Blow and Kristof

Ms. Collins is off today.  Mr. Blow considers the “Holiday Doldrums” and says this may be the season to be jolly, but not if you are a Republican.  In “How Giving Became Cool” Mr. Kristof says Ted Turner’s $1 billion donation to United Nations causes 15 years ago changed a business culture and reshaped philanthropy.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Republicans are apparently in a funk this holiday season.

According to recent polls, they are depressed and despondent.

A Gallup survey of our well-being released last week reported that “Republicans’ ratings of their lives worsened significantly in November, with their collective Life Evaluation Index score dropping to 40.3, from 47.0 in October.” Democrats’ life ratings, by contrast, have improved.

The report continued: “The gap between Democrats and Republicans on the Life Evaluation Index is now 16.6 points — the largest it has ever been. This is also a drastic change from early 2008, when Republicans’ life ratings frequently surpassed Democrats’ by more than 10 points.”

After the 2008 election, Republicans’ ratings of their lives also plunged, but then they bounced back a bit. That may have been the result of the emergence of the Tea Party. But now the Tea Party appears to be in decline, and we don’t yet know if something else will replace it. As The New York Times put it this week, “the Tea Party might not be over, but it is increasingly clear that the election last month significantly weakened the once-surging movement, which nearly captured control of the Republican Party through a potent combination of populism and fury.” Exit polls in November found that only 21 percent of voters supported the Tea Party and nearly 9 out of 10 of those who did voted for Mitt Romney.

As if that weren’t enough, a Washington Post poll this week found that only 25 percent of Republicans say that they’re hopeful about their personal lives in the coming year. That number has been falling since 2005, but it fell most precipitously after President Obama was elected in 2008. Only 18 percent of Republicans now say they’re hopeful about the world in general over the next year. By comparison, 75 percent of Democrats say that they are hopeful about their personal lives and 61 percent say that they are hopeful about the world in general.

As the Post pointed out:

“Rising fears are concentrated among Republicans, peaking at 72 percent and up a remarkable 52 percentage points from 2006. In 2008, after Obama’s victory, Republicans split 44 to 54 percent between hope and fear. Democrats are far more positive, with 75 percent hopeful about their personal lives, exactly the same as 2008. Even during George W. Bush’s presidency, majorities of Democrats expressed a hopeful outlook. Independents splits about evenly between hope and fear.”

These people need a hug.

Much of this discontent is undoubtedly tied to President Obama’s trouncing of Mitt Romney in November. To add insult to injury, Gallup found last week that President Obama’s approval rating was at its highest level since October of 2009.

In the meantime, Mitt Romney’s son Tagg — the one who joked that he wanted to “take a swing” at the president after one of the debates — told The Boston Globe last week that his father “wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run.” He continued, “If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside.”

Ouch. That has to hurt Romney’s ardent supporters, especially those who invested their time and money in his candidacy. In the words of the R & B singer Usher, “let it burn.”

Little seemed to go right for Republicans in November, including their callous attempts to suppress turnout among minority voters. In fact, there is growing evidence that those efforts backfired spectacularly

According to a Pew Research Center report issued on Wednesday, “Blacks voted at a higher rate this year than other minority groups and for the first time in history may also have voted at a higher rate than whites.”

The report went on to say, “these participation milestones are notable not just in light of the long history of black disenfranchisement, but also in light of recently enacted state voter identification laws that some critics contended would suppress turnout disproportionately among blacks and other minority groups.”

There is nothing like trying to take something away from someone to make that person value it more.

The report also found that “more Hispanics and Asian-Americans voted than ever before. And their turnout rates also rose.”  By comparison, turnout among whites, the only group that Republicans won in 2008 and 2012, fell.

Even on the most pressing issues of the moment, Republicans are losing in the court of public opinion. Following the massacre of elementary school children in Connecticut earlier this month, there was an important, although modest, shift in public opinion on gun control, according to another Pew Research Center poll. That poll found that “49 percent say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 42 percent say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.” As the report pointed out, “this marks the first time since Barack Obama took office that more Americans prioritize gun control than the right to own guns.” And that poll was taken before the N.R.A.’s disastrous news conference on the shooting.

Then there are the fiscal cliff negotiations. Polls continue to show that the public approves of the way the president is handling the situation and disapproves of the behavior of the Republicans — and those margins are huge. If we go over the cliff, it is clear that more people will blame Republicans than the president and his party.

This may be the season to be jolly, but not if you are a Republican.

Contemplating Republicans’ misery schadens my freuds.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

It was 15 years ago that Ted Turner needed something interesting to say in a speech — and decided, in a rush, to give away $1 billion.

“I was on my way to New York to make the speech,” Turner recalled to me. “I just thought, what am I going to say?”

So, in front of a stunned dinner audience, he announced a $1 billion gift to United Nations causes such as fighting global poverty.

In nominal terms, before adjusting for inflation, that semiaccidental donation was, at the time, believed to be the biggest single gift ever made, and it has helped transform philanthropy.

Tycoons used to compete for their place on the Forbes and Fortune lists of wealthiest people. If they did give back, it was often late in life and involved museums or the arts. They spent far more philanthropic dollars on oil paintings of women than on improving the lives of real women.

Turner’s gift helped change that culture, reviving the tradition of great philanthropists like Rockefeller and Carnegie. Turner publicly began needling other billionaires — including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — to be more generous. That was a breach of etiquette, but it worked.

“It’s a starting point for me of this modern era of high-profile big public giving,” reflected Matthew Bishop, co-author of “Philanthrocapitalism,” a terrific book about how the business world is reshaping philanthropy. “He called on others to step up, which did have a crystallizing effect on others. It allowed journalists and others who were talking to Bill Gates to say: ‘Why aren’t you giving more?’ ” Then they tormented Buffett with the same question.

Ultimately, Gates and Buffett made huge contributions that are transforming the struggle against global disease and poverty. My hunch is that Gates will be remembered less for his work on personal computers than for his accomplishments against malaria, AIDS and poverty itself.

Gates and Buffett are both now recruiters for the Giving Pledge, which commits zillionaires to give away at least half their wealth. The giving pledge adds to the expectation that those who have won the global jackpot should give something back.

Turner channeled his money through the United Nations Foundation, where it was leveraged to get other contributions so as to bring $2 billion to finance causes from malaria to polio, from climate change to family planning.

The gift brought new respect to the United Nations and made it increasingly fashionable for billionaires to worry about global poverty. These tycoons bring not just their checkbooks to the table but also a business sensibility that introduces greater rigor and evaluation to the world of bleeding hearts.

All this has helped shine a greater spotlight on neglected issues — which, in turn, has led to extraordinary results. A study this month reported that infant mortality around the world dropped by more than half from 1990 to 2010. That’s millions of lives saved each year.

Of course, not everybody has gotten the memo. Take Donald Trump, who has contributed his name to a foundation but little more. An investigation by The Smoking Gun Web site described him as possibly “the least charitable billionaire in the United States,” for he apparently gave the foundation just $3.7 million — over 20 years. Trump, who has said he is worth $7 billion, is not even the largest contributor to his own foundation.

(A spokesman for Trump suggested that it would be “totally incorrect” to characterize him as uncharitable, saying that he has also donated land in upstate New York for public parks and “millions of dollars” to other causes.)

Turner isn’t shy about encouraging others to jump on board. When I asked if he had any advice for my readers, he grew particularly animated: “You don’t have to have any money to make a difference; you can pick up trash walking down the street, and I do that all the time,” he said. “You can volunteer your time. You can be a big brother or a big sister.”

Look, it makes me a little squeamish to extol a billionaire, for our society already has too much worship of the wealthy — and, in any case, the working poor in America are often more generous in percentage terms (and in volunteering) than those far better off.

That said, it warms my heart that a mogul donated $1 billion to enliven a speech, didn’t even put his name on the foundation and then let the money quietly save lives around the world.

If you’re still reading, Donald Trump, it’s your move.

The Donald would no more do something like that than I would yank my fingernails out with pliers.

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