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Deepak Chopra Headshot

Conservatism Could Be Compassionate. Why Isn't It?

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I feel confused over why "compassionate conservatism" turned out to be so much the opposite of compassionate. As an excluded minority without power, one could understand the frustration of conservatives during the long reign of the Democrats. But they are hardly excluded any more. The Presidency has gone Republican five times since 1980, and both houses of Congress are firmly Republican. With all this breathing room and so much power gained, why is conservatism still so mean?

One answer might be that conservatives enjoy being angry, that it fuels their policies. The conservative revolution needed enemies. If you are politically at odds with those who you think are bringing down society--liberals, blacks, the poor, Muslims, pro-abortion groups, gays, non-fundamentalists, and feminists, your animus could be sanitized. You could turn it into social policy. We hear about right-wing think tanks who specialize in providing philosophical cover for so much mean-spirited activity.

But anger is still anger once the disguise is dropped. So is corruption. So is political bad faith, such as defaming your opponents and vilifying them as godless simply because they hold opinions different from yours. Whether conservatives believe their own rhetoric or not, they haven't faced the fact that the mainstream of humane belief is liberal, and for good reason. The word liberal has been successfully spun ("Card-carrying liberal" has become the equivalent of "card-carrying Communist") but what the word liberal means, if one consults the dictionary, is "marked by generosity," "not literal or strict," "broadminded, not marked by authoritarianism or orthodoxy"--the overwhelming connotation is positive.

When he first appeared, one hoped that Pres. Bush wanted some of this glow for himself, and that's why he branded himself a compassionate conservative. Obviously he didn't succeed. Americans who fall into those groups I already mentioned--blacks, the poor, gays, non-fundamentalists, etc.--don't feel compassionately dealt with. Quite the opposite. There are times when Bush is not the worst of his breed, but too many conservatives seem to live in a reverse mirror: they are proud of their intolerance, authoritarianism, and selfishness. They even have a God who loves them for it.

I say all this out of genuine confusion, because although it's healthy for a country to have diverse opinions, it's extremely unhealthy--and hard to comprehend, really--for anyone to go through the reverse mirror. America is profoundly a liberal society in every sense that matters.

Or has the reverse mirror distorted us that much?