Marriage is love.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Robert J. Samuelson: Cynical Conservatism

Washington Post, Wednesday, October 5, 2005; Page A23

George W. Bush entered the White House preaching "compassionate conservatism," but he may leave known for cynical conservatism. By this, I don't mean that his presidency will fail. The judgment of history, I suspect, will rest heavily on the outcomes of the struggle against terrorism and the war in Iraq, subjects about which I know no more than ordinary readers. For all the administration's miscalculations and setbacks, the ultimate results could still be more good than bad. But compassionate conservatism was never about foreign policy. It purported to be a new approach to governing at home that blended traditional values and modern sensibilities.

As a political pitch, it aimed to create a permanent Republican majority by convincing millions of centrists that conservatives had souls and that Bush himself was a new breed of moderate -- all the while without frightening the conservative Republican "base." As a governing philosophy, it suggested that Bush could pursue the goals of modern liberalism, helping the poor and promoting social justice, without forsaking the values of modern conservatism -- including individual responsibility and disciplined government. There was always an ambiguity about this brilliant phrase. Is compassionate conservatism (a) a genuine governing philosophy or (b) merely a clever sound bite?

Five years later, we know that the answer is (b)