When House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers responded to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union message Tuesday night, she used a 13-letter word that some Republicans have considered almost obscene: “We stand for an America that is every bit as compassionate as it is exceptional.”
Republican stalwarts over the past few years have been singing (my apologies to Edwin Starr, who wrote a hit song about war in 1970), “Compassion, huh yeah / What is it good for? / Absolutely nothing, just say it again … / Compassion, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker / Compassion, it’s got one friend that’s the undertaker.”
Some conservatives dislike the phrase “compassionate conservative” because they say conservatism by definition is compassionate. Others associate the term with Bush administration domestic spending increases and see it as liberalism lite. But a funny thing has happened on the way to burying the concept: Not only are rising stars like Rodgers and Sen. Marco Rubio emphasizing help for the poor, but more conservative journalists are coming on board.
All four feature articles in the Jan. 27 issue of the leading conservative stalwart journal, National Review, could have emerged from a compassionate conservative briefing notebook. J.D. Vance’s “The College Trap” examines how “our higher-education system hurts the poor.” David Goldhill discusses healthcare for the poor, and Charles Cooke shows how California farmworkers have lost jobs because of radical environmentalist preoccupations.
The cover story is about Ben Sasse, a Nebraskan who is running for a U.S. Senate seat on an anti-Obamacare platform and is worried about college students who think “Republicans are for rich people and big business.” Sasse states on his website, “Churches, charities, civil associations—these are the lifeblood of society and the chief protection against the extremes of isolated individualism and all-encompassing statism.”
That’s what compassionate conservatism is all about: finding non-governmental ways Americans can work together to help neighbors leave behind poverty and other social ills.