WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2016 — New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spoke for the tireless typists who daily pound out fiction in newsrooms across America, liberal and conservative, when he bemoaned the death of a virulent and peculiar strain of conservatism that incubated among the members of one political family and spread throughout the Republican Party.
“Back in 2000, George W. Bush did something fascinating: On the campaign trail he preached ‘compassionate conservatism,’ telling wealthy Republicans about the travails of Mexican-American immigrants and declaring to women in pearls that ‘the hardest job in America’ is that of a single mother,” said Kristof.
What is “compassionate conservatism”?
“Conservatism must be a creed of hope,” where government “acts as a clearinghouse and catalyst for the natural compassion that is a hallmark of the American people … The creed that promotes social progress through individual change,” wrote former President George W. Bush in the foreword to the book “Compassionate Conservatism: What it is, What it does, and How it Can Transform America.”
In short, compassionate conservatism uses the overwhelming power of government and its implied threat of force as an agent of, well, hope and change.
Compassionate conservatism will build a brave, new world where the busy social engineers of government, through bureaucratic regulation and tax policies, coerce new, acceptable, government-approved Americans into being, a people of the government, for the government, by the government.
If you believe everything you read in newspapers and hear from the talking heads on the evening news and adhere to their admonitions against thinking certain thoughts and speaking certain words, then you are well on your way.
What need is there for individuals capable of critical thinking and unbridled political debate when big-hearted, big government and its media mouthpiece are there to do it all for us?
Kristof misses the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush that “helped elect” him “but then largely disappeared from Republican playbooks and policy.”
In 1980, conservatism’s majordomo William F. Buckley bristled when CBS’s Morley Safer insisted “conservatives lack compassion.”
“Conservatism begins by saying you must not trifle with the individual,” said Buckley.
There is no escaping the suffocating embrace of big government, whether compassionate or malevolent. They are one and the same.
In 2007, Michael Novak wrote in Buckley’s National Review, “While Bush may be conservative in principle, in practice he has been simply incompetent. Bush may have wanted to advance the conservative cause, but instead has just made a mess.”
Bush’s incoherent “mess” has pushed the GOP’s disgusted, vexed, and impatient conservative base into the arms of political heretics Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Trump and Cruz have moved beyond the tarnished big-government tropes of W and his party’s discredited establishment.
The reason is that Americans are much more interested in discussing our deepening economic crisis, our disastrous immigration policy, curbing the growing danger of Islamic terror at home and repealing the authoritarian overreach of Obamacare.
“In case of emergency,” says the sign, “break glass.”
A shattering of the GOP’s status quo is coming because many conservative Republicans have forgotten, as Buckley once observed, “You must not trifle with the individual.”