'Compassionate Conservatism,' Bush Style

By Scott Baldauf, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

'Compassionate Conservatism,' Bush Style


Scott Baldauf, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


He has told supporters in New Hampshire to "keep your powder dry." He has met with wealthy potential donors to lay out his vision for America. He has even hired a private investigator to snoop around his past to anticipate what reporters or opponents might find out. In short, George W. Bush has done everything that a prospective presidential candidate might do - except announce his intention to run. Small wonder, then, that at noon today, when Governor Bush gives his inaugural speech for a second term in office, reporters will be scrambling all around the pink-granite Texas Capitol, scribbling every word, analyzing every nuance. Bush remains the top Republican candidate for the White House in 2000, and his brand of "compassionate conservatism" is being touted by some as the future of the GOP. The affable Texan isn't the first Republican to promote the idea that his party can tailor its conservative message to a broader audience. But his position as governor of the nation's second-biggest state and as a presidential front-runner has made him the leading figure in a movement to cast the GOP in kinder hues - a stance that does carry risks. "George W. Bush really does believe there is a role for government, and poverty is a big concern for government," says Myron Magnet, editor of City Journal, the magazine of the conservative Manhattan Institute in New York. "Until now, conservatives have fastidiously turned up their noses at the poor, and that's why conservatives have not been interested in urban problems. But what Bush is saying is that these people are the appropriate object of conservative concern, and we have some solutions to their problems." Bush says he won't announce his presidential aspirations in the spring, but many supporters say he has already picked up the mantle of the leading conservative with a heart. And his landslide victory last fall is evidence that voters - including women and minorities - like what they hear. Bush's approach Needless to say, the conservative approach to societal ills - from poverty to joblessness to teen pregnancy - is a far cry from the Great Society approach touted by Democrats over the past 35 years. Instead of simply cutting welfare mothers a monthly check, Bush talks of putting them into group homes and encouraging them to seek work. Instead of pumping more money into failing schools, Bush calls for testing students to be sure they meet the requirements for passing on to the next grade. He even supports a pilot voucher program to allow low-income families to use public money to pay for private-school tuition. In essence, Mr. Magnet says, Bush believes government is not evil, and it should not be neutral either. It should encourage good behavior and responsibility, and it should welcome the participation of nonprofits and churches in helping the disadvantaged. "What people who are failing in life often need is values, and care for the poor and particularly care for children is something that ought not to be value neutral," says Magnet. (Bush says Magnet's book on liberal social policy, "The Dream and the Nightmare," has had a great influence on him.) In the past two elections, this approach has gained broad support, especially from voting groups that Republicans have long had difficulty reaching, such as women, blacks, and Hispanics. …

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