I found that Gerson piece civil, thoughtful, sincere and terrifying — and completely unconvincing. The Republican Party is not the vessel for the social gospel. Period. Calling limited government conservatives “fundamentalists” is unworthy of him.
Indeed, Gerson deftly makes a strawman out of limited government conservatism, calling it libertarianism and then invoking Russel Kirk as an argument-settling authority. But I suspect there is much in Kirk’s writings that Gerson wouldn’t want to cherry-pick the way he does here. And, regardless, the idea that Kirk would have supported “compassionate conservatism” simply will not fly.
But back to my first point. I am not a libertarian. My ideal state is less minimal than a libertarian’s. But it is still a minimal state because I am a conservative. This is axiomatic. The state — according to modern American conservatism — must be limited in its ambitions otherwise it is not trying to conserve anything. More important, the social gospel and the state cannot be married because the government cannot love you. This is not a metaphysical point but a practical one. States cannot love individuals in much the same way deck furniture cannot write poetry: it is not in their nature. It cannot be done. And when people attempt otherwise, horrible folly ensues. Gerson thinks the victims of Katrina got that way because of the indifference of the State. I would argue that a more likely culprit (or at least accomplice) was a State that tried to love them and hurt them in the process.
Update: Our friend Joe Knippenberg sides with Gerson.