, a child of academics who was raised in a liberal home and educated in the liberal arts.  He has served as the director of nonprofit studies for Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs since 2003. He has no political affiliation, declaring "I have no comfortable political home."

Professor Brooks took ten years of data primarily from ten databases and adjusted the data for variables such as age, gender, race and income. His research is carefully documented to stand up under scrutiny from other academics.

His conclusions? Religious conservatives donate far more money than secular liberals to all sorts of charitable activities irrespective of income.

A news report summarizes the book's findings:

"The book's basic findings are that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the government should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans, by any measure. Conversely, secular liberals who believe fervently in government entitlement programs give far less to charity. They want everyone's tax dollars to support charitable causes and are reluctant to write checks to those causes, even when governments don't provide them with enough money."

Professor Brooks also points out that liberals give less than conservatives in every conceivable way, including volunteer hours and donated blood. His research also reveals that the working poor give a higher percentage of their income than any other economic class, including the middle class and the rich. Not only do religious conservatives give more to charity, they give generously - four times as much as others. Their giving is not confined to their religious denominations, either. Brooks states in an interview the following:

"Religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly nonreligious charities. Religious people give more blood; religious people give more to homeless people on the street." 

He writes in the introduction to his book, "These are not the sort of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school 10 years ago...I have to admit I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book."

With such compelling evidence of the overwhelming generosity of conservatives - even the professor of government at Harvard University says Professor Brooks' "analysis was extremely good" - one would think the liberals would refrain from trotting out this old chestnut about greed when debates over taxes and government's proper role in society heat up. No such luck - they figure if they repeat the lie often enough, it becomes truth in spite of the evidence. Conservatives are guilty of this at times, too, but there's one big difference that gives liberals a decided advantage - they own the mediums that spread the message. 

One of the hard truths about being a conservative in this country in the late 20th and early 21st century is that despite talk radio and the Internet, we do not control the mainstream opinion-shaping institutions in the United States.  The press and our institutions of higher learning upon which the people once depended collectively for objective scholarship, analysis and reporting are essentially the propaganda arm of the liberal establishment. They take their agenda, to include liberal stereotypes about conservatives, and present them on the front pages of the Washington Post and New York Times as fact.  The original Big Three networks dutifully report these stereotypes to the general public in brief sound bites and flashy images, burning them into people's minds until they become widely accepted as the truth. The entertainment industry, which has no obligation to be objective, is all too happy to take these so-called truths and integrate them into TV shows, movies, plays and music, further inoculating the masses.

Let me give you an example. A recent report in the mainstream press trumpeted a study which suggests that liberals are more flexible and adaptable in their thinking and more willing to adjust when presented with new information than are conservatives. The headlines blared "Liberals smarter than conservatives," and the liberal establishment congratulated themselves as they looked down their noses at their inferior counterparts.

I don't need to be a scientist, however, to reject this premise and the Los Angeles Times, to their credit, highlighted at least one major fallacy in this conclusion:

"But there's a problem with the templates of the rigid conservative and the flexible liberal. The history of politics and ideas abounds with personalities who migrated from right to left and vice versa.

"One of the notable intellectual developments of the 20th century was the defection from communism -- the 'God that failed' -- by disillusioned believers such as Arthur Koestler and Whittaker Chambers. More recently, the term 'neoconservatives' was applied to former liberals who had moved right not just on foreign policy ('neocon' is now shorthand for a supporter of the Iraq war) but also on social issues such as affirmative action and crime.

"The traffic is two-way. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New York Times reported, 'came to Wellesley as an 18-year-old Republican, a copy of Barry Goldwater's right-wing treatise, 'The Conscience of a Conservative,' on the shelf of her freshman dorm room. She would leave as an antiwar Democrat whose public rebuke of a Republican senator in a graduation speech won her notice in Life magazine as a voice for her generation.'

"So: Did former leftists move right because their liberal 'cognitive style' alerted them to an alternative route to the just society? If that was the case, why didn't those same adventuresome brain cells eventually trigger a leftward relapse? And if the mark of a true conservative, neo or otherwise, is a neurologically grounded reluctance to change, can converts to the cause be trusted?

As I said previously, I don't have to be a scientist to disprove this claim, and neither do you. Just look around you at the people you know and how they live their lives. People whose politics and world view are conservative are adapting to their environment and demonstrating the ability to respond to new information just the same as liberals. I've been in the armed forces, the information technology field, and the business world, and all required adaptability to rapidly changing circumstances, and the ability to process and act on new information quickly and effectively. In my experience, a person's ideology was a poor indicator of which individuals met that standard for success.

I have a great admiration for critical thinkers and the ones I've been fortunate enough to know spanned the entire political spectrum. If liberals' brains are wired differently than conservatives, how do they explain the fact that black Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, believe in prayer in the public schools, and support vouchers, charter schools and home-schooling as alternatives to traditional education, all decidedly conservative positions, yet they are the most reliable voting bloc in America for Democratic candidates?

There are many factors that come into play when it comes to ideology, and I would give far more credence to life experiences, value systems, and emotional and volitional factors than cognitive processes. As far as I'm concerned, this study is liberal propaganda masquerading as science and conveniently trotted out in an election year for maximum effect. The "greed screed" also has about as much credibility as the Soviet Union newspaper Pravda in its heyday. Ironically, pravda is Russian for "the truth," very little of which ever presented itself in the pages of that publication.

If liberals want to know who gave life to the conservative media in America, they should look in the mirror. Our press and our colleges and universities have let us down by hewing to one worldview and castigating the other, and the entertainment industry pushed that worldview into our homes. People began to rebel because they didn't recognize themselves in the descriptions and depictions being hurled at them by their supposedly more enlightened brethren.

What we need in America today is glasnost - anyone have Mikhail Gorbachev's cell phone number (grin!)?