Well, in terms of reaction to the Gujarat earthquake, we glimpse an attitude not unlike Empress Marie Antoinette, whose lack of sympathy for the suffering of the poor continues to be mentioned with disgust two centuries after her execution. (“Let them eat cake if they don’t have bread.”)
As known, an earthquake devastated Gujarat on Jan. 26, 2001. Thousands were killed and millions of dollars worth of property was destroyed. Television cameras captured the destruction and the suffering of the survivors vividly. Indeed, the pictures have helped create a groundswell of sympathy for the victims. While the groundswell of sympathy may have translated into aid and other contributions at the personal level, it failed to mobilize significant reaction from the U.S. Federal Government.
It is important to briefly dwell on the nature of American aid before discussing its implications.
Besides condolence messages from Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr., the U.S. responded by offering $5 million dollars on Jan. 28 through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). While some of other G8 countries sent in crews to help with rescue work, the U.S. was conspicuous by its absence. Indeed, Senator Brownback (R-KS) regretted the U.S. lack of direct involvement in providing relief in his remarks at Washington’s Brookings Institute on Feb. 13.
A discussion about the magnitude of the devastation on the floor of the House of Representatives resulted in the increase of aid to a paltry $10 million with Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) actually voting against the resolution. Only in early March, did U.S. government agencies belatedly pledge a total of $25 million to earthquake relief operations in India.
The lack of reaction from the White House is distressing given the magnitude of the calamity and the urgent need for aid. Indeed, the implications of such inaction call into question the very nature of future U.S. policy towards developing countries.
“Compassionate Conservatism” has been one of the new buzzwords in the Bush administration. While the term has been bandied frequently, its nature and implications remain something of a mystery.
If intent is to be measured through action, the lack of action in Gujarat begs the question: How much compassion can we expect in compassionate conservatism? Prima facie, the implications of conservatism in “compassionate conservatism” are more social than fiscal; one would expect the adjectival “compassionate” to apply fiscally.
Lack of support for abortion rights (e.g. funding cuts to agencies promoting abortion rights) and appointment of arch conservatives like John Ashcroft as attorney general leave no doubt about the new administration’s socially conservative intentions. The international ramifications of such ultra-conservative social policy cannot be ignored: breaking the backbone of population control in developing countries will be the proverbial straw to break many backs.
In a fiscal context, it is expected that conservatism be tempered with compassion. While slashing taxes is a much-chanted mantra, would it be at the cost of much needed international aid? The U.S., which never lets others forget about it being the world’s sole superpower, has a greater duty towards international aid and development than what has been demonstrated. Indeed, reinforcing international security and playing the samaritan are two faces of the same coin.
Unfortunately, the conservative practice of vigilance towards taxpayer money with an eagle’s eye seems to overshadow the compassion aspect in the context of international assistance. Indeed, the paltry amount sanctioned towards earthquake relief raises the prospect of the new government showing no more compassion than an eagle pecking any intruder. In view of the repeated requests for more aid, the lack of adequate response is unreasonable to the extent of being mean-spirited.
Combined with the inadequate or non-existent knowledge of Dubya and company about international affairs, the possibility of conservatism elbowing compassion into the cold becomes a real and truly frightening prospect.
Dubya’s “expertise” in international reflected was obvious in the second of the recent presidential debates. His replies to questions about the conflict in the Balkans evoked as much mirth as Dan Quayle’ regretting his inability to speak Latin in Latin America. Mispronouncing the Canadian prime minister’s name and an insistence on Mexico being U.S.’ largest trading partner by his colleagues cast a grave shadow on Dubya et al’s understanding of happenings outside the U.S.
Since promoting international assistance relies on a shrewd understanding of international affairs, the chances of the present U.S. government playing the proverbial samaritan in tandem with its self-professed role of international protector are bleak.
The observed absence of compassion in compassionate conservatism results from ultraconservative social policy, a conservative fiscal policy (read “miserly”) and blissful ignorance of international happenings.
Marie Antoinette’s words of infamy, “Let them eat cake if they don’t have bread,” may well capture the White House’s attitude towards developing countries in the future.
Dismissed as third-rate nations, developing countries may count on no more than a few third-rate crumbs from the superpower, even when faced with a natural calamity. Given the dependency of some developing nations on the richer nations, the innocuous expression “compassionate conservatism” may well prove to be a euphemism for “pulverizing parsimony.”
S. Gopikrishna writes on issues of pertinence to Indian-Americans and other immigrants.