Sunday, July 01, 2007

A REFERENDUM ON COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM

It was such a nice label, “Compassionate Conservatism”? Who doesn’t believe in both concepts? “Well sure,” you might say, “we all support compassion. But many of us are liberals, and for us, conservatism is a dirty word. Right?” Not exactly. Liberals generally extol conservative principles as well – principles like justice, dignity, charity, strength, security, peace … I can continue, but there is hardly a need. When conservatism is coupled with compassion, it sounds pretty darned good. Deep down, whether we voted for W or not, we had to appreciate the moniker he assigned to himself.

For me, the bloom fell off the rose at around the time of the first tax cut. That didn’t sound like compassionate conservatism. It sounded more like a way to dance with the ones who brung ya’, as they say in Crawford. The prime recipients of that tax cut were the same ones who financed the President’s campaign. And the victims of that tax cut were the children and grandchildren of everyone else. Something tells me they’re the ones who needed a bit more of the President’s compassion.

But that’s just me. The President continued his honeymoon throughout his first several months of office, and his popularity went off the charts after the planes smashed into the buildings. That’s when he taught us all that Compassionate Conservatism involves two parts compassion and three parts resolve. That resolve continued when our first warplanes entered Afghani airspace and even after our GIs stormed Iraq in route to seizing WMDs and liberating a thankful nation.

OK. It didn’t exactly go down that way, now did it? As a result, with the passage of years, more and more Americans joined the opposition. But still, until recently, there remained a core group of roughly 30 percent of American citizens who continued to support the President and admire his philosophy of governance. President Bush, they felt, is consumed with preserving democracy throughout the world and security here at home -- good conservative stuff. And while he has compassion for the thousands of fallen American soldiers and their families, he has even more compassion for the millions of families who would be torn apart if he were to leave Iraq to the terrorists and allow them to train with impunity in the open as they once did in Afghanistan. To the “base,” Compassionate Conservatism was never vindicated better than in the President’s resolve to continue our Iraq adventure even after the American death toll in and around Baghdad exceeded the toll a few years back in the Financial District.

Personally, I think the Iraq debacle has demonstrated neither compassion nor conservatism, but merely stubbornness. When people are in holes, what do they do? Well, if they’re bullheaded, they keep on digging, and so have we. But a strange thing happened as our President decided that the war was going well enough to be accelerated. In the middle of his bizarre little surge, he decided to try out Compassionate Conservatism in my kind of way. He decided to throw his remaining political capital behind a bill that would increase border security in the future – surely a conservative value – and would also naturalize 12 million illegal aliens, which sure sounds compassionate. Not surprisingly, his great domestic legislative initiative would bear the name of Mr. Progressive himself, Teddy Kennedy.

That’s right. The Compassionate Conservative met the Bleeding Heart Liberal and saw for the first time in seven years what’s it’s like to stick his neck way out for those who don’t have power. I’m getting the impression he learned the lesson. It’s easy to be a conservative politician. It’s a whole lot harder to be a compassionate one.

Now I know what many of you are thinking: “First, since when did W prove his compassion for illegal aliens? He supported the bill to help out the business owners who want cheap, Mexican labor. As for the laborers themselves, he no more cares about them than he does the poor black people of New Orleans. Second, even if I were to grant that he gave a damn about the illegals, what kind of moron would support a bill that would ensure amnesty prior to border security? Isn’t that bass-ackwards? I mean seriously, who’s going to trust that border security would become a reality if it’s seen as the tail wagging the bill’s dog?”

It’s easy to be cynical, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not buying it. As I see it, this bill was the only way to achieve amnesty for the illegal aliens who are already in the country. The clear quid pro quo for such amnesty was implementing border security, and I have every reason to believe that this Government would have taken that responsibility seriously. As for the idea that the President didn’t really care about the welfare of illegal aliens, I really think that’s missing the point. The fact is that he worked hard to make immigration reform his greatest domestic initiative and that the bill he supported was essentially progressive – at least in its effects. I, for one, can’t read the President’s mind on this issue any more than I can read his mind on why we need to spend the next 50 years (or is it 100?) fighting Iraqis.

So if mind-reading isn’t in order, what do you say we take stock of the consequences of what has just transpired. First of all, we have seen a sitting President of the minority party align himself with the mainstream of the opposing, majority party and still lose -- pretty amazing, when you think about it. Second, that same President, with more than a year and a half to go in his Administration, is now viewed as the lamest of lame ducks. It’s difficult to imagine him pushing through any meaningful program at this point. Third, the Congress comes out of this looking every bit as impotent as the President. Other than conducting investigatory hearings, what exactly are they trying to accomplish on that hill anyway?

The fourth point merits a new paragraph, because I still frankly find it mind boggling. What transpired with respect to this immigration bill further drums in a point that I discussed in The Creed Room. When the conservative base gets together on a political point, they fight like hell to get their way. By contrast, when the liberal base gets together on a political point, they continue to show how little they care about it. All you had to do a month ago was turn on talk radio, and you heard one pundit after another ripping W a new one for supporting amnesty. But there was hardly any way to detect liberal passion on amnesty’s behalf. Those of you who think that amnesty is just not that important an issue might want to think about the Iraq War. When marches are held against that war, how many liberals show up? I go to those marches – religiously – and I can tell you that I’m always amazed at the low turnouts, especially when compared to the reaction during the Vietnam War. Moreover, even the so-called “anti-war” politicians seem tepid in their opposition. Just watch the Democrats debate. They’re so damned intellectual when they talk about the war. None of the top contenders bring to the table any visceral emotions, unlike the way right wing politicians display their hatred for amnesty. Once again, if there’s a truly liberal pulse in this country, it’s awfully faint.

Fifth, and finally, this latest episode has me thinking that the overall level of cynicism with government has reached the point where it will be so much easier to oppose major government initiatives than it will be to support them. Compassionate conservatism – true compassionate conservatism – deserves our support, and I suspect that the majority of Americans believe in it. But right now, who would trust any group of politicians to govern with such a philosophy in mind? It has come to the point where even when a bill emerges that would clearly have a compassionate result (in the form of amnesty), many people wanted to kill it because they didn’t trust its conservative bona fides (in the form of ensuring border security). That, my friends, is cynical.

Somehow, we have to find a way to restore the people’s trust in their leaders. We need to think of them as sincere, passionate, and willing to persevere through difficult times. We probably need leaders on both sides of the aisle who fit that description, because they are going to have to rally their respective troops to hammer out the kind of compromise that failed this past week.

It won’t be easy to find that assemblage of talent. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure not seeing it on the horizon.

3 comments:

Bert said...

Name me a profession that even comes close to having happened to it what being a politician has had happen to it.

1. You have to be able to pretend a foundation of purity, or to have learned some kind of heroic purity.

2. No actual skeletons; alleged skeletons are acceptable, because the person who recites chapter & verse can always be attacked and destroyed.

3. The fewer flip-flops, the better. No True Conservative wants to have to trust a converted Liberal.

4. You have to be able to paint a kind face on your assumed greed, be it power or money you're greedy for. The electorate wouldn't trust someone who wasn't in 'it' for power or money.

5. Single Issue Politics... This one has me concerned. Polarizing voters is relatively simple and is looking to be profitable, if you can make your single issue look broad enough.


A final thought: 2008's Republican National Convention is going to be the most fun Republicans with a sense of humor (not a large percentage) have ever had.

Daniel Spiro said...

Republicans with a sense of humor.

Now there's a concept!

Mary Lois said...

bert may be the only one...