Mary Katharine Ham

With New Orleans little more than a fetid soup bowl and southern Mississippi reduced to a flat, slab-speckled landscape, as many as 1,000,000 Americans must rely on the kindness of strangers for food, water and other basic needs. They may depend on that kindness for months.
 In times like these Americans are reminded of the importance of private charity. It is a lesson we will not soon forget.

     My liberal friends often accuse me of being uninterested in helping the less fortunate simply because I’m conservative. Since I’m not interested in forcing public funding of the government’s social programs, they insist, I must want poor people to suffer. 

     ‘Tis not true.

     There are many reasons conservatives trumpet private charity as the best way to fix societal problems. During this national tragedy, I believe events on the ground will show that it’s not an unreasonable belief.

     First, I don’t believe an individual’s commitment to helping the less fortunate can be measured by the amount of money one thinks the government should take from others. Having money taken from you does not make you charitable. Conversely, believing the government should leave people’s hard-earned money alone does not make one uncharitable.

     Rather, the charity is in the giving. If my liberal friends really believed that arguing for big government programs covered their responsibility to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, they’d put on an “I Donated to FEMA April 15th” t-shirt and call it a day. Of course, they won’t do that. If I know them, they’ll give.

     I believe private charity could assuage most of the problems the government purports to solve with programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and welfare. And it can conquer Katrina, too.

     Private giving, according to Chuck Simmins’ blog, is already over $100,000,000 (that’s up from $45,000,000 when I started writing this Thursday morning) and rising. A blogosphere-wide effort to raise money has focused more than 1,000 blogs and their readers on the problem. Thousands of companies are doubling charitable contributions by matching the donations of their employees.

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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