WHO KILLED COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM? Over at the Drum Major Institute, Elana Levin flags down a great Washington Post story chronicling the Bush administration's vow of silence and oath of inaction on poverty in America. At least they're getting zen about it. As the article explains, that glorious post-Katrina speech when Bush mounted the podium to have his Lyndon Johnson moment was just that -- a moment, never to be repeated, remembered, or referenced by the administration again.
But the roots of the Bush administration's betrayal on poverty reach far beyond Katrina. Compassionate conservatism, after all, was once more than an empty catch phrase; it described a policy philosophy that sought economic uplift through government incentives. Myron Magnet, author of the foundational compassionate conservative work The Dream and the Nightmare, met with Bush repeatedly during the campaign, and visitors to Karl Rove's office used to leave with a copy of the book in hand -- according to Rove, it laid out the campaign's roadmap. So when Magnet assured us that "At [Bush's compassionate conservatism's] core is concern for the poor �not a traditional Republican preoccupation �and an explicit belief that government has a responsibility for poor Americans," it was safe to assume he knew what he was talking about.
Only he didn't. Compassionate conservatism retained only its disinterest in small government conservatism. As the years ground excruciatingly onward and the Bush administration's domestic policy priorities crystallized, it became abundantly clear that this administration was corporatist, not conservative in nature -- theirs was a philosophy of industrialist, not indigent, uplift. It didn't have to be that way: Bush's early moves were promising, with No Child Left Behind a flawed but supportable attempt at codifying equality in our schools. After 9-11, though, the war president killed the poor's president, and Bush turned his already meager interest in the mechanics of governing entirely away from domestic issues.
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