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Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 1999 /29 Elul, 5759

Thomas Sowell

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Compassionate conservatism is old stuff -- THE MEDIA SEEM to be thrown completely off-balance by Texas Governor George W. Bush's slogan of "compassionate conservatism." For years, liberals have acted as if they had compassion copyrighted.

The liberal brand of compassion has almost invariably meant spending the taxpayers' money. When it comes to spending their own money, it is by no means clear that liberals do more of it than conservatives, though they may make more noise about it.

When Al Gore was in the Senate, he twice beat out Ted Kennedy for the title of the biggest spender in Congress. However, when it came to spending his own money, his income tax records showed that his charitable donations were quite restrained, to put it mildly.

Meanwhile, corporate executives all across America -- representatives of "greed," in the liberal vision -- have contributed tens of millions of dollars to give vouchers to thousands of youngsters from poor families, so that these children can go to private schools, instead of being trapped in the disastrous public schools so much defended by liberals.

It is amazing how little credit -- or even mention -- these CEOs or their organizations have gotten in the mainstream media. One of these organizations they created is called the Children's Educational Opportunity Foundation or CEO for short. But it is not called compassion because it did not originate in Washington and does not cost the taxpayers anything.

This is by no means the only business effort in this direction. For years, New York businessman Daniel Rose has headed the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, Inc., which promotes both academic achievement and chess in Harlem. The first black International Grandmaster heads their chess program. Milton Friedman has set up his own foundation to promote vouchers for low-income school children. Another conservative -- almost as well known -- has for years contributed money to a school in Harlem, but without any fanfare, and it is only out of respect for his privacy that I do not mention his name, which would be recognized immediately.

Black conservative economist Walter Williams has publicly declared that the government has no right to take even a dime of his money in taxes to give to anybody else. Yet I have known Walter for 30 years and know that he has for decades spent both his money and his time helping others to get ahead. He just doesn't want his money routed through Washington and used for politics.

None of this is new. Two centuries ago, Adam Smith, the father of laissez-faire economics, also donated both money and time to help others.

But it was only after his death that his financial help came to light, when his personal papers were examined. What he had given was considered remarkable, in light of his own modest wealth.

British banker Henry Thornton, one of the leading monetary economists of the 19th century, routinely gave away more than half of his annual income before he got married and had a family to support. Even afterwards, he still made large contributions to charitable causes and helped spearhead the drive to ban the slave trade. He was part of what would today be called the "religious right."

Huge donations of millions of dollars, back when the dollar was worth at least ten times what it is today, were common among founders of such great American fortunes as those of Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie. Julius Rosenwald, who headed the Sears department store chain in the 1920s, contributed to the construction of more than 50,000 black schools in the South. When he died in 1932, more than one-fourth of all the black children in the United States were attending schools which he had helped build.

By sheer repetition, the liberal dogma that those who oppose government programs are lacking in compassion has become so widespread that the very idea of "compassionate conservatism" seems startling.

During the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings back in 1991, a young black female journalist expressed surprise at learning from his former employees at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission how much time and effort he had put into helping them advance, as others had helped him. This didn't fit her image of him.

"Did you think he walked down the halls of the EEOC kicking old ladies out of his way?" I asked.

"Well, sort of," she replied.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate