In the wake of the Haiti earthquake tragedy, something unusual has been happening amongst conservatives. On talk radio, the blogosphere and elsewhere, some have been wondering how our government can afford to help Haiti given the current economic crisis in the United States. Considering the magnitude of the tragedy in Haiti, I found this to be a rather insensitive question. It’s also a good one.

Republican opposition to the Democrats’ national healthcare agenda is in large part due to the exorbitant cost, perceived inefficiency and intrusive, bureaucratic character of the plan. Still, argue liberals, there are too many Americans suffering for government to do nothing. Conservatives argue that there is only so much government can, or should, do. It’s time for conservatives to apply their argument more comprehensively.

In 2007 during a FOX News interview, when Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul suggested that the US was involved too much militarily around the world, talk host Sean Hannity asked “Are you saying then that the world has no moral obligation, like in the first Gulf War, when an innocent country’s being pillaged, and people are being raped and murdered and slaughtered, or in the case of Saddam, he’s gassing his own people, are you suggesting we have no moral obligation there? Do you stand by and let that immorality happen?” Paul responded “We have, on numerous occasions.” Hannity’s co-host Alan Colmes chimed in “the fact is the Reagan administration stood by while the Kurds were being gassed, it happened in 1988, we didn’t do anything.” Paul followed up “And what did we do with Pol Pot, what did we do with Moscow, what did we do at the time? We stood by while they did it to their people.” Flustered, Hannity replied “We got it, Ron, you would stand by and do that, I would not… I think that’s immoral.”

President Obama and the Democrats believe it’s immoral for government to stand by and not help uninsured Americans receive healthcare. Hannity disagrees and devotes a significant portion of his radio and television programs to opposing national healthcare. Is Hannity being immoral? Or is he simply taking the conservative position that despite the suffering that exists, government benevolence has its limits?

A nation possessing the wealth and power of the US should be in a position to help Haiti, at least temporarily, and this is something countless Americans have already done privately, donating millions. But these same Americans might not think it’s a good idea to provide government healthcare in their own country. Does this mean they simply do not care? Americans who donated to Haiti may not believe, for instance, that we should send our military to stop the genocide in the war-torn nation of Darfur, something liberals have long advocated using the same “we can’t stand by and do nothing” logic many conservatives used with Iraq. In continuing to just stand by, does this make the US “immoral?” Will Hannity soon devote significant portions of his radio and television programs to highlighting Darfur, a country that’s “being pillaged, and people are being raped and murdered and slaughtered?”

Haiti is close to the US in proximity and the earthquake was so overwhelmingly disastrous that it makes sense to most Americans to lend a helping hand, something that occurred even without government prompting. The US should be able to afford to help Haiti and the extent to which we technically are not—our government operates on a monstrous debt—is due in large part to the hyper extension of our supposed benevolence in other areas. Yet, how many conservatives who now oppose national healthcare due to the cost, or even more strangely, now question the US’s ability to send dollars to Haiti given our own bad economy, didn’t blink an eye over spending trillions on wars in the Middle East, often citing humanitarian reasons as an excuse?

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