Friday, June 16, 2006

Compassionate Conservatism's Last True Believer

Former Clinton aide Bruce Reed writes in his regular Has-Been column for Slate about the resignation of Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson and the true end of a strain of conservatism that had higher ends than lower taxes and fretting about Adam and Steve holding hands. Reed notes Gerson was interested in using government and faith to combat national issues like poverty and after a meeting between Clinton and Gerson's then boss, former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, there was some hope among Dems that there could be a "kindler, gentler conservatism."

It didn't end up that way, and Reed places blame on Karl Rove and the president as well:

I've never looked in Bush's heart, but judging from the way he talks about education or immigration—even without Gerson at the teleprompter—there's enough compassion to have led the country down a different course. The hollowing of compassionate conservatism was a conscious choice—wrong on the merits and even on the politics. Ultimately, Bush decided that the lesson the country tried to teach Republicans in 1995 (do the right thing) paled alongside the lesson he learned from his father's defeat in 1992 (do the right's bidding).

Well, read the whole thing. I'm not one who thinks that conservatives can't be compassionate because I've seen it. There are many good conservatives who spend their time tackling poverty, helping those with HIV/AIDS and protecting the environment. I really believe the president has a compassionate side and if he had listened to that instead of Mr. Rove, we might have a different adminstration and maybe, just maybe the GOP wouldn't be so nervous about losing seats come November.

Reed notes that back in 2000, as Bush and John McCain battled it out for the GOP nod, it was really the Arizona Senator, not the Governor from Texas that was really interested in having the Grand Old Party serve a higher puprose. I wonder if that's still true today. Even moreso than Bush, McCain really believes that conservatism should mean more than being against gay marriage or spending as "drunken sailors." You could see touches of that strain of conservatism in his commenncement address to Liberty University. I want to believe that, to paraphrase a line from a now-canceled TV series, that McCain will be McCain and revive and give real meaning to "compassionate conservatism" after all.

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