If Bob Dole had been the Republican representative at the Lincoln-Douglas debates, instead of taking on slavery, he would have been babbling about standing up, "without compromise," to the monarchy.
But apart from the amazing irrelevancy and nausea-inducing spectacle of cowardice masquerading as courage, the Republican candidate for president was once again announcing to the world that his party was composed of a bunch of red-neck racists. But not to worry: He would bravely face them down, "without compromise."
So naturally I was surprised and pleased to discover that "compassionate conservatism" -- the central idea of George W. Bush's campaign -- may in fact be something new. The defining element of "compassionate conservatism," it seems to me, was captured in this sentence from Bush's convention speech: "(T)he alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference."
I, for one, bolted past indifference straight into loathing long ago. A half-century of useless (and more typically pernicious) socialist programs purportedly to help the poor now produces this Pavlovian response to any invocation of "the poor," or "compassion" in a lot of people. Call us cynical, but we've seen this Judas kiss before.
It's not that we hate the poor; it's that every time the government tries to help the poor it ends up removing the marvelous incentives life provides to do things like buy an alarm clock, get a job, keep your knees together before marriage, and generally become a productive, happy member of society.
But consider that even when George W. Bush was talking about "the poor" he insistently said: "Big government is not the answer. ... It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity."
Bush also said: "So many of us held our first child, and saw a better self reflected in their eyes. And in that family love, many have found the sign and symbol of an even greater love, and have been touched by faith. We have discovered that who we are is more important than what we have. And we know we must renew our values to restore our country." That's not socialism; it's Christian charity.
Out of the Republican Party's seemingly inexhaustible supply of Bushes and Doles, we may finally have located one who talks about compassion without meaning another horrific federal bureaucracy. He better mean it.
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