Which political party really, really cares about people – and which couldn't care less? Well, in just the past few days . . .
Vice President Joe Biden has accused Republicans of wanting to put blacks back in chains;
Actress Ellen Barkin openly hoped that Hurrican Isaac would “wash every pro-life, anti-education, anti-woman, xenophobic, gay-bashing racist SOB (at the GOP convention in Tampa) into the ocean,” and fellow thespian Samuel L. Jackson lamented that he was “not understanding God's plan” in having spared Florida from the worst of the storm;
And Yahoo News Washington Bureau Chief David Chalian suggested to ABC News that presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans are “happy to have a party (that is, the convention) when black people drown (because of Isaac).”
But for those willing to define compassion in ways that do not involve wishing harm to supposed moral inferiors, a recent study offers a far more compelling portrait.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy analyzed 2008 federal tax records and concluded that residents of states in which religious participation is highest are also the most generous in terms of private charitable contributions – and the least-religious the stingiest.
The most generous state was Utah (where residents gave 10.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity), followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. The most penny-pinching state was New Hampshire (at just 2.5 percent), followed by Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
See a pattern? The least-generous states tend to vote for Democrats, while the most-generous for some reason generally support politicians who (so we are told) want to enslave blacks, keep women barefoot and pregnant, deny medicine to the sick, food to the poor and comfort to the aged.
This news may have been a revelation to those who consider faith the refuge of the simpleminded and bigoted, but even the Associated Press – seldom confused with Fox News – managed to find logic in the results even as it unwittingly exposed the degree to which the traditional notion of “compassion” has been politicized and secularized.
As writer Jay Lindsay noted, “The Bible mandates a 10 percent annual donation, or tithe, to the church . . . Latter-Day Saints are required to tithe to remain members in good standing.” By sheer coincidence, Utah – the most-generous state – is home to the Mormon Church, of which Romney is a member.
President Obama and many Democrats have tried to make an issue of the degree to which Romney has or has not paid his taxes and released his IRS records. According to his 2010 returns, however, he and wife Ann paid $3 million in federal taxes – a rate of "only" 13.9 percent – and donated about $4 million (more than 19 percent) to charity.
So does that make Romney a heartless skinflint because he presumably took advantage of perfectly legal loopholes to shield some of his $21.7 million income? Or should he be hailed for his generosity?
President Obama, it should be noted, gave about 14 percent of his taxable 2010 income of $1.7 million to charity – also very commendable. But as the Washington Post reported earlier this year, the president donated a far smaller percentage to charity before “he started making serious money from his books – and decided to run for president." Those contributions ranged from included 4.6 percent in 2005 to 0.4 percent in 2002.
Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, gave 4 percent of his income to charity last year. Not great, perhaps, but several times better than the 1 percent given by the supposedly more-caring Biden.
Lindsay quotes Boston College Professor Alan Wolfe making a telling point: “People in less-religious states are giving in a different way by being more willing to pay higher taxes so the government can equitably distribute benefits.”
But think about that: Religious people pay the same taxes their non-religious neighbors pay – while also voluntarily contributing a much-larger share of their own money to charity.
And yet it is the people on the political left – whom polls say tend to be less religiously active and orthodox – who flatter themselves as more compassionate than those with whom they often angrily disagree.
A few years ago, a liberal college professor named Arthur Brooks wrote a book called “Who Really Cares?” in which he expected to blast conservatives for their indifference. He discovered just the opposite, confirming the results of the Chronicle of Philanthropy study.
Remember that – and respond accordingly -- the next time somebody smugly claims they care more than you do just because they are more willing to give away other people's money.