Daniel Greenfield: The Pity Party

Progressives will always claim that no matter how badly their plans go wrong, at least their terrible policies were well-intentioned.

The regimes that shot orphans, starved entire cities into submission and committed genocide were “caring” in comparison to the heartless Dickensian capitalists who did nothing for the poor except create cheap products and jobs. They might have killed millions, but their red hearts were in the right place.

They didn’t just spend all their time gobbling caviar and diving into swimming pools full of all money like the millionaires of the West. Instead they gave speeches about Marxism-Leninism, killed anyone who wasn’t up on their dialectical materialism and then gobbled working class caviar and dove into proletarian swimming pools full of money.

The path to everything from death panels to gulags was paved by outrage over the oppressed and compassion for the less fortunate… even if the real less fortunate turned out to be those on whom the tender-hearted compassion of progressives was practiced on.

That compassion is the theme of William Voegeli’s “The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion.” Going from Bill Clinton’s “I Feel Your Pain” to Barack Obama’s “Yes, We Can,” Voegeli challenges the conspicuous compassion and self-centered emotional displays on which the contemporary progressive argument is built.

Rather than dealing with the issues, the left deals in narratives. Its pornography of misery bypasses facts, particularly those which demonstrate that it is the left’s policies that create misery, thereby showing the dangers of placing compassion above any other value; including truth. And that is one of the subjects explored in Voegeli’s book whose themes occupy the moral realm as much as the sphere of government policy.

“So many Americans,” Voegeli writes, take for granted, “that moral growth requires little else than feeling, acting and being more compassionate.”

The conspicuous compassion of progressivism results in the appearance of goodness, without its substance. It is easy to mandate social welfare. Especially at someone else’s expense. What is difficult is grappling with human limitations and aspirations. That’s why the War on Poverty failed.

FDR explicitly laid out the moral double standard for the right and the left.The Pity Party quotes him as saying, “Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”

There lies the high-minded formula for dismissing the crimes of the left as the “occasional faults” of warm-blooded leftists over the neglect of a conservative government. FDR was saying that it was better to do something, even if it was the wrong thing, than to do nothing. It was a left-wing indictment of nothing less than the United States Constitution. The argument is echoed today in defense of amnesty and any other disastrous Obama policy by asserting that doing something is better than nothing.

The good leftist may destroy lives, but at least he doesn’t neglect his warm-hearted duty to meddle. Better a caring killer, than a constitutionalist who doesn’t care enough to death panel the sick.

In The Pity Party, Voegeli explores the failure of progressive ideas and the immunity of those failures to reform. Looking at the global and national consequences of progressive policymaking he shows that the politics of conspicuous compassion are self-contradictory and lead to bad results and advises conservatives on how to counter the caring spin cycle of the left.

In the age of Tumblr and Twitter when the Social Justice Warrior deploys limitless outrage, bile and spleen in empathy’s name, progressive pathos has become a revolutionary hysteria that trips easily into riots and violent threats. The primacy of compassion as the only significant virtue makes it impossible to distinguish between empathy and self-serving rhetoric, between caring and egotistical hysteria.

At the big government and big media level, every argument is triangulated as being between caring progressives and uncaring conservatives. Their human shields; children, the elderly, designated minority victim classes and gentle giants, are infinite. Their personal stories, even if they happen to be those of Democratic activists covertly posing as ordinary people at a State of the Union address, negate the facts.

Every dispute, no matter how technical, eventually culminates with the left trotting out its human shields to take the debate out of the realm of facts and into the realm of personal anecdote. Since creative types can figure out how to personalize every debate, every debate becomes an empathy test. The issue stops being whether a policy will work, but whether a politician represents our values of caring. And this is where Democrats routinely trounce Republicans in polling questions.

The longstanding tactic of the left is to turn every debate into a question of which side consists of good people and which side consists of bad people. It is a tactic that Republicans have done a very poor job of fighting because they do not believe of the left what it believes about them.

A secularized empathy provides religion without deity or scripture. The new temple becomes the government building and its new bible is a million pages of ObamaCare regulations that no one reads. Its messiahs are community organizers. Its clergy hold “die-ins” and seek absolute power to regulate every detail of human life. Thus the tyranny of compassion transforms America into a Socialist theocracy.

The compassion of the left exists in a space formerly occupied by religion and is therefore immune to analysis and factual critique. It serves as the supporting ideology for leftist policy and cloaks it in the same self-serving air of a spiritual compassion that should not be examined to see how many people ended up in the gulags or death panels.

Voegeli’s critique serves as a warning that a policy based on the theatrics of compassion without moral substance or factual analysis is doomed to destroy its own unexamined founding virtues. In the name of compassion, the left hurts the very people it claims to want to help while serving its own interests.

Every crime, from Green Energy corruption to totalitarian health care regulations, is justified by an appeal to compassion. But the truly compassionate attribute is not the arrogant paternalism of leftist policymakers, but the empowerment of our fellow man through political and economic freedom.