George W. Bush: Compassionate Conservative

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The era of George W. Bush, the "Compassionate Conservative", is over The Progress Report announced October 5, 2005: "In other words, President Bush wants the poor, the sick and the elderly to pay for Katrina reconstruction by giving up their health care and retirement security. Meanwhile, the President is pressing forward with billions in new tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans."

Hurricane Katrina
Nearly a month earlier, Judy Keen and Richard Benedetto wrote in the September 8, 2005, online edition of USA Today that Bush, the once "compassionate conservative," had been absent:

"President Bush has shown that he can be empathetic, sensitive and decisive. But those qualities eluded him for days after Hurricane Katrina, and the lapse could become a defining moment of his White House tenure. ...
"... He can seem detached and unaware of the messages conveyed by his words and conduct. Bush decided to see Katrina's destruction for the first time from his jumbo jet and joked on his first trip to the disaster zone about youthful partying in New Orleans. He didn't cancel his vacation until two days after Katrina struck and didn't visit the region until four days after the storm. It's not the first time that side of the president has been visible. He taped a video for a 2004 black-tie dinner showing him hunting under White House furniture for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as the death toll there mounted. His visit to Ground Zero came three days after the 9/11 attacks."

Origins of George W. Bush: "Compassionate Conservative"

In the June 11, 2000, New York Times article "Bush Draws Campaign Theme From More Than 'the Heart'," Alison Mitchell writes:

"Ask Gov. George W. Bush of Texas about the intellectual origins of his campaign's mantra and he says, 'compassionate conservatism is first and foremost springing from the heart.'

"Yet well before Mr. Bush began building his presidential campaign around the words 'compassionate conservative'--reshaping the image of his party to follow suit--a cadre of thinkers on the right had been trying for years to fashion a form of conservatism that rejected the welfare state but did not turn its back on the poor. And with his campaign strategist, Karl Rove, acting as his guide, Mr. Bush began reading their books and meeting them, even before his first race for governor.

"Mr. Rove gave the governor 'The Dream and the Nightmare,' a book by Myron Magnet of the Manhattan Institute that Mr. Bush said helped crystallize his thinking about culture. The book is an indictment of the attitudes of the 1960s counterculture and its legacy to the poor. Mr. Rove also introduced Mr. Bush to Marvin Olasky--a proponent of 19th century-style charity over the entitlements of the welfare state--whom the governor calls 'compassionate conservatism's leading thinker' in a foreword to Mr. Olasky's newest book.

"Those introductions amounted to the first building blocks of the 'compassionate conservative' platform Mr. Bush is running on today: tax incentives that he predicts will lead to an explosion of charitable giving; an emphasis on using religious institutions to deal with poverty, drug abuse and other social problems and a pledge to 'usher in the responsibility era,' to replace the notion that 'if it feels good, do it.'

"The core concept of this platform is that while government has a responsibility to the needy, it does not have to provide the services itself. This approach can be seen in everything from Mr. Bush's proposals for a tax credit to help people buy health insurance to his call to divert some Social Security payroll taxes into individual investment accounts.

"As Stephen Goldsmith, Mr. Bush's chief domestic policy adviser, describes it, 'compassionate conservatism means providing help in such a way as to stimulate and reinforce self-governance.'

"Such thoughts have been germinating for years, and the Bush campaign drew from several different schools of conservative and neoconservative thinkers."

"But Mr. Bush is clearly devoted to the new conservatism. ... And when the time came to assemble his campaign staff, he tapped two apostles of compassionate conservatism: Michael J. Gerson, his chief speechwriter, had been a senior aide to Daniel R. Coats; and Mr. Goldsmith, his chief domestic policy adviser, had tried to create a laboratory for compassionate conservatism as the mayor of Indianapolis in the 1990's."

"When Mr. Bush made welfare's overhaul one of the main planks of his first campaign for governor and later wrestled with it after his election, Mr. Rove arranged for Mr. Bush to meet conservative academics like James Q. Wilson, who has studied character and social policy, urban problems and crime, as well as Mr. Olasky and Mr. Magnet, who were looking into the causes of entrenched urban poverty."

"As governor, Mr. Bush also met David Horowitz, once a voice of the New Left, who later turned conservative. ... The Bush campaign also owes an intellectual debt to Catholic neo-conservatives who have based their advocacy of empowering grass-roots groups on concepts articulated by several encyclicals. As described by John J. DiIulio Jr., a University of Pennsylvania professor who has become a leading researcher of faith-based social services, the idea is that 'charity begins at home'."

"Some of these differences of opinion were hashed out for Mr. Bush in early 1999 when a group assembled by Mr. Goldsmith in Texas met with Mr. Bush and his top aides to prepare for the coming presidential campaign. ... Mr. DiIulio and Mr. Olasky were there. So, among others, were Mr. Wilson and Robert L. Woodson, Sr., the founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a nonprofit organization that assists neighborhood groups battling drugs, youth gangs and teen pregnancy."


The Associated Press's Richard N. Ostling wrote the following February 10, 2001:

"When Bush became Texas governor in 1995, one of his early policies was closer collaboration between state government and overtly religious charities."

"As governor, Bush had put aide Don R. Willett in charge of his emerging parallel plan [of compassionate conservatism] in Texas, and Willett attended a 1996 conference on charitable choice at the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D.C., a nonpartisan think tank that advocates Christian involvement in politics.

"There he hooked up with Stanley Carlson-Thies, a political science Ph.D. from the University of Toronto who heads the center's charitable choice project and is a member of Olasky's denomination. Carlson-Thies has published Carl H. Esbeck's legal research, commissioned a study of 125 religious agencies with charitable choice funding, and issued a report card on implementation of the law that flunked 38 of the 50 states. Texas alone was given an A-plus.

"Carlson-Thies was among those Willett regularly consulted while Bush was applying the concept in Texas, during the presidential campaign and again in recent weeks as the Bush administration set up the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives."

"Compassionate Conservative" to "War President"

Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman wrote in a February 13, 2004, Op-Ed: "Is this what the election will be about? The man who ran as a compassionate conservative in 2000 plans to run as a "war president" in 2004." [1]

Dana Milbank and Richard Moran, in their April 4, 2004, Washington Post article "Fewer Say Bush Is Serving Middle Class. Poll Shows Americans Split Over Whether President Has Governed Compassionately," state that "Bush came to office three years ago with a message that he was different from traditional Republican conservatives because he was promoting programs for the poor and disadvantaged. But with his presidency dominated by foreign policy issues and such traditional conservative favorites as tax cuts, he has dropped from his speeches the compassionate conservative moniker that was his trademark in 2000."

In "Losing the Moral High Ground" in the May 5, 2004, Newsweek, Richard Wolffe writes that "The shocking pictures from Abu Ghraib prison don't just reflect badly on those involved. They also undermine Bush's credibility and jeopardize his plans for Iraq."

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