There is a quote wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill, the true origins of which are disputed. It goes something like this.
If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative by 35, you have no brains.
The sentiment is half right. Conservatism certainly results from prioritizing reason above empathy. However, there is nothing inherent to that priority which indicates a lack of empathy. In other words, the 20 year old conservative is not heartless. He is merely ahead of the curve.
Last week’s Real Time with Bill Maher featured a one-on-one interview with actor George Clooney. As an advocate for refuges in Sudan, Clooney talked up his work on their behalf. Always eager to twist any topic into an insult against conservatives, Maher attempted to derail the conversation and ended up planting his foot in his mouth.
Maher: We have Rob Reiner on the panel tonight. One of his big issues is gay marriage. He’s not gay, that we know. This is a big issue with you, Sudan. You’re not Sudanese.
Maher: I think this is a big difference between liberals and conservatives. You know, I don’t think conservatives are bad people. I think they have a hard time being empathetic to people who are not like them at all.
Clooney: Okay, now wait. I’ll tell you why – [the audience begins to applaud Maher’s remark]. Hang on a minute though. I’ll tell you why that’s not necessarily true, because this movement, the Sudanese movement, Darfur, the north south agreement, were really truly embraced by the Right even more so than the Left… They really were. I mean, Sam Brownback and I did press conferences together and, you know. When I talked to the senator, I said, “We don’t agree on a whole lot of stuff, but we both agree on this one.” And I’ve found that, over the years, on this particular issue specifically, and in a lot of the African countries, you can get a lot of conservative help.
I just met with Senator Dick Lugar, who’s the ranking member of [the] Foreign Relations [Committee…] [Lugar is] now in Khartoum, which is the capital where Omar Bashir is. [Lugar’s] going there to meet with them and then going to the south. We’re really trying to get everyone involved as much as possible, and they want to do it. All these guys, believe me, it’s a very big issue on the Right as well. We want everybody together doing this…
Properly smacked down, Maher did not pursue the point further. How could he?
Maher should have known better than to raise the point in the first place, since Clooney had mentioned working with church groups multiple times up to that point. Clooney apparently values actually helping people above cheap political rhetoric.