When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, he proclaimed that he was a "compassionate conservative." This week, during the second Republican candidates debate, it became clear that the party -- post Bush -- has rejected that moniker. When Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if a hypothetical young man -- who refused to buy health insurance -- should still be cared for, Paul attempted to say that religious orders and other private charities existed for that purpose.
The audience, however, drowned out the good doctor. When Blitzer pressed further and asked if the young man should be left to die, the crowd enthusiastically answered, "Yeah!" The exchange, writes Paul Krugman, in this morning's New York Times, indicates that "at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions."
Modern conservatism has come along way from one of its spiritual godfathers, Friedrich Hayek, who declared -- in The Road to Serfdom -- that he favoured "a comprehensive system of social insurance." "Now," writes Krugman,
compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.
And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
Conservatives argue that they are for old fashioned values. The truth is that there is nothing old fashioned about their values. Like Cain, they reject the notion that they are their brothers' keepers.