As the Bush administration ended, reporters who credited or discredited me with developing "compassionate conservatism" asked for an assessment. Most hoped that I'd dump on Bush, as so many others have. I didn't oblige, but honesty requires the mention of disappointment.
Governor and then President Bush wanted to fight poverty, alcoholism, addiction, and other social problems. He saw faith-based approaches (from personal experience) as an effective way to do battle. He wanted them to garner additional resources and left the how-to questions to his advisors.
As a volunteer chairman of a Bush task force in 1999, I was pleased when the candidate adopted my proposal for charity tax credits that would be part of a decentralized anti-poverty plan. On July 22, 1999, in his major policy speech regarding compassionate conservatism, he spoke of tax credits, promising that "individuals will choose who conducts this war on poverty—and their support won't be filtered through layers of government officials."
Other advisors, though, had a second objective: Maintain the Washington grants economy, but end discrimination against religious groups by creating a level playing field for all fund-seeking organizations. As a teammate I agreed to promote both objectives and naively assumed that all religious groups, not only semi-secularized ones, would be welcomed. (See book review in the current WORLD.)
A decade later, it's clear that objective one got only to first base. With a few exceptions (the White House finally set up several voucher programs, including Access to Recovery for addicts and alcoholics), individuals are not choosing and layers of government officials are. Why? Maybe it's harder for folks arriving in Washington to lay aside power than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
But what happened to the second objective? I traveled recently to Indianapolis, where Bush in 1999 gave his policy-setting speech regarding compassionate conservatism, and asked inner-city innovator Tim Streett (WORLD, Dec. 18, 1999) what had changed.
Streett said anti-poverty work is "not a whole lot different on the ground. There's a recognition that federal dollars are available, but a lot of people understand that strings are involved and they don't want to go there. Nothing's really changed."
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