No to 'compassionate conservatism'
Posted: August 7, 2000
1:00 a.m. Eastern
Well, we've all witnessed the "compassionate conservative" convention.
It left me feeling empty.
I respect Marvin Olasky, the former Marxist journalism professor who coined the term. But he and George W. Bush are barking up the wrong tree if they think "compassionate conservatism" is going to rally popular support necessary to effect the real change needed to turn this country around.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am not a "conservative." I reject the term. I repudiate it.
Why? Because conservatism only makes sense if there is something to "conserve." America is far beyond that point.
The founders gave us something worth conserving -- an ingenious and inspired system of limited government, a constitutional republic of sovereign states, an independent nation, checks and balances against tyranny and protections of individual liberties.
Basically, it's all gone. Today we pay only lip service to some of the ideas. Both parties and politicians of all stripes serve a federal leviathan that respects none of the principles of freedom upon which our nation was created under God.
So what are we "conserving"?
Olasky is right as a historian. He recognizes that there was a better time in America when churches and charities did a better job serving the poor, handicapped and underprivileged. He suggests we need to return to those ideals and a time before the federal government stepped into every aspect of our lives and tread so heavily on our rights.
But, by George, we won't get there by being "conservative" -- compassionate or otherwise.
We will only get there by being radical, revolutionary change agents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry before us. Were these men "conservatives"? Hardly. But they are my heroes. Was Jesus Christ conservative? Hardly. But he is my ultimate hero -- my Savior and my Lord.
Jesus and Washington chose to overturn the world's established order, not preserve it.
You can't tame this beast. That's what America's federal bureaucratic establishment has become. It's a hungry, voracious animal that devours freedom, self-reliance, prosperity and independence. It's much more dangerous than the British Empire was in the 18th century. The founders' dream can only be restored by revolutionary action and a radical agenda for change. Anything short of that will only perpetuate the inevitable march to tyranny.
"Compassionate conservatism," Olasky admits, is an attempt to co-opt a tactic employed by the left during the last 35 years. Liberals used "compassion" as a guise for change. It worked. But conservatives, by definition, oppose change. They seek to preserve. They seek to tinker with a system that is frightfully contemptuous of all the principles upon which human freedom is based. It won't work. At best, "compassionate conservatism" can only slow down the momentum that is driving America down the road to serfdom.
"Compassionate conservatism," for instance, seeks tax credits as rewards for good charitable works. It does not seek the overthrow of the tax system -- the very idea that the government has some inalienable right to confiscate your wealth, your earnings, your property. That is a woefully unambitious agenda. Given the yoke of dependence and servitude with which Americans are currently burdened, it is a very un-compassionate plan of inaction.
I've heard many conservatives attack "compassionate conservatism" because they don't like the adjective. They believe it's squishy and wishy-washy and suggests some conservatives are not compassionate. I'm different. I like the adjective. I don't like the noun.
"Conservatism" has lost any meaning, if, indeed, it ever had any. A conservative in China is a Communist. A conservative in America is an anti-communist. Does this make sense? Conservatives define themselves, it seems, by aligning themselves with the status quo. That is a recipe for disaster in an ever-changing world.
Picture two men involved in a ballgame. One is trying to advance the ball, while the other is trying to hold it still. Who's going to win? Obviously the man who is trying to advance it. Picture two men in the boxing ring. One is trying to knock out his opponent, while his opponent is only trying to defend himself. Who's going to win? Obviously, the fighter who is attacking.
Those are illustrations of why the principle of "compassionate conservativism" cannot win. It is a purely defensive strategy. It is a holding action.It's also an oxymoron. Because when you are confronted with evil, there is nothing compassionate about standing still.