When Mitt Romney made a political mistake by being honest-he infamously announced that he was "not concerned about the very poor"-he confirmed "one of the oldest stereotypes in American politics: that conservatives are uncaring, hardhearted skinflints, unworthy to govern a people known for charity and compassion." That's the good analysis of the Hudson Institute's William Schambra in a Chronicle of Philanthropy article last week, "Is Conservative Philanthropy Ignoring the Poor?"
Schambra, a former Bradley Foundation officer, noted, "Conservative philanthropy once helped dispel that stereotype by developing thoughtful private approaches to poverty. Unhappily, it now simply reinforces unfavorable impressions by focusing on short-term political advocacy rather than long-term civic problem solving." He's right. During the 1990s, foundations like Bradley advanced ideas like school choice and faith-based poverty fighting. This was small-government compassionate conservatism: "While reducing government presence, such programs would also resuscitate the innate capacities of vibrant local communities to solve their own problems according to their own values and beliefs."
But now, Schambra writes, "The patient pursuit of long-term vision has given way to the lunge for an immediate legislative or electoral win on a specific, narrow-bore issue closely reflecting conservative ideology. Grant makers expect sharply defined, short-term, measurable political outcomes rather than barely perceptible, immeasurable shifts in long-term social attitudes. The quick political pay-off has replaced the gradual reshaping of the social and cultural environment."
Schambra offers a proposal: "For conservatives to escape not only the appearance but also the damning reality of hardheartedness, their philanthropies must devote serious resources once again to the revival of civil society. Above all, they must locate, support, and become directly involved with the grass-roots groups in their own communities that best demonstrate the power of civil society." Amen.