Paul Jacob

Socialism has now been proved false so many ways that most people with sense laugh — or, more likely, derisively snort — when the word is brought up. But that doesn’t mean that all the “anti-liberal” talk since the Reagan Era, by conservatives, was justified. Every time a modern-day liberal was made fun of just for being a liberal, I cringed, if only a bit.

Why? A good word, “liberal,” had been turned into a “bad word” . . . despite its lingering resonances with some very good attitudes, like tolerance and generosity.

So, when some people on the right — including our current president — styled themselves as “compassionate conservatives,” was that a good thing?

Well, what is the proof of compassion, either when it comes from a so-called liberal or a so-called conservative? How much money is to be taken from large groups of people and ostentatiously given to distinct and smaller groups of people?

If that’s the case, then “compassion” has obviously changed, too. It was no surprise to learn, from Arthur Brook’s recent book, Who Really Cares?, that the most generous givers, in America, are not those who yammer most, in politics, about compassion. It is the working poor and the lower middle class who give most . . . especially those from religious backgrounds.

It takes actual compassion to give; it takes something else to demand that money be extracted from the populace, by force, through taxation.

I wonder what would happen if we threw out of all political discourse the words “compassion” and “liberal” and “conservative”? Could we get down to actual facts and usable principles? And get good things done?

Our favorite political words become not only cliché, they often become the opposite of what they originally meant. This makes them very tricky to use well.

The more things change . . .

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.