"Women have a much lower tolerance for conflict," says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. This is not just about the unfortunate personas of Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott and Dick Armey. Polls show that women are more likely than men to view government in terms of the protection it can offer. Hillary Clinton's health plan, for example, drew far more support from women than from men.
In style, tone and policies, the Clinton presidency decisively feminized the Democratic Party, as Irving Kristol and others have pointed out. This pushed more men into the arms of the GOP. The crass way of putting this is to say that the Republicans have become the daddy party and the Democrats the mommy party. So each must troll heavily among opposite-sex voters while holding on to its own.
"Compassionate conservatism" announces a two-sex vote-hunting strategy by the daddy party: The adjective is for women; the noun is for men. Bush's remarkable success among women so far indicates that the strategy is working.
6. It's simply a new way of presenting the traditional Republican message.
Wall Street Journal staff reporters John Harwood and Jackie Calmes wrote last week that "there are more conservatives than liberals in the American electorate," and that the bedrock Republican strategy is to hold on to these conservatives, while explaining conservatism in better ways to moderate, non-ideological voters. This theory contradicts the conventional one tapped out by so many reporters in Philadelphia -- that Bush was cold-shouldering conservatives and moving the party to the middle. The Journal reporters argued that the product isn't changing, just the marketing.
7. It's an important attempt to change the terms of the culture war, and to win it.
This is the most sweeping interpretation of "compassionate conservatism," and it comes from the brilliant Shelby Steele, author and Hoover Institution fellow. Steele argues that the public's mysterious acceptance of political correctness and its unwillingness to call liberals on their double standards and repressive policies comes from one factor: the moral authority the left accrued by being correct early on race and civil rights. That's why "a whiff of indecency" hangs over conservative programs, while the ideology of the left remains unquestioned. The only way the right can correct this, he says, is to accrue its own moral authority by "an explicit social application of conservative principles to problems of inequality and poverty."
George W. Bush, Steele says, is the first conservative on the presidential level to understand that he is in a culture war. This would mean that Bush's outreach to minorities and emphasis on leaving no one behind isn't election-season honking but a serious attempt to change the party and the culture. Maybe Steele is right.