There are two recent posts on charitable giving that touch on each other tangentially. Michael at "Postcards From Myself" has a post entitled The politics of Altruism that explores different types of giving, and The Naked Theologian has a post entitled How good are we without God? exploring who does the giving. TNT writes about a new book by Robert Brooks about the difference in giving between liberals and conservatives. “When I started doing research on charity,” Mr. Brooks wrote, “I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”
Although liberals advocate on behalf of those who are hungry and homeless, Brooks’ data shows that conservative households give 30% more to charity. A Google poll puts these numbers even higher—at nearly 50% more. Conservatives even beat out liberals when it comes to nonfinancial contributions. People in the conservative states in the center of the country are more likely to volunteer and to give blood."
Actually neither TNT nor Mr. Brooks should have been surprised; if you Google "red state blue state charitable giving" you'll find research showing these results going back ten years- much of the research done by the charitable organizations on the receiving end of the giving. But TNT doesn't explore why. Conservatives believe it's because liberals are hypocrites; liberals find it inexplicable, because they know they genuinely care more about others than conservatives. I believe that the explanation- both of the giving, and of the views liberals and conservatives hold about each other- lies in the different types of giving described in "The politics of Altruism" being viewed through different ideological lenses.
Liberals believe much more in what Michael calls "the second method" than conservatives do. This is philanthropy by proxy, spending your time and/or money on organizations and programs that will do the charitable work, rather than doing it personally. And of course the ultimate in programs is the government; liberals believe in government programs and push them heavily. Since conservatives generally oppose these programs, liberals believe they don't care.
Conservatives tend to believe in the first method- direct, personal giving and doing. Secular conservatives believe in this method because they don't trust the government to do a good job, and fear political strings on their charity. Religious conservatives give directly because all facets of spiritual work are their personal responsibility, not a collective one- souls are saved retail, not wholesale. So no matter how many government charities a politician may set up, if he doesn't give personally he's not really giving- he must be a hypocrite.
The truth is that both care, and neither are hypocrites. And there are lessons both can take away- conservatives need to learn that there are some government programs worthy of supporting, and Joe Biden might consider giving more than seven-tenths of one percent of his income in charity (to use the example from TNT). But the most important thing for both of them to learn is to look a little deeper into their opponent's arguments, learn why they do the things they do, and stop demonizing one another.