Skip to comments.I Think I Owe an Apology to George W. Bush.
Posted on 11/16/2012 6:47:24 AM PST by Kaslin
William F. Buckley once noted that he was 19 when the Cold War began at the Yalta conference. The year the Berlin Wall came down, he became a senior citizen. In other words, he explained, anti-Communism was a defining feature of conservatism his entire adult life. Domestically, meanwhile, the right was largely a "leave me alone coalition": Religious and traditional conservatives, overtaxed businessmen, Western libertarians, and others fed up with government social engineering and economic folly. The foreign policy battle against tyrannical statism abroad only buttressed the domestic antagonism toward well-intentioned and occasionally democratic statism at home.
The end of the Cold War gave way to what Charles Krauthammer dubbed the "holiday from history" of the 1990s and the "war on terror" in the 2000s. People forget that Bush was elected during the former and had the latter thrust upon him. But at the end of the 1990s, he was one of many voices on the right trying to craft a political rationale to deal with the changing electoral and demographic landscape. He campaigned on a "humble foreign policy" in 2000 and promised something very, very different than a "leave me alone" domestic policy.
He called his new approach to domestic policy "compassionate conservatism."
For years, I've criticized "compassionate conservatism" as an insult to traditional conservatism and an affront to all things libertarian.
Bush liked to say that he was a "different kind of Republican," that he was a "compassionate conservative."
I hated -- and still hate -- that formulation. Imagine if someone said, "I'm a different kind of Catholic (or Jew, or American, etc.): I'm a compassionate Catholic." The insinuation was -- by my lights, at least -- that conservatives who disagreed with him and his "strong-government conservatism" were somehow lacking in compassion.
As a candidate, Bush distanced himself from the Gingrich "revolutionaries" of the 1994 Congress, and he criticized social conservatives like Robert Bork for his admittedly uncheery book, "Slouching Towards Gomorrah." He talked endlessly about how tough a job single mothers have and scolded his fellow conservatives for failing to see that "family values don't end at the Rio Grande." As president, he said that "when somebody hurts, government has got to move." According to compassionate conservatives, reflexive anti-statism on the right is foolish, for there are many important -- and conservative -- things the state can do right.
Compassionate conservatism always struck me as a philosophical surrender to liberal assumptions about the role of the government in our lives. A hallmark of Great Society liberalism is the idea that an individual's worth as a human being is correlated to his support for massive expansions of the entitlement state. Conservatives are not uncompassionate. (Indeed, the data show that conservatives are more charitable with their own money and more generous with their time than liberals). But, barring something like a natural disaster, they believe that government is not the best and certainly not the first resort for acting on one's compassion.
I still believe all of that, probably even more than I did when Bush was in office.
But, as a political matter, it has become clear that he was on to something important.
Neither critics nor supporters of compassionate conservatism could come to a consensus over the question of whether it was a mushy-gushy marketing slogan (a Republican version of Bill Clinton's feel-your-pain liberalism) or a serious philosophical argument for a kind of Tory altruism, albeit with an evangelical idiom and a Texan accent.
Some sophisticated analysts, such as my National Review colleague Ramesh Ponnuru, always acknowledged the philosophical shortcomings and inconsistencies of compassionate conservatism, but argued that something like it was necessary nonetheless. The evolving demographics of the country, combined with the profound changes to both the culture and the economy, demanded the GOP change both its sales pitch and its governing philosophy.
Compassionate conservatism increasingly faded from view after 9/11. Bush ran as a war president first and a compassionate conservative at best second in 2004. Still, it's worth remembering that Bush won a staggering (for a Republican) 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Romney got 27 percent.
Moreover, according to exit polls, Romney decisively beat Obama on the questions of leadership, values and economic expertise, but was crushed by more than 60 points on the question of which candidate "cares about people like me."
I still don't like compassionate conservatism or its conception of the role of government. But given the election results, I have to acknowledge that Bush was more prescient than I appreciated at the time.
One sentence synopsis: In order to win elections, conservatives must become liberals.
I think you can be a compassionate conservative without the hokum of calling yourself one, and without massive deficit spending and more entitlement giveaways. A true compassionate conservative would have reined in the housing bubble and cheap money. Reagan was the compassionate conservative. Just like being a parent, punishing your kid because they’re doing something that will cause them harm is compassion.
What Jonah misses is that Bush’s Compassionate conservatism and Romney’s mushy whatever it was are NOT the only two choices.
Clearly articulating why conservatism itself WORKS, and therefore IS compassionate, would be something not tried in a long time.
The conservatives won’t vote for you, contribute to you, or work for you.
In a competition between a “real Liberal” and a “sorta-Liberal” the real Liberal will win almost every time. After all, there is no limit to the amount of other people’s money he is willing to spend.
In order to win elections, conservatives must stop voter fraud.
What was so damned "compassionate" about turning over the education of our children to Ted Kennedy?
Those chickens will be coming home to roost (and thereby answering Jeremiah Wright's prayer for America) for years, decades, to come.
Of course he was a better President than Obama.
My toilet bowl would make a better President than Obama. At least it does the job it was created to do.
:: My toilet bowl would make a better President than Obama. At least it does the job it was created to do. ::
Yet, just like the election showed, we need to flush twice to get rid of an “obama”.
What I miss about “W” was that when 9/11 happened, I knew he would do his very best to protect the country and keep us safe. I KNEW it down to the depths of my soul and and I TRUSTED him. Without getting into all the Iraq war crap, he DID keep us safe.
With the current clown in office, I have no such feeling of safety. Frankly, I think the b@stard is selling us down the river to his Islamist buddies. I don’t think it gets much plainer than 4 dead Americans, left to die with no security or assistance .... and people in the military who let him get away with it.
Do I miss President Bush? More and more every day. God bless the man and I hope he is thoroughly enjoying his retirement.
“One sentence synopsis: In order to win elections, conservatives must become liberals”
I concur. I have never found Jonah difficult to read. This is a chaotic, illogial jumble of words painful to read as was watching Bush fumble around with the Constitution.
Here’s a thought: how about leading with one’s ideas, and attempt to win over hearts & minds (or just minds), rather than following?
Yes and no. I think we've seen that an all-too-large segment of the voting population is immune to facts and logic. That does not mean that we need to abandon our principles to reach them, but we do need to "package" the message at a more visceral level, in a manner that evokes an emotional response as much as a logical one.
The article is nonsense. It’s tantamount to Christians saying “You know, we could get more membership in our church if we just compromised on the homosexual marriage thing.” Insane.
Rush said it best. Conservative-ism is already compassionate.
I think that, in order to win, conservatives must not allow liberals to paint them as heartless. I thought Bush was on to something when he referred to “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, showing how government hand-holding of the poor is patronizing them and limiting their futures. I thought “compassionate conservatism” was an effective pushback.
Conservatives have to quit being made out to be like social darwinists. Americans don’t want to be that. Americans want to see themselves as givers and (voluntary) sharers. To capture that spirit, conservatives have to demonstrate that private charity, when freely and wisely used, can benefit the giver, the recipient, the community, and can leave government entirely out of it. I have to say, as a newly minted conservative, one of my sticking points was that I really didn’t believe that people would give willingly often enough to really be of significant help. It took statistics about the generosity of conservatives relative to liberals, and participation in community activites run by volunteers to help me see how often conservatives give what is needed, where needed.
I wish him no ill will. But as for enjoying his retirement, I couldn't care less whether he's enjoying it or not. At least he was able to retire. Unlike the vast majority of the non-government-employee population.
Yes, he protected the country from further terrorist attacks, but he also helped lay the foundation for the situation we now face by buying into and selling this "religion of peace" mumbo-jumbo.
I disagree.. G.W. Bush owes conservatives an apology for paving the way to totalitarianism...
I agree we owe Bush credit for winning two terms and creating a message that got the votes needed.
We also need to recognize that true Reaganesque ideas can be successful electorally and can be inclusive so moderates and independents can feel like they will benefit from the policies...and the same with Hispanic voters, women, etc. Bush had a populist tone and understanding language that did win Hispanic support. I saw it in a big way here in Florida in 2004. There some of the strongest support in the days ahead of that campaign came from Latinos. We don’t need to change policies but we have to battle the left’s constant focus on driving a wedge between Republicans and different groups. Bush did a great job of that. Although I didn’t see it during the campaign, Romney and the RNC did not.
It’s save-yourself time.