Skip to comments.Compassionate Conservatism Redux (Bush 43 got the votes to prove it. Was he on to something?)
Posted on 11/16/2012 9:09:28 AM PST by SeekAndFind
I think I owe an apology to George W. Bush.
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, Ive 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, Im a different kind of Catholic (or Jew, or American, etc.): Im 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 such as Robert Bork, who had written an admittedly uncheery book, Slouching towards Gomorrah. He talked endlessly about what a tough job single mothers have and scolded his fellow conservatives for failing to see that family values dont 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 individuals 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 are.) But, barring something like a natural disaster, they believe that government is not the best and certainly not the first resort for acting on ones 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 Clintons 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 they 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 that 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 second (at best) in 2004. Still, its worth remembering that Bush won a staggering (for a Republican) 40 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 he was crushed by more than 60 points on the question of which candidate cares about people like me.
I still dont 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.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of the new book The Tyranny of Clichés.
W ran against 2 BUFFOONS, akin to running against Joe Biden twice. Jonah gets it wrong again. The Republican Party has been running AWAY from conservatism since GHWB.
The basic problem with the welfare state, the great society, compassionate conservativatism, or whatever you want to call it is that it is it fiscally untenable. Human needs are limited, but human wants are unlimited. This is all going to come crashing down on us in 2-4 years.
Bush was more than just Compassionate Conservatism.
Whatever it was, he won twice.
It’s him, Reagan, Nixon and Eisenhower.
Nixon won in 1968 because RFK was murdered and Wallace took the southern democrat vote.
There’s a graphic I’ve seen on a post here I’d like to find that showed percentage of Republican Presidential candidate with minority votes. Bush got more than any other before or after (except maybe Reagan, I can’t remember).
The demographic trend is not necessarily downward, it was up with Bush. McCain and Romney lost it.
Bush ran as more conservative than both Romney and McCain.
His compassionate conservatism was that private charities do better to serve the poor and needy than government hand outs.
And, as far as the hispanic vote, there were two things: 1) he was from Texas and had been governor. Many of that demographic knew him and 2) he spoke spanish a little bit.
Who does one like more? Bush or Romney? Or McCain?
It’s not rocket science.
Wanted amnesty, No Teacher Left Behind, auto bailouts, TARP, urban housing, Medicare Plan D, TSA, DHS, 2002 Farm Bill, etc. etc.
Yet GWB and “compassionate conservatism” broke the GOP brand because, at its core, it lacked both a coherent set of policies and sufficient energy to defend the policies that GWB adopted. Like a college frat party gone wrong, the Bush II administration left a shambles in its wake.
Rather than adapting democrat model of pretend 'compassion' in exchange for votes why not make the case for good old American self sufficiency and individual industry to improve our lives?
Have we surrendered that basic value forever?
What makes the Democrats successful?
The ability to of Gov’t to consistently spend well beyond its means via things such as robbing social security taxes to pay for present spending, and especially the FED money printing to cover $1 trillion deficits.
Promoting conservative values and winning elections will always be at a disadvantage to that. Sometimes big, sometimes small - but we will see the “welfare state” continue to grow while this situation is in place.
Only when that situation changes, then you will see the politics of the USA change drastically as well.
A more telling point, is that true "compassion" avoids having a Federal Bureaucracy muck up social interaction in America. There is nothing remotely "compassionate" about what Obama has been doing. We need to do a better job pointing that out to everyone. (See Obama Or America.)
Want to win an election? You FIGHT.
You do it in ads, and in the debates, and get away from these sterile answers designed not to offend.
You dont run an entire campaign based on the premise that Obama is a nice guy who is simply over his head. You dont agree that he and Biden merely inherited a mess and havent quite gotten us out of it YET.
Why we lost, in a nutshell.
Let’s not forget that W lost the popular voste to one of said buffoons in his first election.
For years I’ve had an explanation for both Reagan’s and W’s winning Hispanic votes in the 40% range, and it has nothing to do with compassionate conservatism.
Both Reagan and W were popular governors from one of the two states with the highest Hispanic populations. There is no reason to think that both did not receive some Hispanic votes that were favorite son votes. That’s most likely where their vote in the 40% range rather than the 30% range came from. Why wouldn’t some Hispanics cast favorite son votes like any other group?
Plus, particularly with Reagan, there were fewer recent arrivals amount the Hispanic population, and even with
W to some extent. Reagan’s elections were 38 abd 42 years ago; W’s 12 and 8 years ago. There are defintely more recent arrivals and illegals in the US now than in those years.
And I don’t think GHWB was ever considered that much of a Texan, and not a favorite son of Texas to the extent W was.
I believe a favorite son vote is the main reason Reagan and W did better among Hispanics.
” Wanted amnesty, No Teacher Left Behind, auto bailouts, TARP, urban housing, Medicare Plan D, TSA, DHS, 2002 Farm Bill, etc. etc. “
Big government liberalism, hiding under the guise of “compassionate conservatism”
” Lets not forget that W lost the popular voste to one of said buffoons in his first election.”
I didn’t forget : )
Fancy words for secialism, crush it!!!!
real conservatism needs no modifiers.
go be compassionate with your OWN money, Dubya.
” go be compassionate with your OWN money, Dubya.”
He had OURS.
Half of the voters can always be counted on to vote for the polician, usually a liberal, who promises to steal from the other half. The free lunch is alive and well.
Compassionate conservatism???? Hell Bush wanted to open our borders even AFTER 9/11. He was willing to roll over for social programs that had no business being passed. He vetoed nothing in the way of spending bills. He put us on the road to bankruptcy and dim control of the senate and the WH.
what a joke. go back to the drawing board Jonah
” back to the drawing board Jonah”
Nah....NR will be gone in a few years. It isn’t WFB anymore.
Quite true. Romney had ninety good minutes in the first debate, but that was it.
Amazing how “compassionate” you can be with other peoples’ money.
That’s all too true