- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Conservatives who chafe at the twinning of conservatism and selfishness implied or stated outright by liberals should hear charity expert Arthur C. Brooks. The opposite of the convenient “altruistic liberals, selfish conservatives” stereotype appears to be true — mostly because the average religious person is very charitable and, more often than not, is also a political conservative.

In total, conservative households donate about 30 percent more money to charity each year than liberal households, Mr. Brooks has found. Don’t plumb this for hidden political significance. The explanation: Churchgoing America is both disproportionately conservative and much likelier to give to charity than non-observant, disproportionately liberal America.

Among Mr. Brooks’ most interesting findings, contained in “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism,” is the red state/blue state divide. Measured as a percentage of income, Maryland is the only blue state to break the top 25. One wonders what has happened to charity in wealthy coastal states like California, New York and Connecticut — which, for the record, still donate large absolute sums of money. Residents of these states simply do not donate as large a share of their income as the nice and modest folk in flyover-land cities like Topeka, Kansas, or Sioux Falls, S.D. Residents in the latter were found by ABC’s “20/20” this week to donate twice as much money as San Franciscans to Salvation Army buckets in a test the show arranged.

The discrepancy also crops up in nonfinancial matters. For instance, if liberals were to give blood at the rates that conservatives do, America’s blood supply would rise by 45 percent, Mr. Brooks found.

The fault line in American giving, religion, constitutes a “charity gap,” according to Mr. Brooks, which is the best explanation of why certain people give the way they do, and others do not. There is a culture of giving and altruism in America that is highly associated with religious faith and practice, which in turn is highly associated with conservatism.

Or maybe we could put it simply: Good things go together.

How about this as a compromise: Conservatives can refrain from reading mean-spiritedness into liberalism on the basis of Mr. Brooks’ findings if liberals will simply stop trying to impute cold-heartedness to conservative ideas they don’t like.

Now that would be a most charitable and selfless act, for everyone.

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