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Compassionate conservatism

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Title: Compassionate conservatism  
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Subject: Conservatism, William Hague, Conservatism in the United States, Neoconservatism, Paleoconservatism
Collection: Conservatism, Political Terminology of the United States, Political Theories
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Compassionate conservatism

Compassionate conservatism is a David Cameron.


  • Origins of the term 1
  • As a political descriptor 2
    • Use in the 1990s and 2000s 2.1
    • Reception and criticism 2.2
    • Decline 2.3
  • In the United Kingdom 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Origins of the term

Historian and presidential advisor Doug Wead may have been the first person to use the phrase compassionate conservative. In 1977, Wead wrote a book about Kolkata, India, entitled The Compassionate Touch.[1] In 1979, he gave a popular speech entitled “The Compassionate Conservative” at the annual Washington Charity Dinner. Tapes of the speech were sold across the country at corporate seminars.[2]

Wead contended that the policies of Republican conservatives should be motivated by compassion, not protecting the status quo. And Wead declared himself to be “a bleeding heart conservative,” meaning that he cared for people and sincerely believed that a free marketplace was better for the poor.

In 1981, in a perhaps-unrelated usage, Vernon Jordan of the National Urban League said, of the Reagan administration,[3]

I do not challenge the conservatism of this Administration. I do challenge its failure to exhibit a compassionate conservatism that adapts itself to the realities of a society ridden by class and race distinction.
— Vernon Jordan

In 1982, Wead co-authored with Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James G. Watt, the book The Courage of a Conservative and developed his ideas further in chapter five of the book, which was entitled “The Compassionate Conservative.”[4]

In 1984, U.S. Representative James Robert Jones (D-OK) told the The New York Times:[5]

I think we should adopt the slogan of compassionate conservatism...We can be fiscally conservative without losing our commitment to the needy and we must redirect our policy in that direction.
— Rep. James Robert Jones

Earlier the same year Republican Ray Shamie proclaimed that "I believe in a visionary and compassionate conservatism"[6]

In June, 1986, Wead wrote an article for the Christian Herald, describing then-vice-president

  • White House fact sheet
  • Wall Street Journal - What is compassionate conservatism?
  • "Compassionate Conservatives"
  • "Compassionate Conservatives in Europe"

External links

  1. ^ The Compassionate Touch, Doug Wead, Bethany House, 1977
  2. ^ Jacob Weisberg, The Bush Tragedy, Random House, 2008. Page 93
  3. ^ The New York Times, 23 July 1981, p. 17.
  4. ^ The Courage of a Conservative, Simon and Schuster, 1985
  5. ^ The New York Times, 8 November 1984.
  6. ^ Christian Science Monitor, 20 September 1984, p. 19.
  7. ^ “George Bush: Where Does He Stand?”, Doug Wead, Christian Herald, June 1986
  8. ^ Jacob Weisberg, The Bush Tragedy, Random House, 2008. Page 92
  9. ^ Doug Wead, Time for a Change, 1992
  10. ^ Olasky, Martin, Renewing American Compassion, "God promises blessings for obedience, but never an all-expense paid vacation. Adam's work was not endlessly frustrating... That all changed with man's independent and rebellious grasping for the knowledge of good and evil. Man must now do tiring work to live." p. 169; "Lazy hands make a man poor." (quoting Proverbs); "If a man does not work, he shall not eat." (quoting Paul, Second Thessalonians)
  11. ^ "Opinion, Editorials, Columns, Op-Ed, Letters to the Editor, Commentary - Wall Street Journal -". 2002-10-03. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 
  12. ^ [4] Archived December 4, 2003 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Fact Sheet: Compassionate Conservatism". Retrieved 2015-02-18. 
  14. ^ [5]
  15. ^ Nicholas Lemann, The Real Value of Jeb's "Unfortunate Comments," New Yorker (October 7, 2015).
  16. ^ Edwin Chen, Clinton Picks at Bush's 'Compassionate' Label, Los Angeles times (July 15, 1999).
  17. ^ "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 14 Dec 2005 (pt 3)". 2005-12-14. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 
  18. ^ "September 15, 2003". The Nation. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 
  19. ^ [6] Archived October 18, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Compassionate conservatism".  
  21. ^ "Busybodies".  
  22. ^ "Hullabaloo". 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 
  23. ^ John J. DiIulio, Jr., Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America's Faith-Based Future (University of California Press, 2007), pp. 85-86.
  24. ^ "Compassionate Conservatism Lost". Human Events. 2006-11-13. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 
  25. ^ Jonah Goldberg, Living in the Real World, National Review (March 13, 2006).
  26. ^ Fred Barnes, Big-Government Conservatism: How George W. Bush squares the fiscally expansive / conservative circle, Wall Street Journal (August 15, 2003).
  27. ^ Jim Wallis, The Disappearance of the Compassionate Conservatives, Huffington Post (December 8, 2011).
  28. ^ a b Amy Sullivan, Column: Is compassionate conservatism dead?, USA Today (January 29, 2012).
  29. ^ Eugene Robinson, Where are the compassionate conservatives?, Washington Post (September 15, 2011).
  30. ^ a b Jesse Norman & Janan Ganesh, Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, Why We Need It, Policy Exchange (2006).
  31. ^ Allegra Stratton, David Cameron: Tory party is 'modern and compassionate', Guardian (October 2, 2011).
  32. ^ a b Sebastian Payne, Five things we learnt about compassionate conservatism from Michael Gove's speech, Spectator (March 13, 2015).


See also

According to a 2006 report by the British think tank Policy Exchange, "compassionate conservative" has been "one of the most prominent themes" of the Conservative Party under David Cameron.[30] In speeches and the party's statement of aims and values around 2005 and 2006, Cameron and other senior Conservatives emphasized a "modern, compassionate conservatism" theme.[30] At the 2011 Conservative Party Conference, the party released a pamphlet titled Modern Compassionate Conservatism, and senior leaders such as Cameron and foreign secretary William Hague said that had pushed for "compassionate" and "cuddly" policies.[31] In 2015, Michael Gove said "When David Cameron ran for the leadership of my party he did so, and I supported him, because he defined himself as a modern, compassionate Conservative. Throughout the last five years David Cameron has governed, and I have been privileged to support him, as a modern, compassionate Conservative."[32] The "compassionate conservative" idea is seen as a way for the Conservatives to distance themselves from the "nasty party" image of the past.[32]

In the United Kingdom

The phrase and the idea of compassionate conservativism declined after the Bush administration left office. In December 2011, Christian commentator Tea Party era, they've all but disappeared from Congress, and their philosophy is reviled within the GOP as big-government conservatism."[28] Sullivan noted that Republican presidential candidates "have jostled to take the hardest line in opposing government-funded programs to help the poor."[28] Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson made similar observations.[29]


Conversely, the phrase has also been attacked from the right. [25] Similarly, conservative commentator Fred Barnes wrote: "Bush has famously defined himself as a compassionate conservative with a positive agenda. Almost by definition, this makes him a big government conservative."[26]

Some critics of George W. Bush criticized the phrase "compassionate conservatism" as simply sugarcoating, an empty phrase to make traditional conservatism sound more appealing to moderate voters. Liberal commentator Joe Conason, noting Bush's policy of tax cuts, wrote in 2003 that "so far, being a 'compassionate conservative' appears to mean nothing very different from being a hardhearted, stingy, old-fashioned conservative."[18] Others on the left have viewed it as an effort to remove America's social safety net out of the hands of the government and give it to Christian churches. "Liberals make a big mistake if they dismiss 'compassionate conservatism' as just a hypocritical catch phrase," wrote University of Colorado religion professor Ira Chernus. "For the right, it is a serious scheme to give tax dollars to churches through so-called 'faith-based initiatives.'" [19] Nobel Prize–winning Keynesian economist and columnist Paul Krugman has called it a "dog whistle" to the religious right, referencing Marvin Olasky's The Tragedy of American Compassion, who believed the poor must help themselves and that poverty was the fault not of society but of the poor and of social workers.[20] Krugman endorses[21] Digby's analysis[22] that right-wing compassionate 'charity' assumes that the giver has the right to investigate and dictate the life of the receiver, even for the smallest charity.

In a July 1999 speech to the Democratic Leadership Council, then-President Bill Clinton criticized Bush's "compassionate conservative" self-description, saying: "This 'compassionate conservatism' has a great ring to it, you know? It sounds so good. And I've really worked hard to try to figure out what it means... I made an honest effort, and near as I can tell, here's what it means: It means, 'I like you. I do. And I would like to be for the patients' bill of rights and I'd like to be for closing the gun show loophole, and I'd like not to squander the surplus and, you know, save Social Security and Medicare for the next generation. I'd like to raise the minimum wage. I'd like to do these things. But I just can't, and I feel terrible about it.'"[16] Similarly, in December 2005, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in the House of Commons, said: "the only difference between compassionate conservatism and conservatism is that under compassionate conservatism they tell you they're not going to help you but they're really sorry about it."[17]


Reception and criticism

Bush began his presidency hoping to make compassionate conservatism his centerpiece. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, he focused less on this theme, but, according to professor and author Ira Chernus, its fundamental ideas became central in his rhetoric about the War on Terrorism.[14]

"It is compassionate to actively help our citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on accountability and results."
— President George W. Bush


Compassionate conservative philosophy argues for policies in support of traditional families, welfare reform to promote individual responsibility (cf. workfare), active policing, standards-based schools (cf. No Child Left Behind Act), and assistance (economic or otherwise) to poor countries around the world.

Compassionate conservatives [...] offer a new way of thinking about the poor. They know that telling the poor that they are mere passive victims, whether of racism or of vast economic forces, is not only false but also destructive, paralyzing the poor with thoughts of their own helplessness and inadequacy. The poor need the larger society's moral support; they need to hear the message of personal responsibility and self-reliance, the optimistic assurance that if they try – as they must – they will make it. They need to know, too, that they can't blame "the system" for their own wrongdoing.
— Myron Magnet, The Wall Street Journal

In the words of Magnet,[12]

Magnet and Olasky said 19th century compassionate conservatism was based in part on the Christian doctrine of original sin, which held that “Man is sinful and likely to want something for nothing. … Man’s sinful nature leads to indolence.” (Olasky, Renewing American Compassion, 64, 41).

Compassionate conservatism has been defined as the belief that conservatism and compassion complement each other. A compassionate conservative might see the social problems of the United States, such as health care or immigration, as issues that are better solved through cooperation with private companies, charities and religious institutions rather than directly through government departments. As former Bush chief speechwriter Michael Gerson put it, "Compassionate conservatism is the theory that the government should encourage the effective provision of social services without providing the service itself."[11]

Use in the 1990s and 2000s

As a political descriptor

The phrase was popularized when his 2000 presidential campaign against Al Gore. Bush also wrote the foreword to Olasky's Compassionate Conservatism. Olasky said others had come up with the term first.

Some insist the doctrine was invented by Dr. Marvin Olasky, who went on to memorialize it in his books Renewing American Compassion (1996) and Compassionate Conservatism: What it is, What it Does, and How it Can Transform America (2000), and Myron Magnet of the Manhattan Institute. Olasky has been called the "godfather of compassionate conservatism".[10]

In 1992, when Doug Wead ran for U.S. Representative from Arizona, he wrote a campaign book entitled Time for a Change. The first chapter was called “The Compassionate Conservative” and outlined Wead’s philosophy that the masses didn’t care if Republican policies worked if the attitude and purpose behind the policies were uncaring.[9]

According to journalist [8]


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