Compassion is back in fashion: what I learned at the DNC

My father is usually a cynic when it comes to politics. While he was growing up, the President was assassinated a few blocks away from his grade school. His freshman year of college, both of his idols, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, were assassinated one after another in a matter of months.

After watching the GOP debates last year, he uttered a phrase that I have always remembered vis-à-vis policy in this country: “compassion is out of fashion”. Republican candidates for President had been asked what to do with an indigent person with a gunshot wound showing up at a hospital, and the crowd had yelled “let him die!” Ayn Rand Objectivism is popular; it is okay to be a selfish, money-grubbing putz because that is the American dream. To hell with everyone else, climb up the ladder of success and then pull it up after you. While the Republican Party seemed to exacerbate the issue, Democrats were guilty of putting up with it and maintaining it as well.

This past week, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina with the delegation of my home state of Texas (yes, we have Democrats there too). What I was expecting was a retreat from the optimism of 2008 to the moderate cruelty and ambivalence of 2004. What I saw thoroughly impressed me, and gave me hope for the present and the future.

In stark contrast to the Republican’s theme of “we built it”, upward mobility, and the condemnation of global warming and other undisputed science, the Democrats had a theme of togetherness, equality, and a strong national defense. In a great rebuttal to the GOP’s seemingly new obsession with the national debt, President Bill Clinton, the only modern President to balance a budget, praised and endorsed Obama’s tactics on the economy and the budget. Reminiscent of the heavy focus on national defense at the 2004 RNC, speakers such as Senator John Kerry and former Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth praised the President’s ability to keep this nation safe, and many more lauded the accomplishment of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.

But perhaps most inspiring, most heartwarming, was the Democratic endorsement of a compassionate society and equitable economy. Raising taxes on the rich was a minimal talking point four years ago, now the candidates are unabashedly critical of the 1%, and are loud about repealing the bush tax cuts. The past few years had seen a bipartisan support for cruel, austere cuts that devastated poorer people, such as subtractions from food stamps, head start, and children’s health insurance. This year’s convention ran counter, with a slogan of “Americans coming together”.

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