The legacy of former President George W. Bush’s administration will forever be defined, and in many ways marred, by the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unbeknownst to most of the American public however, Bush leaves behind another significant legacy. I’m by no means a huge fan of his entire presidency, but if Bush did get one thing right, it was his revolutionary new political philosophy.
When Bush ran for president, he campaigned under the banner of a different political ideology than any Republican candidate before him. Branding himself as a“compassionate conservative,” Bush espoused throughout his campaign that he would work to improve the general welfare of society through a conservative approach. Many of you must be confused as to how compassion in the political sense and conservatism can fit together. In reality, conservatism and compassion complement each other perfectly. Conservative values and ethics should encourage and enable citizens, private organizations, and religious groups to personally help the marginalized in society whenever possible. Throughout his presidency, Bush argued for policies in support of things such as welfare reform to promote individual responsibility, standards-based schools, various non-government domestic aid organizations, and assistance to developing countries. Bush believed all these policies could further the social welfare of the country and world alll while minimixing government bureaucracy.
So why is Bush’s compassionate conservatism relevant now? As was made clear in the November elections this past year, a large portion the GOP, both at the local and national level, seems to have fallen out of touch with mainstream America. Social conservatives today grow increasingly fervent about issues like abortion and gay marriage. Equally over-idealistic fiscal conservatives remain stubborn and unwilling to agree to anything but spending cuts and tax breaks. The raucous din of the far-right that has quickly overtaken the GOP leaves relatively moderate Republicans like myself flummoxed. How can we keep the Republican Party relevant and win back voters without sacrificing our central ideals and voting base? Compassionate Conservatism. Instead of focusing solely on outlawing abortion, why not also work on supporting organizations and initiatives that aid single mothers and their children so the demand for abortions declines? Instead of only drastically cutting government programs, why not also work to empower private and religious organizations in their ability to provide service to the marginalized? Instead of just doling out tax breaks to stimulate the economy, why not also increase tax break incentives for charitable donations and service work? Instead of exclusively harping on border control and enforcement, why not also offer a fair way to integrate illegal immigrants into our economy with those who immigrate legally?
Now is not the time for extremism, but a time for a sensible, moderate, and compassionate take on conservatism. Coming from a Catholic high school, I’ve always seen the difference between a liberal, and a compassionate conservative as a redux of the parable of the Good Samaritan. When a liberal comes across a marginalized member of society, they wonder to themselves, “What is this country coming to? The government should do something about this” sometimes they help out personally, then they go to the polls and vote, resulting in many of the welfare programs today. When a compassionate conservative comes across a marginalized member of society, they ask themselves “What is this country coming to? I can’t believe no one else in the community has taken an interest in this guy!” They then take personal responsibility to feed them, clothe them, help them find shelter, then follows up and ensures there is a place for them as a productive member of society. What baffles me is the rhetoric both Republicans and Democrats throw around these days. It is not our welfare state nor even solely our free enterprise that makes America special — other countries have those things. What makes our country special is the American people. The ability for any man or women to rise to success and achieve the American dream is limited only by hard work, ingenuity, and the compassion of their fellow Americans.
Shinseki is a member of the class of 2015.