Skip to comments.The Rise of Uncompassionate Conservatism
Posted on 06/21/2011 9:23:31 AM PDT by Servant of the Cross
The Republican noncandidate flavor of the week is Texas governor Rick Perry. If you squint just right, you could mistake him at a podium for his predecessor, George W. Bush. Except for his message.
There might be no more powerful symbol of the death of compassionate conservatism in the Republican party than Bushs successor and former running mate in Texas stomping all over it with cowboy boots emblazoned with the words Freedom and Liberty.
Bush rose from Texas to the national stage in 1999 talking of his federal education agenda, the courage of single mothers, the power of drug and alcohol recovery programs, and the need for government to forge partnerships with faith organizations. Perry is emerging from Texas talking of the 10th Amendment, cutting government, defending freedom and defending freedom some more.
Bush spoke in dulcet tones. He separated himself from the firebrand politics of Newt Gingrich and even took a swipe at the insufficiently cheerful Robert Bork. Perry is telling Republicans to stop apologizing and elect more conservatives. Hes Rick Perry, and hes from the Republican wing of the Republican party.
The backlash against Bush has long been brewing. Compassionate conservatism was a product of the moment when Bush began to run for president in the late 1990s. The congressional wing of the party had immolated itself in the government-shutdown fights and then the impeachment of Bill Clinton. A rebranding was in order, and Bush wanted to signal to general-election voters that they neednt fear him.
Bush-style conservatism never really took with the broader party, although it gained acquiescence. The president usually gets his way with his congressional majority, so Bush could push through No Child Left Behind and the prescription-drug benefit. The war on terror and the Lefts hatred for him bonded conservatives to Bush whatever their misgivings. The nomination of John McCain himself no down-the-line conservative obscured the anti-Bush feeling.
Now, its in full flower and evident on all fronts, from spending and immigration to foreign policy, as Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns point out in Politico. Running on his message circa 1999, George W. Bush would be hard-pressed to gain traction in the current Republican party. Running on his record circa 2008 the spending programs, the bailouts, the attempted amnesty and the two ongoing hearts and minds wars of counterinsurgency hed be booed from the stage. If Michele Bachmann didnt drop-kick him off it first.
The Bush Republican party had grown flaccid and deserved to be trounced and built anew. But Bush had two insights. He realized that the party had to win over the center as well as the right, and that unadulterated doctrine would appeal most only to the doctrinaire. If Rick Perry thinks the 10th Amendment is going to have cachet with voters worried about their jobs, their wages, and the value of their homes, hes been spending too much time at Federalist Society seminars.
On top of everything else, compassionate conservatism reflected the prosperity of the 1990s. As a candidate, Bush sometimes seemed to forget that economic self-interest trumps all else. In this economy, Republicans would be suicidal ever to forget that. Even as he preaches the old-time religion, Perry in his protostump speech returns again and again to a highly practical theme: his success in fostering a pro-jobs environment in Texas. Republicans may feel no need to be compassionate in the Bush sense defensively vouching for their own good intentions but they need to connect their agenda to their solicitude for the livelihoods of voters.
As the press clues into the new anti-Bush drift of the GOP, we can expect a revival in Bushs reputation. He will be portrayed as more reasonable, more internationalist, and altogether more statesmanlike than his benighted compatriots. If only it were still the party of George W. Bush will be the lament. And it will make the party even more glad that its not.
Can I hear an Amen! Richie, you act like that's a bad thing?!
Well, well well. Rich Flowry doesn't much like Governor Perry. I guess I better move Perry up on my list of potential candidates. Still behind Palin, Cain and Bachmann, but if Richie doesn't like him because he's not a "compassionate" conservative (meaning Rove, GOP Establishment big tenters selling out authentic conservatism, which does not need any squishy qualifier adjective in front of it thank you very much!, for votes), I like him all the moreso.
p.s. I've got to believe that if Bill Buckley was alive, Flowery would be demoted or fired immediately. Nordlinger, McCarthy ... ?
p.p.s. IMHO, everything about compassionate conservatism that lowry attributes to President Bush really lays at the feet of Rove, Norquist and other squishy big-tenters that had way too much influence in the second term.
Your impression/reaction to this article ping.
The author seems to think that promising more handouts is the only way to win an election. He might be right ... but it’s also going to kill the country. Can’t anyone see what’s going on in Europe?
What’s with the Huntsman dweeb saying at his announcement today that we’re for the first time going to be handing down a less compassionate country to our children, too? I was put off by him already, but that really got to me.
I am an “uncompassionate conservative”. My compassion has been sucked right out of me by those who look to the government to steal from me and support them. They never have enough and demand more.
I look forward to them having the rugged yanked out from under them
Agreed. Buckley picked a dud with Lowry. In my opinion, he’d have been far better off culling applicants for lack of military service.
Forget about “compassionate conservatism”, which is just “income redistribution lite”. Forget government compassion, period. Remember Ronaldus Magnus saying, the worst words in the English language were, “I’m from the Governmnet and I’m here to help you.” The Bible is even more pithy: “The mercies of the wicked are cruel”.
Haven’t we learned our lesson yet? Freedom means more people can go into business and have jobs to earn their keep. Government “compassion” means being a serf on the Government plantation.
I’ve always hated the phrase “compassionate conservative”, which implies that conseratives lack compassion. The liberals want to give the indigent all of the goose’e golden eggs, and will even kill the goose to feed them. Then what? When the productive elements in the private sector have been taxed into indigency, and the borrowing/printing of money collapses and our currency is worthless, how will the “compassionate” provide for the dependent class? Will they even care when their tables are empty, too?
Compassionate conservative = big government conservative = oxymoron
As a practice, "uncompassionate conservatism' is exactly right. The best way to help people is to help them less and get government out of the way.
As a rhetorical term, "uncompassionate conservatism" sounds like something James Carville dreamed up.
“Freedom” means, to people like Rich Lowry,
“people doing things liberals don’t approve of”.
Yea. Rich Flowry (FR hat tip on the nickname to the in-the-penalty-box pissant), is notorious for living in the squishy, moderate, pre-Tea Party past of the elite, establishment, country-club OLD Party. What a dunce. Bill Buckley has to be rolling in his grave.
Calling Jay Nordlinger. Please pick up the white phone in the lobby if you lurk (or post) here. Changes need to be made at the top of NR. Do it for Bill!
They take your money at gunpoint and then call you greedy for complaining.
Always a great line...
I can see Europe from here!
I can see my tomato patch, and a cat who appears to be dead but is probably just napping.
Oh, they’re just a bunch of racists worried that their tax money is going to non-white people.
They already have done that with a number of issues. And they are right, Bush was a liberal and compassionate conservatism was a complete disaster. If you remember back we were promised compassionate conservatism would create a new significant minority voting base for Republicans, but in the end it just elected Obama/Speaker Pelosi.