Compassionate Conservatism Revisited
A quasi-confession: One of my favorite politicians of the last fifteen years is George W. Bush. Unfortunately, I don’t mean George W. Bush, the President. I mean, George W. Bush, the candidate for President in 2000. The one who criticized Clinton-era attempts at “nation-building” and promised a “modest” foreign policy. The one who prophetically predicted the events that would undo his own Presidency several years later:
If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I’m going to prevent that.
Well, he may have been a little off on the second prediction.
Bush the Candidate was able to articulate pro-life principles effectively. He promised to appoint judges who were willing to occasionally glance at the Constitution. He favored raising the Earned Income Tax Credit for low and moderate income individuals. He was committed to implementing accountability in Education. Bush the Candidate advocated for expansion of social services (e.g. what would become Medicare Part D). At the time, it appeared to me that he was the best option by a mile from a Catholic perspective.
Of course, 2000 was an interesting time. No one was interested in health care reform after the Clintonian debacle in the early 90’s (other than Medicare Part D). A bipartisan compromise on welfare reform appeared to be overwhelmingly successful. There were no pressing international political issues, and Bush, as mentioned above, promised to be more modest in our dealings with the world than Clinton had been. Which left culture war issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research as the primary differences between the candidates in what amounted to a Coke/Pepsi culture clash. Good times, with internet-bubble fattened 401k’s for much of the middle class.
U.S. politics have changed a bit since then. But I still think Bush’s platform was a good one. To be sure, it basically charted a European-style Christian Democrat course for the U.S., but then I like European-style Christian Democracy, which after all, was consciously modeled in part on Catholic Social Teaching. Obviously, there are a lot of complications with any political philosophy, but, on the whole, I’m in favor of both functioning markets and generous social safety nets (taxes on individual earnings and consumption; less regulation and corporatism). Although, unlike Bush in practice (and the Affordable Care Act), I think we need to pay for social services when we expand them. I suppose most AC readers are to the right of this point of view, but I’m curious:
How did you view Bush the candidate circa 2000, and what are your thoughts on Christian Social Democrats, particularly their effortso to model political philosophy on Catholic Social Teaching?