When asked recently to comment on food programs that extend welfare benefits to poor children, South Carolina Lt. Gov. André Bauer quipped, “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.”
This insensitive remark and others like it have spurred liberals to begin weaponizing the term “compassionate conservative,” using it mockingly to equate fiscal conservatism with an indifference to poverty and suffering. Luckily, Stanford students show hope for the idea of the compassionate conservative and demonstrate that conservatism is not a rejection of public service.
One would have to look no further than the Stanford Conservative Society to understand the importance of community service to campus conservatives. The group, 243 members strong on Facebook and with a constituency of 550 according to President Tommy Schultz, makes an effort to constantly engage in service initiatives.
For example, they host a large event every year in November to write Christmas letters to American soldiers serving overseas. Mr. Schultz’s commitment to helping out our servicemen isn’t limited to abstract displays of encouragement – he makes a point of personally lending out his car to ROTC soldiers to help them attend training in Santa Clara. I have also had the opportunity to attend the Conservative Society’s heartwarming collaborative initiative to help out at the local Veteran’s Hospital, which provides Stanford students with a way to spend time with veterans at the hospital.
I must emphasize that this is not a starry-eyed homage to campus conservatism. I myself am neither a conservative nor a Republican. However, even in light of my own political standpoint, I feel it is necessary to give credit where it is due and acknowledge the efforts of Stanford’s right-of-center population to give back to those around them.
The Catholic Community at Stanford provides another example of a traditionally conservative constituency doing its part to provide public service. The group offers a diverse agenda of community initiatives and social programs aimed at inspiring participants to think of those around them – a sentiment that the CCS maintains is integral to being a Christian.
In the past month alone, they motivated members to volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen, had a Q&A session with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and spent time helping out at the Heritage Home in San Jose. Upcoming events in February include making Valentine’s Day cards for hospital patients, doing visits and volunteering with AIDS patients and at nursing homes, and working with Habitat for Humanity in San Francisco.
In a similar vein, The Hoover Institution, the conservative think tank here at Stanford, focuses many of its efforts on education reform in the US. It not only participates in the Education Next initiative to improve the quality of grade schools, but its Task Force on K-12 Education works to research and provide solutions for the problems plaguing the country’s public schools.
Rather than simply sanctifying the efforts of campus conservatives, my hope is that others, inspired by these programs, will be driven to perform service as well. In an article written almost one decade ago – in July 2000 – for the New York Times, a social worker named Sara Mosle commented on the state of volunteerism in the U.S. Since the Reagan administration, she observed an unsettling trend in which politicians looked to individual volunteers to take up the government’s role of providing vital services to the poor.
She reported on how church groups – from the conservative National Association of Evangelicals to the more liberal United States Catholic Conference – came together in Washington D.C. to demand government step up its role in providing for the poor. As one reverend complained, “Since welfare reform passed, all these problems have been dumped at the churches’ feet, but we can’t do it all.”
A turbulent ten years later, what is the state of public service in America? Recent indicators show hope for our country: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percent of the population that volunteered at some point in 2009 was 26.8%, up from 26.4% in 2008 and 26.2% in 2007.
In light of the continuing community-focused activities of Stanford conservatives, it is clear the ethical tradition of compassionate conservatism is not dead. Across the country, conservatives disregard the morally abhorrent attitudes of people like lieutenant governor Bauer, and focus their efforts on public service for the betterment of those around them. I applaud the initiatives of all groups on campus that volunteer selflessly for the benefit of others. These groups have shown that fiscal conservatism does not mean rejecting the needs and pleas of the poor and downtrodden, but that it is possible for anyone – regardless of political ideology – to care for their communities.
Nikola Milanoviç is a junior majoring in Philosophy and Political Science. He is currently Business Manager of the Stanford Progressive, Assistant Editor of the Stanford Dualist, and a weekly columnist for the Stanford Daily. He is Catholic and also a lifelong liberal.