A Journal for Western Man




What is Compassionate Conservatism?

Harry Roolaart

Issue X- January 22, 2003


Embracing the ideology of "Compassionate Conservatism", the president and a majority of Republican congressional members signal their willingness to surrender conservative principles that have characterized the party for decades to the primary tenet of Liberalism: the public perception that Liberals and Democrats have a monopoly on compassion. In doing so, they lead our nation down an ominous path that begins with the writings of a little known professor of journalism, at the University of Texas.

Countering decades of liberal name calling, false accusations of extremism, racism and heartlessness, Compassionate Conservatism claims for itself a new "coherent, principled" and "superior approach to domestic policy".

One might ask: Superior to what?

Ostensibly, the answer is, "superior to Liberalism". In fact, much of its rhetoric implies as much. Marvin Olasky, the behind-the-scenes architect of Compassionate Conservatism and the man who helped coin the phrase with a group of Republican congressmen answers the question as follows "[Compassionate Conservatism] is the alternative to the failed liberal welfare state."

"At its core," says Myron Magnet of the Wall Street Journal, "is concern for the poor —not a traditional Republican preoccupation —and an explicit belief that government has a responsibility for poor Americans."

Implicit in such statements is a fact neither President Bush nor Mr. Olasky cares to address. If Compassionate Conservatism is the alternative to the liberal welfare state, than what have traditional conservatives been doing for the past 70 years? Isn't Conservatism itself the alternative to liberalism? If "Compassionate Conservatism lays out a program to attack poverty without compromising conservative principles," then why aren't traditional conservatives out in the street outraged at the insinuation that it is their values which are responsible for the plight of the poor?

The answer, the unthinkable answer is that traditional conservatism, with values such as individualism, a good defense, low taxation, freedom from excessive regulation, and smaller government has been on life-support for decades. Clearly "secular", derived from reason, these traditional conservative values have always been the answer to poverty, but more importantly, they have always been incompatible with the right's Christian morality of altruism and in particular with the views of Marvin Olasky. As history shows us, Republicans are simply not capable of defending conservatism as it ought to be defended. Their religion doesn't allow it. As a result, Compassionate Conservatism with its emphasis on Christian altruism claims its superiority over, not the secular altruism of Liberalism, but the individualism of traditional conservatism. Its presence in the field of politics marks the clear, unmistakable signal that the plug has been pulled: Conservatism is dead.

There will be no autopsy, no investigation of what went wrong. The carcass that was conservatism won't even have a funeral. It will be consigned to a shallow, unmarked grave dug by cowards who fear that one day they will have to answer for their inability, if not outright refusal to defend their intellectual homeland: a love of liberty, individual rights, and a marketplace free from regulation.

Their frantic hope lies with the lone figure of one Marvin Olasky, a former atheist, then communist turned right-wing intellectual who spent the year 2000 as candidate Bush's advisor. Using George W. Bush's as a mouthpiece for his radical turn to obliterate the separation between church and state, Olasky gave the country his dreamchild: Compassionate Conservatism. He spoke to our nation in no uncertain terms, with a mixture of Christian altruism and his own brand of missionary zeal. When interviewed and asked, " What is your ultimate goal within the revolutionary compassionate conservative movement?" Olasky answers bluntly: "That our nation will adopt biblical principles in fighting poverty and many other social ills, and that many people will be transformed personally in the process."

Clearly, the president agrees for otherwise he would never have taken on Compassionate Conservatism as a platform from which to launch his presidential bid. Speaking from lecterns across the country, President Bush is the preeminent political advocate for Olasky's vision, one that has spread like "a fire across our great nation". His slogans are greeted with applause and consistently, this president has retained an overall 70% approval rating for an unprecedented 11 months.

All of which does not alter the fact that "Compassionate" is but a euphemism for "Christian", in particular the "fundamentalist" varieties such as Marvin Olasky and George W. Bush represent. When one refers to Compassionate Conservatism, one is really speaking of Christian Conservatism – without the wall that is supposed to separate them. When our president says "It is compassionate to increase our international aid", what he means is that it is "Christian" to increase international aid.

When our president tells us that " Greater aid contributions from America must be and will be linked to greater responsibility from developing nations." And that "in return for these funds, we expect nations to rout out corruption, to open their markets, to respect human rights, and to adhere to the rule of law." Then expect this same tit-for-tat principle to be applied to domestic issues where government funds are made available to religious and secular organizations for the purposes of charity. What will be the standard to follow? Expect the "withholding of services and funds unless Christian behavior is exhibited, or at least mimicked," says Poppy Dixon, in her review of the book "Compassionate Conservatism" by Marvin Olasky.

Perhaps our president says it best, when saying:

"By being involved and by taking responsibility upon ourselves, we gain something else, as well: We contribute to the life of our country. We become more than taxpayers and occasional voters, we become citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens who hear the call of duty, who stand up for their beliefs, who care for their families, who control their lives, and who treat their neighbors with respect and compassion. We discover a satisfaction that is only found in service, and we show our gratitude to America and to those who came before us."

Compassionate Conservatism is an ideology that promotes not individualism, but citizenry; not self-interest, but a duty towards others; not the right to exist for one's own sake, but to live a life of service to others. This is the legacy of altruism and Christianity, not individualism and conservatism. For Olasky, the thinker and President Bush, the appropriator, only two possibilities exist: " Many Muslim journalists depict America as a land of selfishness and perversity. They don't understand that there are two Americas. Yes, the America of moral anarchy exists. But alongside it stands an America of incredible compassion, an America with people willing to sacrifice so as to provide for widows, orphans, the aged and the disabled." The choice, Mr. Olasky tells us, lies between "anarchy" and one's willingness to "sacrifice" oneself towards the greater good. No other choice exist. This is the legacy of Compassionate Conservatism...

Harry Roolaart is the founder and creator of the harryroolaart.com website. He is also a writer and artist living and working in Charlotte, North Carolina.  You may contact him personally at hroolaart@harryroolaart.com.

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