Watching Governor Rick Perry’s speech at the Red State Gathering, I was struck by the degree to which conservatism has grown at the highest levels of electoral politics, including presidential elections, over the past decade.
Twelve years ago, another Texan, George W. Bush, announced his presidential bid by ushering in a new era of conservatism. At the time, following the longest Republican exile from the presidency since the ’60s, many conservatives were willing to jump on the bandwagon of the first viable Republican candidate, irrespective of his veiled insults to conservatism.
Here is an excerpt from President Bush’s announcement speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 12, 1999:
“I’m running because my party must match a conservative mind with a compassionate heart. […]
It is conservative to insist on education standards, basics and local control. It is compassionate to make sure that not one single child gets left behind.
I know this approach has been criticized. But why? Is compassion beneath us? Is mercy below us? Should our party be led by someone who boasts of a hard heart? I know Republicans – across the country — are generous of heart. I am confident the American people view compassion as a noble calling. The calling of a nation where the strong are just and the weak are valued.
I am proud to be a compassionate conservative. I welcome the label. And on this ground I’ll take my stand.”
The inconspicuous implication of Bush’s newfound dictum was that pure, unadulterated conservatism, while perspicacious in theory, lacked inherent compassion in its application. He felt that it must be tempered with big government handouts and control over the educational system. Consequently, upon assumption of the presidency, President Bush ushered in a new era of big government conservatism; an oxymoron, if there ever was one. He governed with a muddled concoction of conservatism (pro-life and tax cuts) mixed with “compassion” aka statism (the largest expansion of government at the time). And as the saying goes, the rest is history.
It took a cathartic experience – the magnitude of an Obama Marxist presidency – for many on our side to understand the true meaning of compassion, along with the vivid vices of anti-conservative policies that are falsely propagated under its banner. We have seen how the motherload of all Keynesian interventionist subsidy policies – from big corporate bailouts to dozens of anti-poverty programs – prolonged one of the deepest recessions. Worse, it has permanently obviated any chance of recovery for the first time in our history.
Thus, we have learned how it is those very interventionist policies – policies that are compassionate on the surface, but meretricious in reality – which have led to rampant unemployment, housing and credit crises, skyrocketing healthcare, energy, and food costs, and permanent dependency on government.
In this vein there has been an awakening among Republicans that plain old conservatism, the intrepid and unvarnished brand, is inherently compassionate to the masses; that only a complete abrogation of big government as we know it, the government that punishes success and subsidizes, perpetuates, and exacerbates, poverty, will lead to true compassion for all; the type of compassion that allows a full level of job creation, income growth, and provides the cheapest cost of living.
Now, twelve years after Bush announced his presidential campaign under the banner of “compassionate conservative”, his successor as Governor of Texas is running under the “conservative compassionate” banner:
“You see, as Americans we’re not defined by class, and we will never be told our place. What makes our nation exceptional is that anyone, from any background, can climb the highest of heights. As Americans, we don’t see the role of government as guaranteeing outcomes, but allowing free men and women to flourish based on their own vision, their hard work and their personal responsibility. And as Americans, we realize there is no taxpayer money that wasn’t first earned by the sweat and toil of one of our citizens.
That’s why we reject this President’s unbridled fixation on taking more money out of the wallets and pocketbooks of American families and employers and giving it to a central government. “Spreading the wealth” punishes success while setting America on course to greater dependency on government. Washington’s insatiable desire to spend our children’s inheritance on failed “stimulus” plans and other misguided economic theories have given us record debt and left us with far too many unemployed. […]
We stand up and proudly proclaim that Washington is not our caretaker and we reject the state that, in Margaret Thatcher’s words, she said a state that takes too much from us in order to do too much for us. We will not stand for that any longer. […]
In America, the people are not subjects of government. The government is subject to the people. And it is up to us, to this present generation of Americans, to take a stand for freedom, to send a message to Washington that we’re taking our future back from the grips of central planners who would control our healthcare, who would spend our treasure, who downgrade our future and micro-manage our lives. […]
And I’ll promise you this: I’ll work every day to make Washington, D.C. as inconsequential in your life as I can. And at the same time, we’ll be freeing our families and small businesses and states from the burdensome and costly federal government so those groups can create, innovate and succeed.”
Twelve years after Texas proffered the conservative movement with compassionate conservatism, it might finally present us with ‘conservative compassionatism.’