Samuel Johnson once reported on a man who was privately stingy but publicly touted the merits of sharing. Dr. Johnson said sarcastically that the man was a “friend of goodness.” What he meant was that flesh-and-blood goodness is very different from supporting “Goodness” in the abstract.
Many modern liberals like to openly discuss their altruism. Garrison Keillor explains that “I am liberal and liberalism is the politics of kindness.” But it rarely seems to turn into acts of kindness, especially when it comes to making charitable donations.
Consider the case of Andrew Cuomo, current New York Attorney General and advocate for the homeless. He has, according to his website, “compassion toward the most vulnerable of us.” And this is how the New York Times described the courtship of Kerry Kennedy (of guess which family): “Ms. Kennedy-Cuomo, 43, said she fell in love with Mr. Cuomo, 45, when he took her on a tour of a homeless shelter on their first date and agreed to fast for the labor leader Cesar Chavez.”
But that advocacy should not be confused with actually giving to the less fortunate. Cuomo was a homeless advocate throughout the 1990s, but according to his own tax returns he made no charitable contributions between 1996 and 1999. In 2000 he donated a whopping $2,750. In 2004 and 2005, Cuomo had more than $1.5 million in adjusted gross income but gave a paltry $2,000 to charity.
Cuomo made no charitable contributions in 2003, when his income was a bit less than $300,000.
CUOMO IS NOT alone in this Scroogery of course. Barack Obama has a rather poor track record when it comes to charitable contributions. He consistently gave 1 percent of his income to charity. In his most charitable year, 2005, he earned $1.7 million (two and a half times what George W. Bush earned) but gave about the same dollar amount as the President.
The last two Democratic Party nominees for President have come up short on the charity scale. Al Gore has been famously stingy when it comes to actually giving his own money to charities. In 1998 he was embarrassed when his tax returns revealed that he gave just $353 to charity.
Gore’s office initially defended the action, claiming that the Gores had often given “food and clothing to the homeless.” But when no one showed up in cast-off clothes, Gore’s spokesman Chris Lehane offered a typical “friend of Goodness” response saying that you could only “truly judge a person’s commitment to helping others” you needed to see “what they have done with their lives.” In other words, politics was charity work.
Senator John Kerry likewise has a poor record. In 1995 he gave zero to charity, but did spend $500,000 to buy a half stake in a seventeenth century painting. In 1993, he gave $175 to the needy. Later, of course, Kerry married the rich widow Theresa Heinz, and today is active in charitable causes using the Heinz foundation as his vehicle.
Senator Ted Kennedy has clearly relished his role over the years as a liberal Robin Hood. He once told Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, “I come from an advantaged life, and I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to get re-elected to the U.S. Senate by taking food out of the mouths of needy children.” But this should not be confused with Senator Kennedy actually giving much money to needy children.
Kennedy’s tax returns are obviously a closely guarded secret. But when he chose to run for President in the 1970s, he released some of them. With a net worth of more than $8 million in the early 1970s and an income of $461,444 from a series of family trusts, Senator Robin Hood gave barely 1 percent of his income to charity. The sum is about as much as Kennedy claimed as a write-off on his fifty-foot sailing sloop Curragh.
Robert Reich, once Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor and now a professor at Berkeley, has been outspoken about how greedy conservatives are. Conservatives believe in “reviving social Darwinism” and because of conservatives, “America has placed too high a value on selfishness.”
But when he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, he was all but forced to release his tax returns. It’s not a pretty picture. Reich’s 1040 reveals an income of more than $1 million, much of it giving speeches to corporations and universities for up to $40,000 a pop. He contributed just $2,714 to charity, or .2 percent of his income — note the decimal — and not all of that was cash. Part of it was the value of a donation of a used drum set to an organization called City of Peace.
Jesse Jackson has often claimed that he operates from a “liberal spirit of compassion and love” while conservatives are “heartless and uncaring toward the silent poor.” But according to his publicly-released tax returns, he regularly donates less than 1 percent to charity.
Jackson and his family have also established a charitable foundation called the Jackson Foundation to support the underprivileged. According to tax records, the foundation board is controlled by family members and they receive large contributions from corporations. In 2004, for example, they collected $964,000 from corporations like McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch, and GMAC.
When asked on the tax form to described “direct charitable activities,” the foundation responded: “none.” From the close to million dollars collected, they gave away only $46,000 to a couple of colleges. The Jackson Foundation spent nearly twice that amount — $84,172 — on a “gala celebration” in honor of — you guessed it — Jesse Jackson.
NOR IS THIS liberal tightfistedness anything new. The greatest liberal icon of the 20th Century is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is regarded by many on the left as the personification of charity and compassion, but FDR actually has a slim record when it comes to giving to charity.
Roosevelt had an average income of $93,000 ($1.3 million in today’s dollars) but gave away about 3 percent of his income to charity. In 1935, during the height of the Great Depression, when people really could have used it, he donated just 2 percent.
This evidence of liberal hypocrisy is damning enough, but what really amazes is how poorly these liberals do in comparison to so-called “heartless conservatives.” President Ronald Reagan, for instance, was often called heartless and callous by liberals. Unlike Roosevelt or JFK, Reagan was not a wealthy man when he became president. He had no family trust or investment portfolio to fall back on.
And yet, according to his tax returns, Reagan donated more than four times more to charity — both in terms of actual money and on a percentage basis — than Senator Ted Kennedy. And he gave more to charities with less income than FDR did. In 1985, for example, he gave away 6 percent of his income.
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have continued this Reagan record. During the early 1990s, George W. Bush regularly gave away more than 10 percent of his income. In 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney gave away 77 percent of his income to charity. He was actually criticized by some liberal bloggers for this, who claimed he was getting too much of a tax deduction.
The main point of liberal compassion appears to be making liberals feel good about their superior virtue. Such are the rewards of being a “friend of goodness.”