In his latest column for the Washington Post, Michael Gerson undertakes to defend compassionate conservatism from John O’Sullivan. It’s unfortunate that O’Sullivan’s National Review piece isn’t online, because Gerson fails entirely to respond to O’Sullivan’s critique on any substantive level. But he does do a nice job of underscoring O’Sullivan’s point.
Gerson doesn’t bother to prove that any of the compassionate conservative programs he cites will work or raise arguments as to why those to his right are wrong. He simply cites these programs as evidence that he and President Bush care and that his critics don’t. On his side is Tory democracy, neoconservatism, progressive conservatism, and national greatness conservativsm. On the other is the slaveholding conservatism of John Calhoun (though he does generously allow that Dick Armey’s libertarian objections to government provision of health care and preference for a free market in health care instead are less evil than support for human bondage).
One could be a Gerson-in-reverse and claim for his side the peace-and-prosperity conservatisms of the past while consigning Gerson to the outer darkness of warmaking conservatism, imperialist conservatism, and big government conservatism. But that isn’t really necessary. The main problem with compassionate conservatism is that it is only secondarily interested in relieving poverty, expanding access to health care, eliminating AIDs, and improving living conditions in the Third World. It is primarily a PR campaign designed to show that members of Gerson’s clique are not like those other mean, racist, isolationist, and antigovernment conservatives. They are nice, caring conservatives instead. It is, as O’Sullivan said, an act of moral self-congratulation masquerading as policymaking.
UPDATE: NR has now posted O’Sullivan’s article.
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