`Compassionate Conservatism' Ready for White House

Article excerpt

The "compassionate conservatism" of President-elect George W. Bush - with its goal of "solving some of society's deepest problems one person at a time" - will move from campaign theme to governing agenda, his supporters say.

Soon to make its home in the White House, the agenda can draw on executive orders, laws, task forces, staff appointments, bully-pulpit speeches and meetings with constituents to achieve its goals.

"It will be interwoven into many of the reform proposals," said transition spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss. "We are talking with Capitol Hill now about when different proposals will be moved forward with maximum efficacy."

Mr. Bush began the process his first day after visiting Washington by gathering about 15 religious leaders in Austin, Texas, "to begin a dialogue about how best to help faith-based programs change people's lives," Mr. Bush said.

"It is a perfect theme for the administration to come in with, especially after lots of nerves were rubbed raw by the election," said Marvin Olasky, a senior fellow at the Acton Institute, a free-market and religion think tank.

Mr. Olasky, a professor in Austin who attended the meeting with clergy members, introduced the "compassionate conservatism" concept to Mr. Bush in 1993. Mr. Bush this year wrote a forward to Mr. Olasky's book on that topic.

Many of the areas where both conservatism and compassion are supposed to influence federal policy are listed in the Bush campaign's 457-page manifesto, "Renewing America's Purpose."

The Bush education plan hopes to "leave no child behind" by letting teachers discipline students, establishing national standards and infusing schools that work well with federal money.

When they don't work, the money might go to parents to choose other schools. "You might even call it compassionate choice," Mr. Olasky said.

Other areas where the compassionate conservative agenda may be implemented include the Department of Health and Human Services, where family-policy issues are addressed, and in the domestic-policy council at the White House.

But Mr. Bush has said the "essence" of his theme is not Washington expansion, but "encouraging and empowering the good hearts and good works of the American people," which is a question of motivating individual people.

One way is by fiscal policy, such as Mr. Bush's proposed new tax deductions for charity, marriage and rearing children.

Another, advocated in the campaign, is to curb abortion by making adoption easier and to help people with drug, welfare and crime problems by allowing religious ministries to use federal funds.

The allowance hinges on the "charitable choice" clause in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which is up for reauthorization late next year. At the Austin meeting, Mr. Bush told clergy members he would establish in the White House an "Office for Faith-Based Action," as it was called in campaign promises. …