Compassionate Conservatism#039;s death was deserved

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2005

Two weeks ago Compassionate Conservatism died. There will be no visiting hours.

It died in New Orleans as most Americans watched their TV screens and watched the unfolding horror in the Superdome.

Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote "The Tipping Point," a book that suggested that ideas, social concepts, have their own momentum that often balances on some singular event or experience that "tips" the idea either into acceptance or disfavor.

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The tipping point is, most often, not planned or marketed, it just happens. After 25 years of Conservativism, beginning in the Reagan presidency, the end came suddenly in New Orleans.

The polls, all of them, have reported the death. Our president has an approval rate of 38 percent.

Consider that a recent president under impeachment proceedings had an approval rate half again higher than this.

The president's leadership, at 90 percent after September 11, is now below 50 percent. An incredible 66 percent of Americans are "dissatisfied" with the direction the country is going in right now. A majority of Americans now believe that we went to war in Iraq for false reasons and we should reduce our presence there.

Almost 70 percent of Americans oppose the Bush administration on Social Security reform, a key administration goal. Less than a third of our senior citizens support the administration's Medicare drug program.

While our deficits grow the Administration wants to eliminate the estate tax, a tax that affects less than 1 percent of Americans but would cost the government over $24 billion in income a year.

Finally, fully 70 percent of African Americans polled believe that the response in New Orleans would have been different had the faces on TV been white faces.

The "tipping point" came in New Orleans. Compassionate Conservatism is dead.

Americans tried believing that tilting government oversight of business to government subsidizing (see off-shore tax breaks and havens, the Medicare payout to pharmaceuticals, the Halliburton contracts, the SEC as business partner) could work.

Americans tried supporting a war without purpose, but the cost of $300 billion of our resources will harm our country for decades, without benefit.

Americans tried supporting a reduction of taxes on the wealthiest of Americans, but found our debt rising while other Americans paid less to be unfair.

We tried accepting the rollback of environmental regulations, but found them to be business giveaways that hurt us. We considered an alternative to Social Security, but found the one offered to destroy the program that has worked so well.

Finally, we tried believing that all Americans could take care of themselves without government "dependency" that, in theory, weakened them.

But we have found, in New Orleans that our compassion is far greater than that of Compassionate Conservatism. While the federal government looked away we looked into the eyes of our fellow Americans and realized this had to stop.

The 2006 elections will be the first opportunity to see the death that occurred in New Orleans. It will take time for the death to be accepted. Some well-intentioned public legislators will survive, for a while.

But the idea behind Compassionate Conservatism, the belief that government exists to serve business, that less government is automatically better government, that the wealthiest Americans need our charity more than the poorest Americans and that American foreign policy is about "going it alone" in the world community, these ideas are dead.

This is the one death from Katrina that is acceptable.

Dr. Jim Crawford is an administrator at Ohio University Southern. He can be reached at