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Death and Taxes

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Compassionate Conservatism. The words sounded promising in the early days of the presidential campaign. Compassion must be the bedrock of any Buddhist politics, and validating it as a core value of the Republican Party seemed a hopeful sign. The fact that under Governor Bush Texas had executed 152 people—a rate of one state-sponsored killing every two weeks—suggested a narrow definition, but we waited to discern what form compassion would take under the new president.

We didn’t have to wait long. Soon after the inauguration, the White House announced the new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in a document entitled Rallying the Armies of Compassion. It begins with these words:

America is rich materially, but there remains too much poverty and despair amidst abundance. . . . Government has a solemn responsibility to help meet the needs of poor Americans and distressed neighborhoods, but it does not have a monopoly on compassion. America is richly blessed by the diversity and vigor of neighborhood healers. . . . These quiet heroes lift people’s lives in ways that are beyond government’s know-how. . . and they heal our nation’s ills one heart and one act of kindness at a time.

The purpose of the new office is to “energize civil society and rebuild social capital” by enabling small faith-based institutions . . .

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