Last night in New Hampshire, Republican presidential candidates were long on conservatism and short on compassion. On immigration, on Iraq, on virtually every issue, the consensus was that America hasn't been tough enough. No compassion for anyone — particularly those 12 million Americans who got here illegally.Try as you might, in reviewing this discussion you won't find much emphasis on compassion, either. Nor here, either. Even less discussion of religion as responsibility, especially (since the questions of the candidates were all presumptively limited to Christianity and, unless I missed someone on the panel, Roman Catholicism and American Protestantism within that (no Orthodox views, no Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.) the responsibilities Christians presumptively have for the least among us. No, none of that. Just some vague kinds of Pietism ("How would prayer influence the decisions that you make as president? And, most importantly, when you pray, how do you know if the voice that you are hearing is the voice of God or your own voice in disguise? ") or poverty (Wallis), abortion (the Rev. Joel C. Hunter) or other social problems (Msgr. Kevin Sullivan). Nothing too specific, in other words, nor necessarily "religious." Responsibility, yes, but the kind of social responsibility Europe has managed to take up "without Marx or Jesus," as the saying used to go.
When it came to the hungry — or, more precisely, those the Bush Administration has categorized as "food insecure" — there was silence. So, too, on issues like poverty and youth violence and the epidemic of the uninsured. There was, in short, no evidence of the compassionate conservatism George W. Bush once promised would be his governing philosophy.
Now, if we're really going to change the conversation, or even shift the terms of the discussion, how do we make people listen when we talk about the kind of responsibility reflected in the parable of the sheep and the goats, and how do we model compassion by insisting that our version of the conversation is the one that must be held now!?
Can we force people to sit and listen to us discuss compassion? Can we take power, and still be compassionate about it, especially when we are trying to get people to listen?
UPDATE: "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?" Steve Inskeep apparently thinks compassionate people are silly. Especially if they are celebrities who wear coloured glasses.