Here's my silver-lining hope this hurricane season: George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism gets wiped out like a taco hut in the path of a Cat. 5 storm.
Outside of people inside the administration, I've never met anyone who really likes the president's "compassionate conservatism." To the extent conservatives praise it at all, they celebrate the fact that compassionate conservatism got Bush elected. This is no small or insignificant feat, note the realists. Without victory, nothing else is possible. "It's the lady that brought us to the dance," they explain.
Now, don't get me wrong. I actually respect much of the substance of compassionate conservatism. Now that a "neoconservative" has been idiotically redefined to mean a warmonger who never buys retail, we forget that much of neoconservatism was really an argument about domestic policy.
The basic neoconservative criticism of the welfare state was that it had most of its incentives lined up incorrectly. Young women were told that government would essentially pay them to have more babies out of wedlock. Criminals were led to believe it was someone else's fault they robbed liquor stores. Students weren't -- and still aren't -- compelled to excel at school.
The neocons didn't oppose the welfare state per se. They opposed a welfare state that made society worse. (Irving Kristol even argued for a "conservative welfare state.") Hence Social Security never bothered them much, because delaying subsidies until one's golden years is unlikely to create the sorts of perverse incentives that might lead to roving gangs of octogenarian car thieves.
The compassionate conservatism of such intellectuals as Marvin Olasky and Myron Magnet was really just a fleshing-out of these neoconservative observations (though, in Olasky's case, with a bit more religion thrown in). They emphasized that not only is it bad public policy to encourage destructive behavior, but it's uncompassionate to the very people government is trying to help.
Welfare-state liberals insisted they "cared" more because they favored higher spending on schools. The compassionate conservatives responded with "care all you like, but the schools stink." The best summation of the entire enterprise was Bush's mantra about "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
So, if I agree with all that, what's the problem? First, as a political slogan, compassionate conservatism was always a low blow. Almost by definition, people who claim to be compassionate conservatives are suggesting that other kinds of conservatives aren't. Conservatism, rightly understood, never needed the adjective.