Compassionate Conservatism: Warm Hearts, Tough Minds

Article excerpt

Compassionate conservatism is not for bleeding hearts who want the government to save the poor.

Rather, it is for people with "warm hearts and tough minds" who don't mind working with the poor themselves, says Marvin Olasky, the man who coined the phrase.

"Compassionate conservatism is not an easy slogan. The practice of it is very hard," Mr. Olasky, a Texas journalism professor and historian, told a Heritage Foundation audience yesterday. "Some candidates still see that phrase as word candy for a political campaign, to not offend."

They've got it wrong, he said.

The topic has stirred national debate since Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican presidential contender, dubbed himself a "compassionate conservative" in 1997.

In a policy speech last year, Mr. Bush said "compassionate conservatism" would guide his social policy if he reaches the White House.

Mr. Olasky introduced Mr. Bush to the concept in 1993.

In sum, the University of Texas professor said, compassionate conservatism - also the title of his new book - is about putting needy Americans on their feet by as much person-to-person involvement and religious freedom as possible, and as little government involvement as necessary.

This "new paradigm" for social improvement starts at the most basic level of the family, relying secondly on a religious community and thirdly on the civic community, Mr. Olasky said.

Nevertheless, he tells fellow conservatives, this hands-on compassion does involve government, preferably through tax credits or vouchers to private-sector groups.

As a last resort, he said, direct funding to social ministries run by Christian, Jewish or Muslim groups also is acceptable as long as they do not have to shed their religious identities.

"A pure libertarian would say, `No,' " Mr. Olasky said, referring to a view that shuns all government intrusion in individual lives. He then quoted Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th-century conservative British prime minister, as saying, "Paying attention to political reality is a conservative principle."

Federal welfare systems will not go away, he said, and social need is far greater than local faith-based service groups can handle.

Indeed, Mr. Olasky pictures a future where there still will be a "central welfare office" run by the government or a foundation, but the referrals there can be to religious-run social services, not just secular units. …