Beware when politicians talk about "compassion," especially when they hold a "Compassion Forum" to do it, which is what they did at the appropriately named Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pa. Politicians identify with the messianic because they think they are God's gift to America.
The forum attracted Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but not Republican John McCain, who apparently saw it for what it was: an attempt by the Democrats to get back in the religion game.
You've got to hand it to Clinton and Obama. They did their Sunday school homework. They quoted Bible verses and told religious stories like it was testimony time at an old-fashioned revival meeting. "Yes, indeed, brothers and sisters. We Democrats have seen the light. We once were blind secular humanists, but now we see into the electoral Promised Land! Vote for us and we will deliver you from the sin of ever having voted for a Republican!"
This is nothing new, of course. As recently as George W. Bush and as far back as the founding of the nation, politicians have invoked God in favor of their candidacy and policies. But God can't simultaneously approve of one political party or policy and its opposite. Abraham Lincoln gave us the best line on the idea of a schizophrenic deity when he said about Northern and Southern religious people in his Second Inaugural Address: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other."
Does God favor the Democrats' proposal for an Iraq pullout? How could he if President Bush hears the voice of God and takes a different path? What was that you said, Mr. Lincoln, about a house divided not being able to stand? Oh yes, you were quoting Scripture, too, but you also once made a larger point; something about it being less important that God is on our side than if we are on God's side.
Before government hijacked charity in the form of the New Deal and Great Society, compassion and charity began at home. People were to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, care for widows and orphans and love their enemies. Those were biblical commands to individuals, not government. Democratic politicians see things differently. Apparently believing there aren't enough caring people, they want compassion to originate in Washington, depriving it of its true meaning. They define compassion as big and ever-growing government and a guaranteed check forever with no expectation - or requirement - the recipient will ever better his or her circumstances.
Traditionally, Republican compassion has encouraged private charity with government picking up the leftovers of what religious and other charitable institutions were unable to do. President Bush, through his "faith-based initiative," took this one step further by subsidizing religious groups with federal money. This removes the responsibility and privilege from individuals and turns it over to government. When that happens, religious organizations become one more constituency in the never-ending campaign for political support. Once, evangelicals "prayed it in" when they needed money. Now too many of them ask government to "send it in."
Can Obama and Clinton get away with fooling Democrats as Republican politicians have sometimes fooled their supporters with God-talk? Of course they can.
At a press conference in a working-class neighborhood in Scranton, Pa., over the weekend, one questioner asked Clinton about the last time she went to church. She properly ridiculed the statement, finally admitting it was on Easter Sunday. What does that have to do with being a successful president?
Whether or how many times Obama and Clinton (or McCain) attend church services is no barometer for forecasting their potential presidency.
When politicians speak of compassion, put your hand on your wallet because they intend to spend your money, not theirs.