The Gospel of Paul
“Compassionate conservatism” was a smart move on George W. Bush’s part, maybe even necessary to win. The GOP was dogged by a reputation as the heartless party, amplified by the 1995 government shutdown and the clunky Dole campaign. And it had learned from the success of welfare reform that message matters. Many Republican voters believed Mr. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was just that: a way of selling conservative reforms. Tax cuts would help the working poor. Vouchers would help minority kids. Charities would fare better
getting people off drugs than government bureaucrats.
Mr. Bush got his tax cuts, but voters found out too late that he was no small-government believer. School vouchers were traded away for more education dollars. A new Medicare drug entitlement has added trillions to the burden on future taxpayers. Government-directed energy policy is larded with handouts to political patrons in the corn and ethanol lobbies. A lack of budget discipline encouraged a Republican Congress to go spend-crazy, stuffing bills with porky earmarks. Much of this was simply a Republican majority that had lost its way. But at least
some of it was promoted by Bush advisers who specifically argued that “compassionate conservatism” was in fact a license to embrace government–so long as government was promoting Republican ideals.
That idea has become even more vogue, with a wing of the party now arguing that the small-government libertarianism that has defined the Republican Party since Goldwater is not only
immoral, but an election-loser. Former Bush speechwriter Michael’s Gerson’s new book, “Heroic Conservatism,” calls on Republicans to give in to big government and co-opt the tools of state for their own purposes. “If Republicans run in future elections with a simplistic, anti-government message, ignoring the poor, the addicted, and children at risk, they will lose, and they will deserve to lose,” he writes. Then again, Republicans have already been losing, and losing
big, in no small part because they’ve taken Mr. Gerson’s advice. …
If Mr. Paul has shown anything, it’s that many conservative voters continue to doubt there’s anything “heroic” or “compassionate” in a ballooning government that sucks up their dollars to aid a dysfunctional state. When Mr. Paul gracefully exits this race, his followers will be looking for an alternative to take up that cause. Any takers?