Regardless of what one believes about the presidency of George W. Bush, he does deserve credit for introducing a new concept into the American political conscience, one which the current slate of candidates would do well to revisit. That concept is known as "Compassionate Conservativism." In the president's own words: "I call my philosophy and approach 'Compassionate Conservativism.' It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on responsibility and results. And with this hopeful approach, we will make a real difference in people's lives."
While the origin of the term "Compassionate Conservatism" is debated, World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky is widely credited for popularizing its usage. In his book Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America, Olasky gives an alphabetized list of seven characteristics of Compassionate Conservativism:
1. Assertive- We must be proactive and innovative in addressing poverty issues, rather than passively looking to government. Citizen assertiveness is key.
2. Basic- The most foundational institutions, i.e. family, faith community and neighborhood, should be the first avenues people look to for help, followed by outside organizations. Government should only be sought as a last resort and even then, the appeal should be to local and state governments before going to the federal level. However, government should be as supportive as possible in offering protection for volunteers where needed. This might take such forms as providing added police protection for agencies in troubled neighborhoods, as well as better Good Samaritan laws to protect volunteers from frivolous lawsuits.
3. Challenging- A safety net is to be a trampoline, not a hammock. Job training and career building are a key component in Compassionate Conservativism. Poor people should not be treated as pets. The goal is to help them to become everything they were created to be.
4. Diverse- A wide choice of programs should be offered from a variety of viewpoints and with different points of emphasis. People should be offered areas of assistance reflective of their individual beliefs and values.
5. Effective- Services must be constantly monitored in terms of overall effectiveness. How many people are fed and bedded is less important than what happens to them long term.
6. Faith Based- Voluntary religious education contributes greatly to the person s sense of responsibility and self-worth, and should not be denied to those who desire it.
7. Gradual- Compassionate Conservativism is not so much a revolution as it is a pragmatic blueprint for gradual, sustainable change.
The word compassion means "common passion" or to suffer alongside another. While there are certainly areas in which the government can help, it is, by nature, too mechanical and too bureaucratic to offer compassion in this capacity. That requires a much more human touch, one that can only be given by individuals and groups specifically dedicated to that purpose. This is the genius of Compassionate Conservativism. It is a plan which balances compassion with individual responsibility, and provides a much-needed middle way between the neo-Marxism of the far left and the social Darwinism of the far right. These issues are not going away, and these practical guidelines would be a worthy addition to any candidate's platform.