Readers sent me some thoughtful suggestions in response to my question about re-branding “compassionate conservatism.” (I suggested a nomenclature change because the Bush White House turned the expression into a euphemism for “government spending.”) Proposals included “UPward compassion,” “Functioning freedom,” “Personal responsibility,” Redemptive empowerment,” “Restorative benevolence,” “Justice and mercy in balance,” and “Economic mainstreaming.”
I appreciate the thoughts, but I don’t know if any of those suggestions sing. And maybe, just maybe, the expression “compassionate conservatism” isn’t dead. (After all, “liberal” has taken a licking but it keeps on ticking.) Stellar historian Gertrude Himmelfarb’s Jan. 13 Weekly Standard article, “Compassionate conservatism, properly understood,” is encouraging. She noted approvingly that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently used the word “compassionate” in a positive way five times in a speech: “His own endorsement of it is reassuring. It is precisely because of his impeccable conservative credentials that we may dare revive the word, and with it a new conservatism, a remoralized conservatism, one might say.”
Himmelfarb noted, “What conservatives can do, and what Ryan and others are now trying to do, is to recapture compassion from the liberals, de-sentimentalizing while reaffirming it. Properly understood (as Tocqueville would say), compassion is a preeminently conservative virtue. It dignifies the individual (the donor of charity as well as the recipient); it thrives in a free and sound economy where the individual can ‘better himself’; it nurtures a spirit of independence rather than fostering the dependency that is too often the result of misguided entitlements; and it finds expression and fulfillment in civil society more often than in government.”
That defines well the past quarter-century of effort by myself and others.
Himmelfarb: “Conservatives have always maintained that conservative ideas—of government, the economy, society, the family—are based on sound moral principles. But the case has been made almost as an afterthought. Ryan proposes to bring it to the forefront. ‘We have a compassionate vision based on ideas that work,’ Ryan tells us. ‘But sometimes we don’t do a good job of laying out that vision.’ Compassion—the word and the idea—may help give shape and substance to that vision.”
So true. All the conservative economic theories in the world won’t work if American families continue to be unformed and malformed, if children report to courts rather than to parents, and if millions of Julia’s are alone and dependent on government.