EDITORIAL: Perry reflects GOP's lack of compassion

York Dispatch

When running for the White House back in 2000, George W. Bush famously styled himself as a “compassionate conservative” — a tacit admission that the general brand of that particular political ideology wasn’t exactly known for its humanity.

Nearly two decades later, conservatives have not only shed the label of compassion, they’ve forfeited any claim to the sympathies it represents.

Pennsylvania’s Rep. Scott Perry offered just one example of this mindset during a pre-Christmas interview when he told a reporter from Politico that rank-and-file government workers wouldn’t be financially burdened by the pending government shutdown because they can easily forgo a paycheck or two.

“Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?” the York County Republican asked. “Why are government employees so sacrosanct? Private sector employees deal with this all the time.”

Yes, congressman, they do. With no help from Republican lawmakers who passed a $1 trillion-plus tax cut for their wealthy friends while leaving the middle and working classes with crumbs that will sunset in a few years.

Vice President Mike Pence rallies with candidates Scott Perry, left, and Lloyd Smucker during Pence's stop at Lancaster Airport in Lititz Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

Who’s counting the days to the next paycheck? Three-quarters of Americans, according to a 2017 study by CareerBuilder.com. The report found 78 percent of workers said they live paycheck to paycheck and 71 percent reported being in debt (with more than half of those saying the debt was unmanageable).

We would urge congressional Republicans — not to mention President Donald Trump — to keep these statistics in mind as they needlessly drag out an unnecessary government shutdown that has furloughed (or delayed paychecks for) hundreds of thousands of government workers. But we fear we are wasting our breath. Compassion for the lower classes is not a hallmark of conservative thinking.

In fact, it is a distinct lack of compassion that seems to drive the administration’s agenda. Its handling of the immigration issue is just one glaring example.

From restricting international travel from “majority Muslim” countries, to the unnecessary massing of American troops along the U.S. border, to new rules that complicate and prolong the process of applying for asylum, to a policy that separated young children and infants from the parents of families seeking asylum, there is not an ounce of compassion to be found.

The results of such policies have gone from heart-wrenching to shameful. The ongoing detention of thousands of young children in internment camps is horrific enough. Now comes word that a second child has died while in U.S. custody.

An 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died on Christmas Eve while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Control. This comes just weeks after the death of a 7-year-old girl, also from Guatemala, also in Border Control custody. Customs is only now changing its protocol for the handling of young immigrants.

Nor is this the only issue where compassion has been wanting.

The administration is working aggressively to institute new work requirements and restrictions on state waivers that could pull Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) benefits from three-quarters of a million Americans.

The administration has also proposed new guidelines for handling allegations of college assault that narrow the definition of such crimes while affording greater protections to the accused.

New and proposed voting restrictions seek to limit the voice of low-income and minority voters. Funding and legislative means are wielded against facilities providing women’s health services. Cuts to Social Security and other programs that benefit low-income Americans are urged to pay for the massive tax cut for the wealthy. Hundreds of thousands are affected by a government shutdown over a campaign symbol.

It’s a depressingly unempathetic worldview, and it seems to be driving much of what is coming out of Republican-ruled Washington.

Perry subsequently sought to defend his comments but, again, this misses the point. What York County, Pennsylvania and working Americans throughout the nation need are lawmakers who will defend them. Conservatives have shown neither the empathy, the compassion, nor, frankly, the interest in doing so.