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 “Compassion” and Talk Radio 

October 16, 2003

As I noted the other day, I almost feel I never knew what hate really was until I saw the liberal reaction to Rush Limbaugh’s drug problem. The Germans have a word for this sort of spiteful glee in others’ suffering, but it’s hard to spell and you probably know it anyway.

What makes this gloating insufferable is that so many of the guy’s ill-wishers add the pious wish that his miseries will teach him to be a more “compassionate person.” You know, like them.

Well, maybe it will. When King Lear foolishly gives away his kingdom and winds up roughing it out on a stormy heath, he thinks, for the first time in his long life — he’s “fourscore and upward” — of all the poor people who have never lived in the style to which he has become accustomed. And he feels for them, and regrets having been indifferent to them: “O, I have ta’en too little care of this!”

But to a liberal, that would mean that Lear should have turned England into a welfare state. To a liberal, the state is the natural channel of “compassion.” And so it follows, as the night the day, that we should all be praying (though not on public property, of course) that Limbaugh’s travails will turn him into a liberal.

That would admittedly solve a big problem for liberals. They’ve been trying to figure out a way to counter Limbaugh on talk radio. The trouble is that nobody can find a liberal Limbaugh. But if Limbaugh himself becomes a liberal, presto! A huge burden is lifted from the shoulders of Al Franken. Suddenly liberalism will dominate talk radio at last!

That, of course, would raise another problem. Who would listen?

Talk radio is a conservative medium. It has a gut appeal to basic — liberals would say atavistic — instincts: patriotism, piety, loyalty to family, love of private property, annoyance with the nanny state. If liberals could appeal to these things, they wouldn’t be liberals.

[Breaker quote: The latest socialist fantasy]Liberalism is at bottom an inversion of these values. Chesterton summed it up nicely as “the modern and morbid habit of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal.” It’s a kind of alienation from the normal and natural, as in the drive for legal abortion, gay marriage, the welfare state itself, and myriad other causes that attract liberals and baffle the rest of us.

“Hard cases make bad law,” says the old adage. But liberalism starts with the hard cases, then can’t draw the line anywhere. At first it wanted abortion legal in the first trimester for poor minority girls who’d been raped by their fathers; now it passionately resists restrictions on late-term slaughters of fully developed infants in the birth canal.

Who’s going to make this grisly stuff appetizing to the talk-radio audience? Limbaugh couldn’t do it any more than Al Franken could.

Why doesn’t liberal “compassion” extend to the unborn child? Because compassion has a special meaning in the liberal dialect.

In the liberal era, now waning, the state has been exalted in a new way. It has become the mediator of social concern. It released man from his traditional primary duties to his own flesh and blood, and imposed, chiefly through taxation, new political duties to total strangers. He could divorce his wife and abort his children, but he had to pay for the welfare of people he’d never met. “Compassion” became political and anonymous.

Old family obligations are now optional. But political duties are absolute. You can’t divorce the state, even if you’re trapped in an abusive relationship with it.

Liberalism is really piecemeal socialism, and socialism always attacks three basic social institutions: religion, the family, and private property. Religion, because it offers a rival authority to the state; the family, because it means a rival loyalty to the state; and property, because it means material independence of the state.

All must be equal — but equal under the state. This is the equality of interchangeable units, not the equality of free citizens. It rests not on compassion, but on massive, pervasive state coercion and limitless taxation.

In the long run, this means social collapse, as witness the mother of all socialist states, the Soviet Union, and our own inner cities.

But the socialist dream dies hard. The true believers still think it can be sustained and revived to win the hearts of the masses, if only it can take over talk radio. This is just the latest of many socialist fantasies.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
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