By Kevin Avram
web posted October 2, 2000

Vera is contagious. Everything about her is larger than life. Because she has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she has a gigantic reservoir of humorous stories and embarrassing anecdotes to tell. Vera is a widow now, but for many years, she and her husband operated a medium-sized farm in a community that's adjacent to where I grew up.

The last time I was back in the old hometown, there was a family get-together over at an uncle's place. Vera was there, chattering and telling stories as always. When I walked into the family room, she was in the middle of a story about how she joined Weight Watchers to get skinny.

"I starved myself," she said, using her hands to draw attention to her wide girth. " I wanted to make sure that when I went to the meeting and got weighed in I hadn't put on any pounds!" Breaking into delightful laughter, she told everyone that it was all worth it because "after the meeting, I went to the bakery and bought long johns and tarts and muffins and washed them all down with a great big bottle of soda!"

She also told about getting stuck in an elevator at Sears, and what it was like the first time she tried on a girdle. That story had to do with how tiny it was, how big she was, and how it kept rolling down around her ankles whenever she bent over.

Vera's best buddy, my aunt, is a jewel. She's trained herself over the years to look out for the practical needs of others, whether it be a neighbor, a new mother, or a struggling senior. Neither Vera nor my aunt will tolerate irresponsibility, but when people are down on their luck or in need of a helping hand, they couldn't ask for two better friends.

Vera and my aunt organize fundraisers for sick and needy people, clean houses, watch people's kids, and willingly put their own money into the pockets of those who are struggling financially. They're forever surprising some shut-in or sick person by unexpectedly stopping by for a game of cards or a coffee and a chat. In other words, not only do they understand compassion, they live it.

George W. BushLately, Americans have been hearing a lot about compassion - mostly from politicians. The Democrats and Republicans argue about which of them is the most compassionate. And an increasing number of candidates claim that if elected, they'll use even more of our money to demonstrate how compassionate they really are. Although they don't come right out and say so, their objective is to put our money where their mouth is.

But in reality, are politicians who make such boasts talking about compassion or power? And if they are talking about compassion, how would pouring more millions or even billions into wasteful bureaucracies demonstrate such a thing? Obviously, it wouldn't.

If you consider that the money to cover the cost of government inefficiency is scooped out of the wallets and bank accounts of people like Vera and my aunt, it's natural to compare what politicians pass off as compassion with the deliberate and thoughtful acts of the many generous Americans who behave like Vera and my aunt. Anyone can figure out which brand of compassion is real and which is counterfeit.

The idea that politicians and bureaucracies have the ability to dispense compassion is a fairy tale. Compassionate conservatism is not about compassion, neither is compassionate liberalism. The former is about packaging. The latter is about power. No matter the party affiliation, anytime a politician says that if elected he'll use your money to express his compassion, be assured that somebody is being hoodwinked.

(c) Copyright 2000, by The Niobrara Institute, Bellevue University Campus, PO Box 540787, Omaha, NE 68154. Permission to reprint is granted to editors and publishers. Please assign credits consistent with professional publishing standards.

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