John Leo
1. Just another publicity-gathering oxymoron, like "Progressive Conservatives" (a Canadian political party), "progressive moderation" (the stated goal of Sen. Prescott Bush, George W.'s grandfather), "conservative futurist" (Newt Gingrich) or "raging moderate" (one of Al Gore's self-descriptions). (On ABC's "Good Morning America," Charlie Gibson recently contributed a memorable oxymoron, promising "a live interview with Al Gore.")

2. A sop to religious conservatives. In his book "Compassionate Conservatism," Marvin Olasky, George W.'s Marxist-turned-fundamentalist adviser, talks almost exclusively about turning state-run programs over to faith-based organizations.

3. A repackaging of attempts to scale back government programs. George W. has made clear that government is not the enemy, but the endless federalizing of everything is a problem for conservatives, libertarians and many moderates. Halting the spread of the welfare state by moving the compassion industry into the private sector is a worthwhile goal, given a positive spin by George W., who has a high talent for avoiding negatives.

4. A clever way of Clintonizing the GOP message. "One of Clinton's subtlest but deepest legacies is the conflation of feeling with governing," writes Andrew Sullivan. Clinton did not invent huggy, lip-biting, feel-your-pain politics, but he carried it to astonishing heights as the nation's Therapist in Chief.

"Politicized compassion constitutes the very heart and soul of the Democratic Party," Irving Kristol wrote in 1996. So co-opting the feelings issue is a shameless but obvious Republican strategy. This accounts for all the new Republican chatter about "what's in my heart," rather than more grown-up discussion about what's in my head or your pocketbook.

Writing in The New Republic, Sullivan notes the loss of principle here: "One of conservatism's central insights is that compassion is an emotion best left out of government. ... Love, friendship, generosity, compassion -- these are virtues best practiced by private individuals, not public bureaucracies."

5. (or 4a) Creating the image of Republican niceness, particularly among women, who are generally more averse than men to sharp-edged, combative candidates and policies.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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