Bernie Is Blind to Compassion without Compulsion

During the confirmation hearings for Representative Tom Price’s appointment as Health and Human Services Secretary, Bernie Sanders took aim at Price’s claim that America is fundamentally compassionate. “No, we are not a compassionate society … In terms of our relationship with poor and working people, our record is worse than virtually any other country on earth,” the junior senator from Vermont claimed.

On 2016’s doozy of a campaign trail, Bernie Sanders focused his attention less on societal values and virtues — whether, for instance, we as a whole people act virtuously or otherwise — and much more on the size and scope of government programs and regulations. But the question of whether Americans act compassionately is distinct, and one Sen. Sanders gets wrong. Americans as private moral individuals are rife with the virtue of compassion. And this is not in spite of our wealth and relative freedom, as some might suggest, but because of it.

Sen. Rand Paul, for his part, addressed Sanders’ claim with statistics. At $400 billion dollars in 2014, and similar numbers annually, private individuals and organizations donated more than the GDP of many nations. Paul then compared that figure with “socialized” countries of the sort Sen. Sanders often professes a desire to emulate.

Here, Paul was plainly defining compassionate behavior as something individual moral agents display. The compassion of America is displayed through the generous actions of people. The paradigmatic case of this is in people like Bill and Melinda Gates, whose charitable foundation has received billions of dollars from the couple.

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