Politics & Policy

Charles Blow, Meet the Compassionate Conservatives

House Speaker Paul Ryan talks with millennials at a town hall meeting in Washington, D.C., April 2016. (Reuters photo: Yuri Gripas)
His effort to pronounce them extinct is belied by these flesh-and-blood Republicans.

In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Charles Blow contended that the “compassionate conservatism” of the Reagan era is completely dead, murdered at the hands of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, his stunning election win, and the first month of his presidency.

Blow takes great pains to place plenty of the blame on the shoulders of Trump’s supporters for the untimely “Death of Compassion,” as his column is melodramatically titled. “Compassionate conservatism is dead; Trump and his band of backward-thinking devotees killed it,” he writes.

If Blow isn’t merely engaging in unsightly histrionics to demean an entire political party and thousands of well-intentioned Americans, he isn’t searching for compassionate conservatism hard enough. Yes, Trump is now the president and he won on the Republican ticket, making him the highest-ranking representative of the GOP and the face of the party. But he doesn’t constitute the entire party, nor does his ideology — or lack thereof — define the conservatism of all Republican politicians, much less of all conservative individuals across the country.

Here are a few examples of Republican politicians whose extensive work easily disproves Blow’s bold claims that the GOP is utterly devoid of compassion. (Although it seems that these examples will surely fall on deaf ears, as Blow insists, “No one need try to convince me otherwise. The effort is futile; my conviction is absolute.”)

Take a look at House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has spent much of the past few years traveling across the U.S. to meet with local leaders who are working to fight systemic poverty. As was reported at National Review Online last summer, these frequent and substantive interactions with Americans of all backgrounds, including the men and women working to alleviate the suffering of the poor and to provide them with opportunities for success, shaped Ryan’s “A Better Way” policy agenda.

This policy platform, which has garnered the support of all Republicans in the House — no easy feat — is as wide-ranging as it is specific, focusing on poverty, national security, the economy, the Constitution, health care, and tax reform. In each of these issue areas, the plan offers detailed conservative principles and policy goals intended to give Americans access to the opportunities that will lift them out of poverty.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina has formed the Senate Opportunity Coalition, a group of GOP senators dedicated to applying conservative solutions in their home states to address the unique challenges faced by their poorest constituents. Rather than ignore poverty, as Blow suggests, these Republicans care deeply about the poorest Americans who have been ignored by the system, and they believe that by visiting with and listening to these individuals, they can develop actual solutions.

“We’re shattering this misperception that somehow Republicans do not connect our hearts and our heads. It’s just hogwash,” Scott told National Review Online in the fall. “We’re talking about folks who have a heart for people, and for us to close the gap, people have to know that there is opportunity available. And one of the ways for them to know that is [for us] to show up.”

Blow thinks that the Republican party has lost its heart because of Trump, but the heart of conservatism has never been defined by any one man, even if he’s the president.

“I’m struck more than anything else at the end of the day by the compassion, the hearts of these senators who are truly doing this for the right reasons,” said Steve Daines, a senator from Montana, describing his fellow members of the coalition.

“Part of this for me is learning to see people for who God created them to be, and realizing that everyone has potential and they should be able to use it,” said Oklahoma senator James Lankford. “I hope this [coalition] brings benefit to people in poverty in my state.”

Or consider Rob Portman, the junior senator from Ohio, who has spent over two decades researching and combating the opioid epidemic that continues to plague his state. He began to focus on drug abuse and addiction early in his career, and since then has met with hundreds of individuals and their families, learning more about the causes of and solutions to this growing scourge. He recently sponsored a bill in the Senate to send more federal money toward programs that have proven successful at treating addiction and getting individuals back on their feet.

And then there’s Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson, who played a crucial role in founding and operating the Joseph Project, an anti-poverty program in Milwaukee and Madison that recruits and trains impoverished individuals, connects them to potential employers, and supports their subsequent careers by driving them to and from their places of employment.

So far, over 100 people have found long-term work as a result of the program, and Johnson continues to attend every opening session of the training program to give a talk about the importance of hard work and opportunity.

“There’s no one political party that has a monopoly on compassion,” Johnson told NRO in August. “We all want our fellow citizens to succeed and to have the opportunity to do so.”

These don’t sound like men who are letting compassionate conservatism die out without so much as a fizzle. Blow thinks that the Republican party has lost its heart because of Trump, but the heart of conservatism has never been defined by any one man, even if he’s the president. Compassionate conservatism is shaped and defined by the many leaders like Ryan, Scott, Johnson, and so many others, whose policy goals continue to be motivated by a real compassion for all Americans.


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