In yet another variation of his standard line, today George Will argues that when it comes to charity, liberal people and places lag behind conservatives and so "liberals" are little more than disingenuous bleeding hearts.  This combines Will’s love of the ad hominem tu quoque–the irrelevant charge of hypocrisy–with his love of the straw man–the purposeful distortion of his opponent’s view in order to knock it down (look here for a description of these particular logical errors).  His argument goes like this:

  • Liberals, judging by their bumper stickers in Austin, Texas are self-described bleeding hearts (they are motivated by pity and pity alone).
  • Self-described conservatives are more charitable than self-described liberals.
  • By their own self-description, liberals ought to be more charitable (on account of their bleeding hearts), so liberals are either:
  • (a) hypocrites for being all hat and no cattle (this is Texas we’re talking about); or (b) dumb to wait around for government to do the work that can be done by charity right now.

This argument sounds vaguely familiar.  Megan McCardle, a "liberatarian" blogger for the Atlantic Monthly, has made similar charges (discussed here and here on Crooked Timber).  She argues that if liberals want the government to tax so much, then why don’t they just give extra money voluntarily.  They don’t.  So there.  It also sounds like any similar charge of hypocrisy–if you cared so much about it, then why don’t you do something (for it, to stop it, etc.)? 

But that’s not really the point.  By any measure, liberalism is a broad political view about the just structure of government and the just distribution of goods.  Liberals will differ about the meaning of either of those things (They’ll differ to the same extent that conservatives will differ about the proper role of government).

More importantly, liberals will also differ about the reasons for their "liberalism."  Indeed, some liberals–some–might qualify as the "bleeding heart type" who fit Will’s perpetual caricature.  They whine about injustice, but they really don’t care.  Pointing out their hypocrisy might be entertaining, but it’s basically worthless.  They don’t represent all that is the liberal position.  Nor does their hypocrisy demonstrate anything about their broader political view. 

One can be liberal for reasons that have nothing to do with bleeding hearts, pity, or care.  And the strength (if it has any) of the liberal position has nothing do with the feelings and action of individual liberals–any more, at least, than the weakness of conservatism is demonstrated by the appallingly bad arguments of a pundit for the Washington Post.

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