Magazine article The Spectator

Listen Up, Dave: To Care Is Not to Do

Magazine article The Spectator

Listen Up, Dave: To Care Is Not to Do

Article excerpt

David Frum on the lessons the Tories can learn from the original conservative moderniser: George W. Bush, whose progressive policies often just didn't add up

Political parties typically undergo a four-stage cycle after a major defeat. It goes something like this:

1. We didn't really lose. (The other guys just happened to luck into an appealing candidate - but the people still really prefer us. ) 2. OK, we lost - but only because the voters are idiots.

3. OK, we lost and maybe the voters are not idiots - but there is nothing we can do without betraying our sacred principles.

4. Hey, maybe there is something we can do.

The British Conservative party has reached Stage 4. The US Republican party is stuck in Stage 1.

The Republicans have much to learn from the Conservatives (I detailed some of those lessons in the November issue of Commentary). For the present, however, Republicans are in no mood to absorb any lessons. They are waiting for the public to come to its senses and see through the phony Obama.

Every campaign has a secret slogan, the unique selling proposition it is (often unconsciously) presenting to the voting public. In 2008, Barack Obama's was: 'Vote for me and you'll never have to think about race again.' John McCain's was: 'More wars for a Spanish-speaking America.' Now in 20092010, Republicans are telling the electorate: 'We will forgive you this time - but don't do it again.'

Not until the verdict on that campaign message arrives will the Republicans consider the alternatives attempted by British Conservatives. But if we on our side of the Atlantic are as yet unwilling to learn from you on yours, we still have things to teach that it might benefit you to learn.

Our lessons, drawn from the hard experience of the Bush years, apply to governance rather than to politics.

Here are the four perhaps most immediately relevant to the Conservatives as they contemplate a possible return to power.

1. Don't confuse political formulas with policy solutions.

George W. Bush was the original conservative moderniser. He campaigned for Texas governor on a message of 'compassionate conservatism' - and won re-election in 1998 with unusual support among single women, Hispanics and even African Americans. The trouble came when Bush moved from the (constitutionally weak) office of Texas governor to the US presidency. At that point it became inescapably obvious: compassionate conservatism did not constitute anything like a governing philosophy. The pieces simply did not cohere.

Compassionate conservatism wanted both to grant some kind of amnesty to illegal aliens in the United States, and to continue the wage advances gained by African Americans during the Clinton years. Those two policies cancelled each other out.

Compassionate conservatism had promised tax cuts for middle-class wage-earners - and a huge new prescription drug programme in Medicare. Again: mutually assured destruction.

Compassionate conservatism praised the successes of faith-based groups in healing addicts and mentoring young people. It promised to invest large amounts of money enlarging and expanding these projects - without first studying whether these projects could in fact be successfully scaled up. (They couldn't. ) To name a problem is not to solve it; to care is not to do. Those might seem obvious maxims, but they are not always apprehended by the political mind. …

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