The Difference Between Feeling Good and Doing Good

Do you enjoy being conservative? Is it fun for you? Do you enjoy constantly being mocked by your self-righteous peers and swaggering college professors as they trample on your cherished values? I know I don’t. And yet I remain not merely a conservative, but a devoted conservative.

It takes a special kind of courage to stand up for what is unpopular. We know immediately that there is no social reward. Yet we persist in our belief, unable to escape the truth that lies at its heart. Conservatives understand the paradox: the best way for government to improve society is for it to not try to improve society in the first place. We realize the unintended consequences of such attempts often hurt the people they aim to help. Regardless of how we present our reasoning, it seems relatively certain that our defenses of capitalism and traditionalism will be met only with accusations of greed and bigotry.

Consider Newt Gingrich’s controversial remarks about poor children. He accurately pointed out that in low income environments, children do not see the rewards of hard work and thus saw crime as the only viable means of making a living. Perhaps his point was crassly stated, but the basic purpose of Gingrich’s statement was not to chastise poor children, but to draw attention to a problem that affects them so that it may be solved and they might live better. However, Newt Gingrich was tarred as a cruel and uncaring man for those statements.

No matter how outrageous the beliefs of the Left, they always claim the moral high ground. After all, they have no interest in making money, and who wouldn’t want to help out the poor and champion the rights of the oppressed?  They want to raise the minimum wage not because they gain anything from it, but because they hear the plight of working class families and wish for them to live better.  The fact that minimum wage increases have consistently been shown to hurt lower income families by denying them entry into the labor market seems to be of little consequence. Gay couples should be able to adopt children because it’s a basic right that heterosexual couples have; what’s the difference?  When these demands have been met in the past, Catholic orphanages have been forced to shut their doors, no longer able to provide for children under the new laws because of their inability to adopt children to gay couples.  Liberals are the “good guys” fighting a good fight.  Even if they are wrong, they at least deserve to be right.  Regardless of the result, the good liberal has already made the world a better place simply by being a liberal.

There is no escaping the fact that it just plain feels good to be a liberal. Liberal slogans like “we are the 99%” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” and now the new liberal pastime of posing before cameras with note cards bearing their whiny stories of entitlement all seem to reflect a vacant sense of self-congratulation.  Perhaps no better example exists than the alarming video released by the socialist “Generation We” project brought to our collective attention last month by fellow TCC writer Mark Mayberry. The entire video consists of various young people describing the profound impact that they will have on the political climate of the United States in the coming years. The people in the video are depicted as diverse, successful, and perhaps a bit smarter than you, according to academia, of course.  The tone is one of recrimination against those who have denied them their “birthright” by failing to create a nation where every last citizen’s needs are adequately met by the government.

Compared to the flamboyance of the left, conservatism seems decidedly lacking in artistic perspective. It does not seem likely that the right will ever create any appeals as provocative and artistic as as the left, but this isn’t such a bad thing. Conservatives do not create flashy advertisements to petition the government to help the poor because conservatives understand that the best help for those in need is done on a local or individual level by private charity organizations. While liberals dream up ever more clever ways to ask someone else to help someone, conservatives in churches and charities are doing their part for the good of all mankind.

While the Left shoves social justice down everyone’s throats, conservatives actually tend to be more charitable than liberals.  This is not to say that liberals accomplish nothing good or worthwhile and that conservatives are infallible; I’ve seen many examples to the contrary.  It is quite easy for a liberal to feel content that they have done good by supporting what they see as a cause that promises to end all evil in the world, regardless of whether that cause is actually doing good.  Conservatives have no such luxury.  If a right-winger feels the urge to help his fellow man, he has no option but to do so himself.

One could be forgiven for getting the impression that one school of political thought holds results as irrelevant as long as it can take credit for good intentions, the other ignoring the glamor of looking  like “good guys” in favor achieving real good.  Paying attention to the consequences of government policy and occasionally stepping up to do the work yourself may not be fashionable or easy. However, I am here to advocate what is right, not trendy.

William McMahon :: University of Missouri at Columbia :: Columbia, Missouri :: @WilliamAMcMahon



  1. Be what you want society to be…. One person is a powerful number…. Keep writing…Keep asking questions… Thanks for the article…..Ron

  2. Patti Sereby says:

    Great article!

  3. This article gives me hope.

  4. Linda Anderson says:

    Spot-on. One line in particular struck me, ‘Paying attention to the consequences of government policy and occasionally stepping up to do the work yourself may not be fashionable or easy.’ I am sure it was not easy to say all you said, given the current academic, not to mention political climate, but you have “that special kind of courage.” And we salute you.


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