Last Thursday, Bush speechwriter extraordinaire Michael Gerson wrote in The Washington Post, "Perhaps the most surprising result of the Iowa caucuses was the return of compassionate conservatism from the margins of the Republican stage to its center." He noted that "A compassionate-conservative approach to governing would result in a different and smaller federal role-using free-market ideas to strengthen families and communities, rather than constructing centralized bureaucracies."
On Friday, Matt Welch, on the libertarian magazine Reason's blog, asked "… a question, re: 'a compassionate-conservative approach to governing would result in a different and smaller federal role' … well, when, exactly? Gerson's compassionate conservative splurge created debts our grandchildren will be paying off, which will eventually wreak havoc on the very social safety net he aims to shore up."
On Saturday, Andrew Stuttaford quoted Gerson and Welch and then wrote on National Review Online, "For all the fine talk, the reality of Rick Santorum's vision would be more government, not less." Hmm … Santorum does a great job of pointing out that moral issues are not merely private affairs, because broken or never-formed families that leave children uncared for result in more government social workers, more courts, and more food welfare.
The way to minimize the damage is to involve churches and community institutions in caring for those in need. That's compassionate conservatism. Regardless of mutations that occurred in the Bush administration, compassionate conservatism is an alternative to big government, not an accelerator of growth. Stuttaford's post at NRO elicited this good response from Steve Wright: "Compassionate conservatism has a meaning as a policy. It is not just some label. Have you people never heard of Marvin Olasky?"
No reason they should have, unless they're readers of WORLD or some books far from the best-seller lists, but Wright provided a good summary of compassionate conservatism: "Rather than the bloated federal bureaucracy based on entitlement, tax money would go to private charity doing similar work yet far more effectively and with the willingness to discriminate between some heroin junkie and the single mom whose husband just ran out on her."
Wright noted, "Such groups are often religious in their connection and so somehow this is a violation of the Constitution in a way that the bloated tax-grabbing bureaucracy is not. If conservatives really think we are going to ELIMINATE federal spending for welfare-related programs, we are delusional. However, instead of 5 cents on every tax dollar going to the actual need, I would be happy with 90 cents on every tax dollar-and thus a whole lot of MILLIONS of less tax dollars doing the same work. … So here we are, billions and billions of dollars later."