These groups show how "the long tail" affects society as well as commerce. (Chris Anderson's best-selling "The Long Tail" shows how merchants traditionally look for the few products that will sell an enormous number of units, but that there's gold to be prospected, especially in the Internet age, among the many that sell few.) Compassionate conservatism in the United States has a small head and a very long tail.
The Bush administration in 2001 could have chosen a decentralizing strategy based on vouchers for the needy and poverty-fighting tax credits. That would have allowed citizens, rather than officials, to decide which poverty-fighting charities were worth supporting. Instead, the administration chose largely to maintain the centralized grant-making strategy of the previous 40 years, but with theologically conservative organizations allowed to compete for grants that had previously been monopolized by secular or theologically liberal groups.
That was an improvement over the previous leftward tilt, but it still didn't do much for the small groups that make up the long tail. What now? "There are no second acts in American lives," F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, and the same goes generally for presidential administrations. But maybe the newly refurbished Bush team has a chance to escape that common decline.
In the past three months, two people aware of the entrepreneurial potential of the long tail, Karl Zinsmeister and Jay Hein, have joined the Bush administration as chief domestic policy adviser and director of the White House's faith-based office, respectively. Maybe they can act in decentralizing ways that for once will help the little guys. But regardless of what happens in Washington, compassionate conservatism is still alive and kicking.
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