Some conservatives are calling Huckabee a "compassionate conservative" and equating that position with liberalism. I noted that misidentification and questioned Huckabee about it: "Compassionate conservatism started out as a program to help the poor while decreasing the size of government by increasing the role of civil society. Bush administration spending led some Republicans to call it a euphemism for big government. What's your view of compassionate conservatism?"
Huckabee responded, "I believe each of us has an obligation to give of our treasure, time and talent, to help those less fortunate. However, I don't support trying to have big government substitute for individual and community responsibility. I don't view compassionate conservatism as 'big government,' but rather as encouraging individuals and groups to do more for those less fortunate, sometimes with help from government at various levels."
He went on to say, "The most valuable thing the government can do for the poor is protect the opportunity created by our free-market economy, enacting pro-growth policies that create jobs, make certain that every child has access to a first-rate education, and adopt policies [like tax policies] that encourage marriage and the family. Much of the poverty in this country is in families headed by a single mother."
Jonah Goldberg, a strident anti-Huckabee conservative, complained this past Sunday that Bush/Huckabee compassionate conservatism is "a political program that apparently measures compassion by how much money the government spends on education, marriage counseling and the like."
He has a point, since the Bush administration has regularly defended itself against charges of callousness by citing dollars of federal spending -- and that's falling into a liberal trap. One test of Huckabee will be whether he can explain better than Bush the alternative to both softheaded liberalism and the hardhearted variety of conservatism.