Remember "compassionate conservatism," the alleged new ideology of non-bureaucratic activism on social problems that Bush trademarked in 2000? It's back, in the president's rhetoric at least. Indeed, you'll probably hear quit a bit it in tonight's debate (gotta do something to fill the void left by all those "this is hard work" references, which became such a universal object of derision).
The "compassionate conservative" label is a classic Karl Rove two-fer: (1) it's reassuring to the millions of Americans who aren't too keen about old-fashioned, uncompassionate conservatism of the Newt Gingrich, let-em-go-to-orphanages variety; and (2) it's appealing to the religious conservatives of the GOP base, who do generally believe the Lord wants them to help the poor and sick along with banning abortion and gay relationship and building a missile defense system. The Christian Right also, of course, likes the so-called Faith-Based Organizations initiative that's been the centerpiece of the ComCon agenda.
But like so many signature Bush initiatives--indeed, like all of them that don't involve cutting taxes for the wealthy or invading Iraq--the reality behind the rhetoric is pretty feeble. If only to get yourself ready to hoot at the screen tonight, you should definitely check out a new Progressive Policy Institute study that concludes Bush has done little or nothing to advance his "compassionate conservative" agenda. Most astounding, when you think about it, is that despite the three separate major tax bills he's pushed through Congress, Bush hasn't lifted a finger to implement his biggest ComCon proposal: making charitable contributions deductible for non-itemizers. In fact, given the baleful impact on charities of Bush's drive to eliminate the estate tax, and the lousy economy, it's pretty clear his term in office has been a terrible experience for both religious and secular charities.
The PPI study makes it abundantly clear that ComCon is just a con. It would be nice if the president were willing to admit it and say: "Compassion... that's a word they use in Washington, DC."