The Corner

The Return of Compassionate Conservatism

Michael Gerson applauds Santorum for bringing back compassionate conservatism.

In 2004, Senator Santorum wrote a letter to National Review on the subject:

Ramesh Ponnuru claims that compassionate conservatism is dead (“No More Mr. Nice Guy,” April 5). It is not. President Bush has helped Congress move the compassion agenda forward through his historic global AIDS relief legislation, faith-based charity initiative, and efforts to continue the progress made under the landmark 1996 welfare reforms, which lifted 2.8 million Americans out of poverty.

For Republicans, compassion means strengthening families and improving lives. Democrats measure compassion by the amount of federal funding spent on social programs. Republicans measure it by results: how many families achieve the dignity that comes with independence. Welfare reform was the first step in liberating millions of families from the cycle of dependency, and Congress is working now to build on that success through welfare-reform reauthorization.

The goal of compassionate conservatism is to build a civil society, with government spurring communities to do more to help those in need. Addressing poverty in this way is the only viable alternative to the liberal answer: the welfare state. President Bush has made this kind of conservatism a hallmark of his administration. He deserves our praise for it.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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