Friday, June 30, 2006

Conservatives love philanthropy-- until they realize they can't control where the money goes.

You'd think everyone would be thrilled that two of the richest men in the world (in fact, according to the Fortune 500 list, perenially THE two richest men in the world), Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have joined forces to become great philanthropists, giving away billions to universities, libraries and other institutions around the world. Liberals would be thrilled because of how much money these institutions would receive to further their mission for the common good, conservatives would be thrilled because of the ability to demonstrate how the super rich can give back (in stark contrast to, most notably, the selfish Wal-Mart heirs whose main concern of late has been lobbying Congress to try and get rid of inheritance taxes, presumably to prevent any of their money from ever being used for the common good so they can pass it on to the next generation of plutocrats; it might be noted by the way that Buffett and Gates' father both signed a letter a couple of years ago in favor of keeping the estate tax.) So everyone (at least those not named Walton) should be thrilled, right?

Well, not some anti-abortion priests. Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, a Roman Catholic priest who is president of Human Life International said that

[Buffett] "will be known as the Dr. Mengele of philanthropy unless he repents."

That statement is an absolute outrage. First of all, Dr. Mengele, who carried out hideous 'experiments' on concentration camp prisoners, was anything but a philanthropist. To compare Warren Buffett to Dr. Mengele is an insult to the survivors of his 'experiments' (yes, there are still some out there) and marginalizes the crimes of one of the last century's most notorious criminals (probably the most evil of Hitler's henchmen to escape justice and die of natural causes.)

Secondly, Rev. Thomas is referring to money that Buffett has given to Planned Parenthood and birth control programs, and also money he donated in the 1990's specifically to fund clinical trials of the 'morning after' pill, RU-486, after misguided anti-abortion advocates thought they had prevented the trials by blocking Federal funding for them after Republicans took over Congress in 1994. They don't seem to have a problem with, for example, Domino's pizza founder Tom Monaghan giving generously to pro-life causes, so why should they be upset that Warren Buffett once chose to spend some of his money to pay for something that the Federal government didn't want to spend taxpayer money on? After all, isn't that the conservative ideal? Well, I guess not if it circumvents their circumvention.

Third, consider what Planned Parenthood is for. The name says it all. They teach family planning, birth control, and where necessary, that the morning after pill be available. All of which actually reduces the number of abortions! So by being angry about it, aren't Rev. Thomas and the others either showing that they haven't thought this all the way through, or else they are in effect admitting that it isn't about abortion at all, but about forcing 'wicked' women to 'pay' for their decision to have sex by becoming pregnant?

It's not just the Rev. Thomas either:

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, wrote a commentary this week holding the Buffetts partially responsible for the approval of RU-486 in 2000.

"Since then, approximately 500,000 American babies have been killed with RU-486," Perkins wrote. "Buffett's billions have the potential to do damage like this on a global scale."

I guess conservatives like philanthropy only as long as they can theorize about how it will replace government programs. But when it replaces the ones they actually wanted to can, then they go nuts.

And conservatives have a problem. Conservative billionaires either keep their money, or like the Wal-Mart heirs, invest it in lobbying big government. Liberal billionaires are mostly the philanthropists, which means that most of the money goes-- that's right, to liberal causes (conservatives who wanted to squeeze the budget reins to choke National Public Radio either off the air or into compliance are still ticked off about Joan Kroc's bequest of $200 million in her will, which makes NPR pretty much immune to most of what they can do, at least through the end of the Bush administration.)

I can't wait until the Gates foundation starts upgrading internet access in their local school or library, and they can't shut it down just by pleading that people would rather have a tax cut, nor make funding contingent on a censorship agreement. Can't you hear the outcry already?

Cross-posted at Deep Thought.

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