Remember when George W. Bush ran as a "Compassionate Conservative?" Nice slogan, probably coined by presidential historian and Republican advisor Doug Wead in the late 70's. The problem was that "Compassionate Conservatives" never actually seemed compassionate (and you could argue that in their budget-busting expansion of executive power, they weren't conservative either). Given Bush's pathetic performance during Hurricane Katrina and flim-flam-man prosecution of the Iraq War, which wasted thousands of American lives for a purpose we'll never quite know, it was hard to conclude after his eight years that the Bush administration had compassion for anything beyond the value of Dick Cheney's stock options held in escrow.
But at least the Bushies bothered to pretend. With the rise of the Tea Party, those good old days of feeling the need to fake some sense of humanity are far behind us, and a new breed of openly Compassionless Conservatives has come to the fore, both among politicians and the general public. Their undue level of influence in today's "dialogue" makes us wonder what kind of country America is actually becoming.
The most recent foray into Compassionless Conservatism was Tea Party Majority Whip Eric Cantor's insistence on finding federal spending cuts to offset aid to victims of the recent natural disasters. But I feel like there's no real need to cite the legion of examples of Compassionless Conservatism in the backlash since President Obama took office; my mere coining of the pithy two-word phrase is enough for you to get the picture, since Compassionless Conservatism rears its ugly head pretty much every day in federal, state, right-wing blog and viral e-mail assaults on seniors, students, gays, immigrants, the poor, the unemployed, teachers and so on. Compassionless Conservative office holders think up things like turning Medicare into a voucher system where you're on your own after the first $6000 so that your Medicare bucks can be turned back over to insurance companies in exchange for massive campaign contributions to Compassionless Conservatives. Or continuing to push for privatizing Social Security so that even if your privatized account tanks in the stock market as it would have in 2008, Wall Street will still give ample thanks in the form of donations to the Compassionless Conservatives that let them get their mitts on all that cash, and who cares about you and your skimpy little retirement anyway. In fact, many Compassionless Conservatives want to get rid of your Social Security and Medicare altogether, along with your stupid public schools that might help your kids advance, labor unions and collective bargaining rights that keep your wages up and cost their beloved management side money, environmental agencies and regulations that keep you healthy but cost too much, and all that other junk they fantasize they're paying for with their hard-earned tax dollars that support slackers like you and this cousin they all seem to have who's on food stamps because he's a lazy bum.
Mention should be made of some of the seminal moments of incivility that have given voice to the Compassionless Conservative movement. One was during the 2008 campaign when some nutcase yelled "Kill him" at a Sarah Palin rally while she was attacking then-candidate Barack Obama. Palin clearly heard him, and just smiled, making no comment. Fast forward to last week's Republican "debate" (all of them are more like fawn-offs to the far, far right) and the crowd reaction to the question of whether a hospital should treat an uninsured patient in an emergency. "Let him die?" "YEAH!!!" And all the candidates stood silent again, just as Palin did before. I'm sure some of them have at least a tiny level of human decency left, but they all sure want those Compassionless Conservative votes. The establishment Republicans like Willard "Mitt" Romney know there just aren't enough CEO's in America to elect him to do big business's bidding and screw the little guy for their short-term gain even further than they have already. The plutocratic Romney knows he needs the seething, angry haters and the bigots to even have a chance in these primaries and this democracy where there just aren't enough CEO votes, dammit. So he stood silent.
As did Ron Paul, to whom the initial question was directed, a "Libertarian" who, along with his senator son, projects the vision of an America where he and Rand will just carefully step over the poverty-stricken bodies lying in the street after they dismantle government and everyone gets simply what they deserve on "merit." Ron knew enough to keep his mouth shut on "Let him die!" since he has no real sense of the consequences of his positions and therefore had nothing to say. But I always feel a little nuanced tension between Paul and the true Compassionless Conservatives as to their America of the future. Kindly Ron seems to want to say "Well, we'll just step OVER the bodies in the street," and the true believers scream, "We like to step ON the bodies, old man!!!"
Rick Perry remained silent as well. In the same debate, in some kind of crazy foray to the center made necessary by a terrible mistake he allowed as Governor of Texas, he had the temerity to suggest that children in Texas should be educated even if their parents came there illegally. He thereby crossed two Compassionless Conservative lines in the sand at once: that illegals should be dealt with in any way other than mass deportation and that anyone's children should actually be educated at all, other than possibly by home schooling that excludes any form of science. Perry even crossed another line by saying the candidates who disagreed with him on this point were lacking in "humanity." Come on, man, get with it! Way more than his unimpressive debating skills, this faux pas into empathy is probably what's really responsible for Compassionless Conservatives suddenly angling for a chubby new savior.
Finally, in their most authentic moment of this Florida "debate," all the Compassionless Conservative candidates performed in perfect lockstep by standing silent once again when the audience booed a soldier for serving his country while being gay. That was Compassionless Conservatism at its clearest, a chorus of bigoted haters safely unleashing their loathing in a friendly room where none would dare risk losing all those hate-filled votes. Well done!
In the 2012 elections, every American should ask him or herself if a country dominated by this kind of assault on the social contract is the ugly kind of country that they want. If your answer is "no," please don't sit this one out like November 2010. Because the Compassionless Conservatives have got this voting thing down and will be waiting at the ballot box when the doors open!!!
Jon Bauman, better known as "Bowzer" formerly of Sha Na Na and currently Bowzer's Rock 'n' Roll Party," is also an activist in both electoral politics and public policy. Between shows he has worked as a high-powered volunteer on the Obama and Kerry campaigns in Florida, the Mark Critz, Kathy Hochul and, most recently, David Weprin special elections for Congress, the Wisconsin recalls and 5 Congressional races in 2010. He has successfully gotten the "Truth in Music" law, to eliminate impostor musical groups, passed in 34 states.