What I Had Wrong as a Compassionate Conservative

I voted for Bush in 2000, not because I hated poor people or was racist against people of color, but largely because I was both poor and a person of color who was under the impression that he had something valuable to offer us. As a conservative Christian, I was introduced to WORLD Magazine and Marvin Olasky in the 90’s. Olasky — one of several supposed ex-communists with a dubious past and a lying streak — talked a lot about ‘compassionate conservatism’ and the need for conservative (read: White and Middle Class) Christians to support urban people. He argued that we depended on a government that could only fail us and got in the way of success. And who doesn’t want to succeed. So, yes, I voted for the first time on the premise that I was doing good for myself and my community. I think that’s why and how most people vote, and thus positioning material needs as front and center is the key to success. Or the Party of the People can just continue to treat politics as a character-driven drama, I guess…

In the early 90’s, Marv wrote The Tragedy of American Compassion. Newt Gingrich passed it out as homework for incoming representatives during the second wave of the so-called “Reagan Revolution”, helping to lead to the welfare “reforms” of the 90’s as well as the Contract <s>for</s> on America. At the same time, he became an adviser to then-Texas governor George W Bush and helped lay the groundwork for Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

But it was all a lie. All of Olasky’s ‘scholarship’ was hackneyed ideology promoting a spiritualized Free Market approach with a Christian veneer. It was Right Wing Christian deception.

The idea that White Christians could save us poor city folk would prove to be problematic, to say the least, for various reasons. But at the time I didn’t have the vocabulary or experience to tell me. I saw the word help; I understood help. I knew that white suburban Christians had resources and thought they could assist us with those. I didn’t know it was a mining exhibition and that we were the ones to be mined.

Unlike many anti-welfare actors, I never bought the lie that welfare was theft from taxpayers. I knew that was bullshit because we sure as hell weren’t living high off the hog. But I did see welfare as an impediment to working and living securely. What I thought about were the kids I was working with. The kids of single parents, often, who were themselves heading towards gangs. I thought that the continuation of welfare reform would be the necessary shock to the system bringing good jobs and stable homes. Instead, ‘compassion’ brought unprecedented levels of extreme poverty, intense competition for lower-paying jobs, and the destabilization of neighborhoods through gentrification. It didn’t lead to more secure communities through the advancement and strengthening of nuclear families (another perspective fraught with racist and bourgeois assumptions, as well as completely unnecessary), but less-secure communities.

I think I believed in compassionate conservatism not only because I hadn’t yet seen the extent of economic deprivation and theft in Working Class communities of color and other abandoned WC communities. I hadn’t understood the extent to which resources have been mined (both economically and literally) out of our communities and with no replacement. But at the time, I knew and saw the desperation of my Black and Brown Working Class community and my own Working Class family, which had received government subsidies before and after my father lost his employment to privatization, alcohol abuse, and epilepsy. [1]

However, I didn’t make the connection until now. Welfare before the Reaganites and the New Democrats altered it was not going to work on its own because it saw money to poor families as merely a form of aid. It should have realized — as conservativism and more-compassionate liberalism certainly still fail to realize — that child-raising is work. That domestic labor is work. That parents, and particularly mothers, should be paid to take care of children. Children are vital to the lifeblood of a society no matter the economic system of that society.

Instead, women are paid less money than men on the capitalist assumption that certain gendered- and class-based labors should be underpaid or even unpaid. Capitalism assumes that those who labor for society should not only be unrewarded, but should fend for themselves when the chips are down.

This bears out in the gender wage gap. Human Resources justifies, a woman isn’t the primary bread-winner for the home and thus doesn’t need a comfortable standard of living. This old excuse may not (yet still is) vocalized in these politically correct times, but the spirit is still here and thriving in the Gig Economy. Pregnancies are seen as interruptions from work — and thus income — rather than as a form of valuable, creative work in and of themselves. Pregnancies are punished, even before the conservative agendas interrupting reproductive rights and personal autonomy.

Domestic work is a public service. And domestic laborers should be paid accordingly by the public. As long as we’re under capitalism, then all parents should be financially compensated.

[1] The order of these items tells you something about causation.