The Public Interest

Compassion, religion, and politics

Arthur C. Brooks

Fall 2004

AS FILM director Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” Of course, he was talking about the darker side of the comedian’s art.  But to listen to the American news media and many of our most prominent opinion leaders, you would think he was describing political conservatives’ outlook on life. The Right, so the thinking goes, is baldly uncompassionate. One would almost get the impression that they reveled in their schadenfreude. For example, after 20 years, the most frequent criticism of Ronald Reagan’s presidency appears to be its lack of compassion: for AIDS victims, the homeless, racial minorities, and the list goes on. Whether or not this is an ad hominem substitute for a substantive policy criticism, it is still strikingly common to hear in the elite mainstream news media, as a Boston Globe columnist recently stated, that Reagan’s presidency was “the most antipoor, antiblack, and antidisadvantaged in the latter half of the 20th century.”

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