Bible-based beneficence. Bootstrap benevolence. Dignity-nurturing conservatism. Empowered emancipation. Civic compassion. God-grounded giving. Grassroot economics enhancement. Purposeful poverty prevention.
I’ll explain momentarily what those phrases signify, but let me first establish the context.
Once more the hills are alive with the sound of musings. Maybe that’s because so many Republicans have fled the plains since the November drubbing and sought solace from political oracles: National Review recently had in its pages one of the greatest gatherings since Delphi.
I enjoyed their suggestions for reviving conservatism, but here’s what’s weird: We already have an approach that’s proven historically (generations of Americans prospered by it) and politically (the only Republican elected president since 1988 ran on it). For Christians, here’s the most important attribute of all: That approach is biblical. Its name: compassionate conservatism, understood as a government decentralizing device and not the expansionary Bush administration mutation.
Communities of caring. Stronger cities through compassionate communities. Neighbor-to-neighbor nexus. Home-based solutions. Community care. Opportunity conservatism.
Those names in italics are suggestions from WORLD readers on how to rebrand the concept of compassionate conservatism. Happily, George W. Bush’s team passed out bags of buttons at the 2000 GOP convention announcing, “I’m a compassionate conservative.” Sadly, the Bush administration then tarnished the brand by making it seem like “big-government conservatism.” True, soaring domestic spending came as part of a deal whereby Democrats approved war spending requests, but that’s one more reason why Iraq is now, within American politics, a four-letter word.
So, I believe we have the approach that can resurrect Republicans. Compassionate conservatism is the way to go for the health of the country, since it allows most of us to help the poor without falling into entitlement bankruptcy. It’s the way for small-government advocates to have political success: The 2012 election showed once again that when voters see only two choices, getting help from government or getting help from no one, government wins. We need a third choice called “civil society,” the things we can do together without growing government.
Why not keep it simple and call effective poverty fighting “Effective Compassion?” Make an acrostic with terms that show what makes it effective: Elevating, Freeing, Formative, Empowering, Challenging, Transforming, Inspiring, Vital, Encouraging.
Bill Bennett offered good advice on June 27 at that National Review gathering: “Never yield the high ground of compassion to the liberals. Never yield to the idea that they care more about the children than we do. Millions of fatherless children are awful policy. And caring doesn’t mean more money. Please, let’s at long last seize this issue from them. They have owned the issue in the public mind, have controlled most of the levers of the education system, and have totally screwed it up. Let’s take it back.”
We almost took it back from 1995 through 2001. We can try, try again, but we may need a name on the banner different from “compassionate conservatism.” My thanks to all who suggested the names in italics above—and 15 more that I don’t have room to list—but I don’t think we have the right name yet, so I’m not ready to declare an end to the naming contest that began in January. Let me know what you think.