Spreading Compassion, Conservatively

George II, also known by the Supreme Court as the "President," has asked us all to help make this a more compassionate nation. Some leading Democrats have already been pitching in -- showing compassion to John Ashcroft, for example. Since many Americans have not yet gotten the hang of "compassionate conservatism," here are a few simple suggestions for things that you, as a plain, ordinary, sub-billionaire citizen can do, right now, to end the tragic compassion deficit we are left with after eight years of Democratic rule.

First, show a little compassion to George W. himself. Here is a fellow whose tenure as governor of Texas was rarely interrupted by anything more arduous than a photo-op with the Austin 4-H club, now suddenly thrust into a fiercely workaholic situation where even afternoon milk-and-cookies is likely to be consumed during some dull and over-long meeting.

Help W. survive Meeting Hell: Send him your leftover coloring books today! Not only will they help him pass the interminable four years ahead, but they will give him and Laura many purposeful evenings classifying them according to the Dewey Decimal system, which she has -- ever the conscientious librarian! -- already applied to her own collection of well over twenty volumes.

Speaking of Laura, you might want to send her a copy of The Brothers Karamazov. True, it's slow going and by a foreign author of unspellable surname, but she claimed during the campaign that her favorite "book" was The Grand Inquisitor, and she might want to check out the context. Please, hold that snicker, you over-educated prigs: If she confused the chapter with the book -- well, we all know about those Texas schools.

This should be a bipartisan program, of course, this effort to increase the net compassion supply, so you might want to direct a little loving-kindness toward our new Senator from New York. You know who I mean -- the displaced homemaker who now has two vast million-dollar-plus homes (one in Chappaqua, one in D.C.) to furnish and clean. Think hard: Do you have anything to help fill the void left by Chelsea, Bill, and now Socks? A garrulous elderly relative, a throw pillow or two? Or you could commemorate her service as First Lady by sending her one of those stacks of medical bills rejected by your health insurance company -- so essential these days to giving a home that "lived in" look.

In the same bipartisan spirit, you might want to do something for Jesse Jackson, just in case he fails in his bid to become Father of the Year. Now we finally know what to make of his recent lunge toward Wall Street: It was a cry for help! It's not easy supporting a Love Child on lecture fees, so, along with those condoms that America's shock jocks are urging you to send him, please enclose a sizable check.

But to return to Republican compassion-targets: Consider finding a way to help poor John Ashcroft, who is a "man of integrity," as we heard over and over, from Senators on both sides of the aisle -- so much integrity, in fact, that he refuses to denounce his many friends on the pro-slavery right. It will be painful for him -- mortifying, in fact -- to attend meetings alongside people like Colin and Condoleezza, who might, had it not been for Lee's unfortunate defeat, have been put to better use pouring the coffee, passing the donut tray, and uttering obsequious pleasantries in their native dialect. What can you send that will help him maintain a modicum of self-esteem under these trying circumstances? A small whip, perhaps, colored to blend with his pin-stripes or, for those special occasions, a hooded white robe.

The economy, too, could use some compassion, especially the deeply challenged high-tech sector. Only the hardest hearted, most Scrooge-like individual could sit back and calmly watch the Nasdaq flutter ever downwards toward its doom. So get out there, I say, and buy some Lucent stock or a few shares of a mortally ill e-commerce company! Don't leave it to the wealthy to bail out our hard-pressed entrepreneurial class. They're oppressed enough by the bear market, and deserve some compassion themselves: Some of them have yachts that haven't been upgraded in months, and the market for fourth and fifth homes has taken a nosedive. Even the most-pressed among you has something to invest in our poor, sick markets -- the money you were saving for your kids' college education, for example, or for that long-postponed cancer surgery.

There are individual corporations that could use some compassion too, and, remember, in our system, a corporation is a kind of "individual" -- a person just like you and me -- and as capable as we are of feeling pain. Those drug companies, for example, who must endure continual calumny simply for charging enough to enable them to create new life-saving wonder drugs like Viagra and Rogaine. Maybe you have something around the house that you could donate for pharmaceutical research -- some spare organs, amputated limbs, or bodily excretions encrusted on your carpet or couch. Send them in!

Not to mention the oil companies, which, again, endure all kinds of insults on account of their prices, when, as we all know, those prices merely reflect the companies' frustration at being held back from drilling in our national parks and sacred Inuit lands. Could you offer your backyard instead? (The rigs do double duty as clotheslines and playground equipment.) Or perhaps you are holding back on other potentially exploitable sources of oil -- an overactive sebaceous gland, for example, or your spouse's version of hash brown potatoes?

Finally, there is that perpetual magnet for compassion -- the unborn. True, they are funny looking and unlikely to venture outdoors, but many of them voted for George II in Florida (well, someone did) and he loves them as if they were his own daughters or fellow oil magnates. Do you know an abortion provider you could snub in the supermarket checkout line or pepper with automatic weapon fire? Then go for it. And I would add to the unborn the not-yet-conceived, who are smaller and even funnier looking, but far more numerous. If you know of some soon-to-be homeless spermatozoa and you have a working womb in which to welcome them -- well, you know what to do.

See how easy it is? Let compassionate conservatism rule!

Barbara Ehrenreich is a columnist for The Progressive. Her latest book, "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in Boom-Time America," is forthcoming in May from Metropolitan Books.


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