Did President Bush, in the course of seven years, cast aside compassion and become the “same kind of Republican”?
The answer is no. Proposals such as No Child Left Behind, the AIDS and malaria initiatives, and the addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare would simply not have come from a traditional conservative politician. They became the agenda of a Republican administration precisely because of Bush’s persistent, passionate advocacy. To put it bluntly, these would not have been the priorities of a Cheney administration. . . .
Bush has received little attention or thanks for his compassionate reforms. This is less a reflection on him than on the political challenge of compassionate conservatism. The conservative movement gives the president no credit because it views all these priorities — foreign assistance, a federal role in education, the expansion of an entitlement — as heresies, worthy of the stake. Liberals and Democrats offer no praise because a desire to help dying Africans, minority students and low-income seniors does not fit the image of Bush’s cruelty that they wish to cultivate.
Compassionate conservatism is thus a cause without a constituency — except for the large-hearted man I first met in 1999 and who, on Monday night, proposed to double global AIDS spending once again.