Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, likely new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the media will portray Tuesday's takeover as a repudiation of President Bush's leadership on the war in Iraq. The public's media-tinted perception of U.S. progress in Iraq, and its subsequent willingness to vote for Democratic House and Senate candidates does not, however, fully explain the switch in party control. No explanation of the Democrats' takeover is complete without laying partial blame on President Bush's so-called compassionate conservative agenda.
The term compassionate conservatism was coined by University of Texas professor and World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky in Olasky's 2000 book titled Compassionate Conservatism: What it is, What it Does, and How it Can Transform America. In an October 21, 2006 Wall Street Journal profile, Bush's former chief speechwriter Michael Gerson described the president's governing philosophy this way: "Compassionate conservatism is the theory that the government should encourage the effective provision of social services without providing the service itself."
Bush's big-government policies have certainly transformed America, but they are not even in the same neighborhood as true limited-government conservatism. Worse, the president, his advisors, the Republican National Committee and Republican leaders in the House and Senate have alienated the party's conservative base of activists and voters.
Compassionate conservatism first brought us the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. NCLB further consolidated federal oversight of education in an era when local control was the mantra of conservative voters and Republican congressional candidates.
Compassionate conservatism gave us the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003. A Heritage Foundation report on the Medicare trustees' estimates finds that "Medicare's long-term debt, based on a 75-year actuarial projection, is now estimated to be $32.4 trillion. Of that amount, $8 trillion is directly attributable to the Medicare prescription drug entitlement." The prescription drug bill is one of the largest expansions of the entitlement state in our nation's history.
Bush has further abandoned fiscal conservatism on federal spending, one of the bedrock principles of conservative ideology. According to Richard Viguerie, author of Conservatives Betrayed, federal spending rose by 4.7 percent in President Clinton's first term, and 3.7 percent in his second term. Federal spending rose 19.2 percent in Bush's first term alone.
Herman Cain is the National Chairman of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute. He is the former president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Inc., and currently is CEO and president of T.H.E. New Voice, Inc., a business and leadership consulting company.
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