If 2000 Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has a catchphrase, it's "compassionate conservatism." But like so many political slogans, this term can mean very different things. Marvin Olasky--author of The Tragedy of American Compassion
and an advisor to Bush--seeks to describe what he believes it is. And he must be onto something, for, as Bush writes in a brief introduction, "This book clearly summarizes the principles of compassionate conservatism." Here's the nub: "Poverty around the world is a spiritual as well as a material problem: most poor people don't have the faith that they and their situations can change.... Economic redistribution by itself cannot fight poverty effectively because it does not affect the attitudes that frequently undergird poverty." To put it more bluntly, religious faith should play a greater role in public life, especially when it comes to delivering social services to the deprived:
The major flaw of the modern welfare state is not that it is extravagant, but that it is too stingy. It gives the needy bread and tells them to be content with that alone. It gives the rest of us the opportunity to be stingy also, and to salve our consciences even as we scrimp on what many of the destitute need most--love, time, and a challenge to be "little lower than the angels" rather than one thumb up from monkeys.
The bulk of the book is given to descriptions of Olasky's travels around the country with his 10-year-old son, visiting faith-based organizations in some of America's toughest neighborhoods. These vignettes, told in the first person, recall feel-good Reader's Digest
stories about ordinary men and women accomplishing extraordinary things in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Parts of the book read like a Bush campaign speech--indeed, one of the appendices is
a Bush campaign speech--and Olasky goes out of his way to take a few swipes at Vice President Al Gore. If readers want to get a sense of what a Bush administration might try to accomplish, at least on the domestic front, Compassionate Conservatism
is a great place to start--and miles ahead of Bush's own dull campaign biography A Charge to Keep
. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
"Compassionate conservatism" is a phrase used by Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, but he didn't originate it. Credit for that goes to his advisor Olasky, who, in his 1992 book The Tragedy of American Compassion, proposed that the needs of the poor and uneducated could be better met through the efforts of local, faith-based organizations than through a big, bureaucratic social-welfare machine. As Olasky explains in this manifesto, compassionate conservatism requires looking behind the overt problems of poverty, illiteracy and drug-addiction to address the structures that sustain themAthey must "bring civil society back to the inner city." Olasky describes his travels across the country visiting faith-based local groups that have made a difference. The centerpiece of his tour is Indianapolis, where a coalition of churches, businesses and civic organizations has developed partnerships to transform inner-city neighborhoods block by block. Olasky, who edits the Christian news magazine World, argues that faith is an essential part of the process (and to those who object, he responds that the words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the First Amendment). He even proposes the creation of a White House office of advocacy for faith-based organizations imbued with "the rock-like faith of someone who believes that Christ changes lives." His partisan and sure-to-be-controversial primer opens with a foreword by Bush and closes with Bush's July 1999 speech defining compassionate conservatism, in which he promised, if elected president, to allow religious, as well as nonsectarian, groups to compete to provide services on federal, state and local levels. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.