compassionate conservatives

Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 21, 2012

The Problem With Rick Santorum’s Holy War; Rick Santorum: 'If Government Is Going To Get Smaller, Then People Have To Get Bigger'; G.O.P. Campaigns Grow More Dependent On ‘Super PAC’ Aid; The Real Defense Budget; EU To Vote On Oil Sands Pollution; Christians Should Not Be Political Pacifists, Says Megachurch Pastor; Latino Mormons Speaking Out Against Romney Over Immigration Issue; Training Afghani Imams To End Violence Against Women (OPINION); Franklin Graham: Obama May Secretly Be A Muslim, Santorum And Gingrich Are Definitely Christian.

Afternoon News Bytes: Jan. 31, 2012

The End Of 'Compassionate Conservatism'?; Tunisia Faces A Balancing Act Of Democracy And Religion; Occupy D.C. Protest Stays Peaceful As No-Camping Deadline Passes; The Republicans' Hispanic Problem; What Does The Future Hold For Iran?; The End Of Health Insurance Companies (OPINION); Syria Unrest: Clinton And Hague Back Arab League Plan At UN; Inequality, The Middle Class, And Growth; Number Of Asset-Poor Americans Rising.

The Disappearance of the Compassionate Conservatives

I would never have been mistaken as a political supporter of President George W. Bush. But in his early days as president, I was invited to have conversations with him and his team about faith-based initiatives aimed at overcoming poverty, shoring up international aid and development for the most vulnerable, and supporting critical agendas such as international adoptions of marginalized children and the broken domestic foster care system.
My invitations to the Bush White House ended when I strongly and publicly opposed the Iraq War. But I continued to support the administration’s efforts to combat poverty and disease, especially Bush’s leadership in combating HIV/AIDs, malaria, and massive hunger in the poorest places in Africa.

That agenda was called “compassionate conservatism” and I was grateful for it. Back then, Republican leaders could be fiscally conservative, favor “small government,” and believe in the free market, for example, but also believe that government should and must partner with the private sector — especially non-profit and faith-based organizations — to help lift people out of poverty, both abroad in the developing world and here at home in the richest nation on the planet. Such a conviction requires two things: A genuine empathy and commitment to the poor, and a more balanced and positive view of government — neither of which were much evident in the GOP’s right-wing quarters, where the compassionate conservative agenda was opposed by party leaders such as Tom DeLay and Dick Armey.

I met people like Mike Gerson, who was then George Bush’s chief speech writer and a policy advisor, and is now a columnist for the Washington Post. I was told it was Gerson and the Bush himself who often were the ones to stand up for the compassionate conservative vision at Oval Office meetings.

Family Research Council Attacks Evangelical and Catholic Leaders

In response to Sojourners' radio ads about the budget debates, the Family Research Council's political action committee has launched radio ads in Kentucky and Ohio arguing that deficit reduction should cut programs that serve poor and vulnerable people. The ads assert that it is the private individual, not government, who has a responsibility to the poor. The ads say, "Jesus didn't instruct the government of his day to take the rich young ruler's property and redistribute it to the poor. He asked the ruler to sell his possessions and help the poor. Charity is an individual choice, not a government mandate."

This could put the speaker of the House, a Catholic, in a difficult position. Catholic social teaching instructs that the government does have a direct responsibility to the poor and that private charity is only one of the ways that Christians express concern for "the least of these." This ad sets itself in direct opposition to that teaching and the values that it comes from. The speaker was already in a tough spot when the Catholic bishops came out with a strong critique of the House plan, but now he has a powerful political organization calling for him to ignore Catholic social teaching all together.