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Jewish World Review /Jan. 8, 1999 /19 Teves, 5759

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas ‘Compassionate conservatism’ is redundant

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) THE BUZZ PHRASE AMONG SOME TOP REPUBLICANS in search of a message and a leader is "compassionate conservatism.'' The words suggest that true conservatism -- smaller government, lower taxes, personal responsibility and accountability -- is insensitive to the needs of people. In fact, real conservatism IS compassionate because it frees people from strangling government regulations, high taxes and oppressive bureaucracy, allowing them to develop to their full potential.

Some Republican governors are embracing "compassionate conservatism'' with all the zeal of a New Age hugger. They apparently believe that the success of Bill Clinton's fraudulent domestic agenda -- liberalism wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket of phony concern for the little guy -- can work for them. But Republicans will make a big mistake if they try to out-compassion Democrats, who are the originators of touchy-feely politics and will always do it better.

Compassion means "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.'' What about the source of that distress? Would people be less distressed if they were allowed to keep more of the money they earn instead of turning so much over to government, which then doles it out through programs, some of which wouldn't be necessary if people had more of their own money to save and spend? Lower taxes could alleviate the need for a second wage-earner in many families, allowing one parent to stay home with the children.

Compassionate conservatism has found favor with a number of Republican governors, including Frank Keating (Oklahoma), Tom Ridge (Pennsylvania), Christine Todd Whitman (New Jersey), George W. Bush (Texas), George Pataki (New York) and James Gilmore (Virginia). Not all of these would rank high with every conservative. Some are social liberals. Many are talking dangerously of simply rearranging deck chairs on a ship with a Democrat captain. Many refuse to criticize big government, fearing that might sound uncompassionate. So they suggest different ways to spend money -- instead of ways not to spend it and allow the people who make it to keep more of what they earn.

Gov. Gilmore told The Washington Post: "I'm not trying to grow or shrink bureaucracy. What I am attempting to do is to utilize government to do the right kind of things.'' In Gilmore's first year in office, the executive branch of Virginia government has increased by nearly 3,000 employees. Elected in a rare GOP sweep of statewide offices, Gilmore won because he promised to drastically reduce the state's hated personal property tax on automobiles. He delivered. Now he wants to spend the budget surplus on some programs favored by Democrats. He should look for more taxes to cut, reduce the size of government and spend less. When Republicans cut taxes, they do well. When they spend like Democrats, they do less well.

Much of this posturing has to do with image. But the key to Republican success is not for Republicans to remake themselves in the image of Democrats. It is to change the people's image of government as the all-compassionate benefactor of humankind and dispenser of goodies.

Perhaps the GOP's greatest accomplishment of this decade has been welfare reform. Republican governors, because of their success in getting people off welfare and into real jobs, forced President Clinton to sign a welfare reform bill. Opponents forecasted starved bodies in the streets. It never happened. So who was more compassionate -- big government dispensing government checks that froze people in their poverty, or Republican governors who helped welfare recipients achieve dignity by moving toward financial independence and breaking the government dependency cycle, freeing them to rise to their full potential?

If Republicans want to change the way people think about government, they will have to show what a free people can do with their own money and their own lives with small government. New House Speaker Dennis Hastert has said, "We need to return some of those (tax) dollars back to the taxpayers so they can spend their own money instead of having the bureaucrats spend it.'' Why don't Republicans showcase people whose lives are better because they have access to more of their own money and have started businesses and helped their own families? That's true compassion. It's also true conservatism.


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