Thursday, December 18, 2008

The death of compassionate conservatism

Michael Gerson tackles his critics in yesterday's column.
Far from being a vague, weepy tenderness, compassionate conservatism has a rigorous definition. It teaches that the pursuit of the common good is a moral goal. It asserts that this goal is best achieved through strong families, volunteer groups and communities that all deserve legal deference and respect. But it also accepts that when local institutions fail — a child is betrayed by a consistently failing school, a state passes a Jim Crow law, a nation is helpless to tackle a treatable disease — the federal government has a responsibility to intervene.

Instead of being a "romantic cult,” compassionate conservatism is often motivated by an ancient orthodoxy: that God is somehow found especially incarnate in the poor and weak. Instead of being a "sentiment,” it is a conviction: that government can be a noble enterprise when it applies creative conservative and free-market ideas to the task of helping those in need.

This, of course, implies a critique of traditional or libertarian conservatism. Tradition often contains stores of hidden wisdom — but in the absence of moral vision, it can become warped and oppressive. The free market is the best way to distribute goods and services — but its triumph is not always identical to justice. Conservatism is essential — and incomplete.

The moral commitments that underlie compassionate conservatism will not fade with the passing of a political figure, party or ideology, because these beliefs stand in eternal judgment of all ideologies, including conservatism. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot bury what cannot die.
"The moral commitments that underlie compassionate conservatism" - in other words, altruism - are directly responsible for the federal government ballooning out of control under Democratics and Republicans alike - including Bush - over the past 8 years. They are directly responsible for the current economic crisis and appear likely to be continued - well, at least the "compassionate" part - by Obama.

This situation would not have resulted under a federal government strictly limited to the protection of individual rights, as demanded by Objectivism's morality of rational self-interest.

Gerson does not mention it, but I have to wonder if he actually approves of this growth of government.

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