The rise of uncompassionate conservatism

Bush-style conservatism never really took with the broader party, although it gained acquiescence. The president usually gets his way with his congressional majority, so Bush could push through No Child Left Behind and the prescription-drug benefit. The war on terror and the Left’s hatred for him bonded conservatives to Bush whatever their misgivings. The nomination of John McCain — himself no down-the-line conservative — obscured the anti-Bush feeling…

The Bush Republican party had grown flaccid and deserved to be trounced and built anew. But Bush had two insights. He realized that the party had to win over the center as well as the right, and that unadulterated doctrine would appeal most only to the doctrinaire. If Rick Perry thinks the 10th Amendment is going to have cachet with voters worried about their jobs, their wages, and the value of their homes, he’s been spending too much time at Federalist Society seminars.

On top of everything else, compassionate conservatism reflected the prosperity of the 1990s. As a candidate, Bush sometimes seemed to forget that economic self-interest trumps all else. In this economy, Republicans would be suicidal ever to forget that. Even as he preaches the old-time religion, Perry in his proto–stump speech returns again and again to a highly practical theme: his success in fostering a pro-jobs environment in Texas. Republicans may feel no need to be “compassionate” in the Bush sense — defensively vouching for their own good intentions — but they need to connect their agenda to their solicitude for the livelihoods of voters.

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