Compassionate Conservatism and Other Banners:  A Review of Meaningless Slogans


by Bernard Levy



I’ve been pondering a national dilemma since January 2001, trying to connect President Bush’s campaign slogan, “Compassionate Conservatism,” with examples of his handiwork.  The connection doesn’t exist.


We knew the phrase, “Compassionate Conservatism” was a gimmick, a buzz term to attract voters.  It worked.  But notice: it hasn’t been used in a long time.


What started out as a “call to arms,” an appeal to follow his lead for fiscal responsibility with a heart, has become a falsehood.  (And, darn, I had looked forward to its success.)


Was it so calculated from the start?  I don’t know, and I don’t care.  That’s not the issue.  It hasn’t worked.


We often create gimmicks to achieve goals.  John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, UCLA’s legendary basketball coach, invented his “Pyramid of Success” early in his career, when he was losing games. He reversed that trend and became one of the most successful college coaches in history.


President Bush and his administration cohorts are now using the following label to describe those who disagree with his Iraq policies:  “Cut-And-Run.”  Anyone who disagrees with his mismanagement of the “war effort,” including lack of sufficient military personnel, armament deficiencies, appropriations, strategy tactics, war effort mismanagement, direction and contract favoritism, is labeled one who favors a “cut-and-run” tactic, in short, an unpatriotic person.


To name a very few Bush falsehoods in his self-label as a “compassionate conservative”(without any Iraq references):


·         His administration has gutted the safe and drug-free program which was a part of a successful educational program. Compassion? For whom?

·         His administration has reduced protection of the privacy of our medical and other confidential records. Compassion? For whom?

·         He had ignored global pollution by caving in to special interests and rolling back automotive emission standards until just recently, and his recent standards are laughable. He has avoided environmental issues that directly affect our drinking water, public lands and air quality.  Compassion? For whom?


However, he hasn’t forgotten his commitment to special interests including the oil industry. Why? Oil is thicker than compassion.


His open pandering to corporate interests and against American public interests is most transparent.  This flagrant favoritism has generally been assisted by the so-called “Liberal Press;” their “factual commentary” on the blatant, transparent, rampant “political porkritude” in our legislative and executive branches has ranged from non-existent to inconsistent. Although the Bush Administration has racked up record budget and trade deficits (a “liberal” trait?), major corporations still shelter their tax bills in tax havens unabashedly while receiving government contracts.  Disproportionate tax reductions for the wealthy and big business interests continue while the working Joes and Janes carry the tax load.


I never have understood “Compassionate Conservatism.” Why use an adjective to describe “Conservatism?”  Standing alone, does “Conservatism” mean uncompassionate, not caring for fellow human beings? Aren’t there conservatives who are compassionate without need for the slogan? Of course, there are, but Bush and his sloganeers knew his conservative constituency.  They knew that the Kenneth Lays of the world, once they secured governmental favors and established their own fortunes, would become showy charitable givers.


I call that giving “calculated benevolence.” The past TV sitcom, News Radio, had an excellent example. Billionaire station owner Jimmy James was going to offer employees a 401k opportunity but, when confronted by an employee suggesting that very thing before he offered his plan, he refused her suggestion and never made his offer.  His “compassion” was tied to benevolent despotism; he alone would dictate compassion in his world.


When a wish-to-have-happen slogan becomes a falsehood-for-whatever reason, the slogan master becomes suspect.


President Bush is now playing new slogans.  to paraphrase, “I am the President and you must follow my lead in these trying times;” “Everything I do is correct and necessary, and to question me would be un-American;” “You must do everything I say because what would our allies think if you don’t?”  and, the newest, “Cut-and-run.”


We must support our leaders in difficult times, but never blindly.  Respect for leadership is a two-way street.


Compassion doesn’t mean giveaways to corporate America and reduction in programs benefiting education and other governmentally-necessary programs. Compassion means fairly representing all Americans in both the short and long-terms.


If you think I’m being unduly unfair to President Bush, consider that I was the first “on my block” to call for President Clinton’s resignation when his Oval Office indiscretions were revealed. No matter how effective a president is politically, he must not soil the presidency with misrepresentations and deceit.


Enough of your meaningless words, Mr. President. Let’s call a shovel a shovel and level with the American public. The standard for you and Bill Clinton is the same. And, I’m being compassionate.