Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

An Inconvenient Truth: Conservatives Behaving Charitably

Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

An Inconvenient Truth: Conservatives Behaving Charitably

Article excerpt

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: CONSERVATIVES BEHAVING CHARITABLY WHO REALLY CARES: THE SURPRISING TRUTH ABOUT COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM. Arthur C. Brooks. New York: Basic Books, 2006. Pp. xi, 249. $26.00.

I. INTRODUCTION

I live in Austin, the capital of Texas and inarguably the most liberal city in an otherwise solidly conservative state. How singular is Austin, the so-called Berkeley of the South? Of Texas' 254 counties, Travis County, which Austin dominates population-wise, was the only county that opposed a 2005 constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.4 In fact, I inhabit the epicenter of Austin liberalism: the way-cool 78704 zip code, a hippie South Austin neighborhood that revels in its left-wing funkiness. One familiar bumper sticker reads, "78704: Not Just a Zip Code, A Way of Life." Another, "78704: We're All Here 'Cause We're Not All There."

To be sure, Austin, a blue speck in a vast red sea,5 is home to many kind-hearted Good Samaritans, and I love it deeply, but according to a provocative new book by Syracuse University Professor Arthur Brooks, liberal bastions like Austin are not necessarily bastions of charity.6 As it turns out, conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, are the most generous Americans by any measuremoney given, hours volunteered, blood donated. His 2006 book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, suggests that while plenty of Austinites may sport nannying bumper stickers exhorting me to "Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Beauty" or declaring "The Moral High Ground is Built on Compassion," this rear-bumper sanctimony seemingly comes cheap.

The gut-punch of Who Really Cares-aptly described as a "tidy time-bomb of a book"7-is prefaced on page 10: "This story has some sharp elbows, culturally and politically."8 Razor-sharp, it seems. It is an article of faith among political liberals that they care more about the poor than political conservatives, but Professor Brooks, a born-and-raised liberal and professor of public administration at Syracuse's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, demonstrates that what may be politically correct is frequently empirically incorrect.9

The fact that "the electoral map and the charity map are remarkably similar"10 is sure to rile political liberals. This evidence of a stark rhetoric-reality gap is dispiriting to proud Austinites like me, but it is also mounting. A September 2007 study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked Austin forty-eighth out of America's fifty largest cities in per capita charitable giving.11 Austin is accustomed to topping countless national "Best Of" lists-hippest, fittest, greenest, most pro-business, etc.12 Shouting "We're Number 48!" hurts, especially when the measure (caring) goes to the core of Austin's liberal self-identity. City leaders' reaction to the ranking was one of disbelief: '"But we're a caring community. How can this be?'"13 The data represent an inconvenient truth, to be sure, but as John Adams observed, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."14

So while a slew of Austin-area bumper stickers cheer liberal selflessness and jeer conservative selfishness, the unflinching data obliterate a stubborn conventional piety. "Compassionate conservatism"-when measured in terms of personal voluntary sacrifice (both monetary and nonmonetary)-is far from a contradiction in terms; if anything, it is redundant.

II. THE CULTURE OF CHARITY-RHETORIC V. REALITY

The exquisiteness of Brooks's book is that it peeks behind dense, mind-numbing economic data to plumb why people give-the culture of charity and the values that animate people's good works.16 In doing so, a herd of prized oxen gets gored, but Brooks's commitment is unswerving: to discover hard, and often surprising, truths, "whether they happen to conform to preconceived notions or not. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.