Most of us have seen coverage of the personal tragedies in the aftermath of the historic outbreak of tornadoes across the southeastern United States a few weeks ago, which left more than 300 dead. Footage of the massive tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa and other parts of Alabama are heart wrenching. In my little section of northwest Georgia we received significant damage as well. For the second time in three years my home narrowly escaped the brunt of a tornado's destructive path, but many of our friends and neighbors were not so lucky.
Two days after the tornados hit I drove through Adairsville and Ringgold and witnessed the awesome force of nature's fury; billboard frames bent at 90-degree angles, warehouses demolished as if they were made of tin foil and swaths flattened trees that looked like matchsticks. There were huge sections of towns that had essentially vanished. If ever there was a need for government this was it, right?
Yet at 7 a.m. the morning after the tornados struck, it was not FEMA that was taking the lead to help the newly homeless. It was friends and neighbors out with chainsaws, already cutting up trees and removing debris. It was churches that were already providing hot meals for hundreds, and taking up collections of clothing and other needed supplies. In my home county of Bartow, more than three hundred families were cared for in the immediate aftermath. Teams from these churches went about clearing debris and salvaging as much of the victims' personal belongings as possible.
Donations of bottled water, food, clothing, toiletries, blankets and even toys for children came flooding in, in some cases redirected because a facility had no more room to store the items. Churches were aided in the effort by local humanitarian and civic organizations. Disaster relief headquarters were set up to coordinate the logistics and attend to the needs of the victims. So great was the outpouring of help that FEMA actually sent some volunteers back home in certain areas because they had more volunteers than they could coordinate.
Last year I wrote that it is not government's role to dispense charity, and when government does get into the charity business, the distribution of that charity becomes a political decision based on favored status, and not on need. It becomes plagued with bureaucratic red tape, and much of the resources are eaten up by "overhead" costs. The response from the more liberal readers was as you would expect; claims that government MUST be the one to address humanitarian needs because the average person can't be trusted to do the right thing voluntarily, and therefore government must make us do the right thing by force.
Here is where reality departs from the accepted narrative. I advocate for limited government that performs only those functions enumerated in the Constitution. I argue this because I believe that just because a thing needs to be done does not mean it needs to be done by government. Ironically, I can argue for limited government because I deeply believe in the innate goodness of the average American. The left argues in favor of government-enforced charity because they believe that, at our core, Americans are greedy and heartless. I believe they do so because they are projecting their personal character flaws on those around them.
Don't take my word for it though. Take the word of Syracuse professor and self-described liberal, Arthur Brooks, who published a book entitled "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism." Professor Brooks sought to do an in-depth analysis of charitable giving, but his conclusions so surprised him that he rechecked his data because he was certain there was an error after his finding showed that conservatives are far more charitable than liberals, which is just counterintuitive.
Among the findings were the following:
People that oppose the notion that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give four times more in charitable contributions than those that embrace the idea.
Despite the fact that liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than the incomes of conservative families, conservative families give just over 30 percent more in charitable donations than their liberal counterparts ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227). It's not just money either. Professor Brooks asserts that "If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply of the United States would jump about 45 percent." Democrat presidential candidates John Kerry, Al Gore and Barack Obama all gave miniscule amounts of their income to charity, far less than George W. Bush.
The single biggest corollary to charitable giving is whether a person is religious. Religious people give in far greater proportion than do the non-religious. Of course, this should come as no surprise. As Christians, we believe that every man, woman and child is a brother or sister in God's great earthly family, and we have been commanded by our God to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the downtrodden, and in short, to do our best to fill any need and alleviate any suffering we may see. We engage in charitable acts not because we have a government job paying us to do it, but because we seek to obey God's commandments.
Ah, you forget (argue my liberal friends), that the rich man came to Christ and asked what he had to do to gain the kingdom of Heaven, and Christ told him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. True; but the difference is that when the rich man walked away saddened, too in love with his riches to part with them, Christ did not send His apostles to hold the rich man down and take what he had and give it to the poor. Charity, in order to be charity, must be voluntary. Forced charity is simply theft and extortion.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Red Cross was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of donations of money and blood for the victims. They were logistically unable to handle it all, and in fact so much blood was collected that much of it had to be destroyed because it expired before it could be used. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, the Japanese tsunami, the recent tornado outbreaks and many other natural disasters the world has endured of late, the American people have risen to help those in need, without being directed by government.
Contrary to the opinion of the liberal elite, it is the religious/conservatives that are the most compassionate, that donate the most in time, money and other resources. Just remember this the next time you hear the common refrain about conservatives not being compassionate, not caring about their fellow man, and being driven by greed. The difference is that while liberals like to "give at the office" (with other people's money), conservatives feel it our responsibility to show charity beginning at home. It was truly inspiring to see the massive outpouring of love and assistance after the tornadoes recently. If you didn't see it, maybe you are hanging around with the wrong people.
Louis DeBroux is a Taylorsville resident, married, with eight children. He is chairman of the Bartow County Republican Party. He owns Gatekeeper data backup and recovery. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.