The Com­pas­sion­ate Com­mu­ni­ty: Ten Val­ues to Unite America

Jonathan Miller
  • Review
By – May 14, 2012

Jonathan Miller, State Trea­sur­er of Ken­tucky, must be a very nice guy. This seems evi­dent in every rea­son­able word he writes in his polit­i­cal man­i­festo, The Com­pas­sion­ate Com­mu­ni­ty. He is also a par­ti­san Demo­c­rat, and the sub­ti­tle of his book should read: Ten Val­ues Behind Which I Believe the Democ­rats Can Unite Amer­i­ca. His unique sell­ing propo­si­tion to his fel­low par­ty lead­ers is that we need not fear reli­gious Amer­i­cans. Instead, we can craft a set of poli­cies that will appeal to them, as long as we sprin­kle some Bible sto­ries around the par­ty platform. 

Miller goes on to demon­strate how this can be done, in ten chap­ters, each one built around a par­tic­u­lar pol­i­cy debate and per­son­al rem­i­nis­cences. So far, so good. Many of his sto­ries are inter­est­ing, some are poignant, and more than a few of his pol­i­cy ideas are new and sen­si­ble. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Miller doesn’t stop there. He feels it nec­es­sary to tie his pro­pos­als by very thin reeds to sto­ries and char­ac­ters of the Old Tes­ta­ment. His bib­li­cal inter­pre­ta­tion is banal, and his attempts to make polit­i­cal hay are so trans­par­ent as to appear insin­cere. While this tech­nique might work well enough as a speech in front of a friend­ly audi­ence, it fails to con­vince as writ­ten word. The sto­ry of Noah and the Ark just can’t with­out vio­lence be made into a para­ble in sup­port of Lyn­don Johnson’s Great Society. 

Instead, what we have is a pro­tégé of Al Gore — who has writ­ten an After­word — try­ing to make the case for inject­ing reli­gious lan­guage into pol­i­cy debates, but in a very ecu­meni­cal, non-spe­cif­ic way. Miller goes beyond his own Jew­ish back­ground to pull exam­ples from Islam, Chris­tian­i­ty and Hin­duism, as if focus­ing on the Old Tes­ta­ment is some­how not quite polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect. He fails to real­ize that what works for his polit­i­cal oppo­nents is their sin­cere and out­right appeal to reli­gious com­mon­al­i­ty. I have no doubt that we will hear more about Jonathan Miller. His pol­i­cy argu­ments, if not his reli­gious ones, deserve a hear­ing. After­word, appen­dices, index.

Jeff Bogursky reads a lot, writes a lit­tle and talks quite a bit. He is a media exec­u­tive and expert in dig­i­tal media.

Discussion Questions