by Michael J. Gerson
Whatever the final verdict on George W. Bush’s presidency may prove to be—and this has been a presidency at once so consequential and so controversial that any verdict is certain to be the subject of constant revision—it is questionable how much notice, if any, will be taken by future historians of the signature phrase of Bush’s first election campaign in 2000. That phrase was “compassionate conservatism.”
The centrality of the phrase, and the concept behind it, had its basis in a canny political calculation. As a candidate, Bush needed to find a way to separate himself from the hard-edged and aggressive approach of the Republican “revolutionaries” led by Newt Gingrich who had come to dominate Washington after the 1994 mid-term elections. According to pollsters, any association with Gingrich-style Republicanism would pose a particular problem with independent female voters—the once-heralded “soccer moms” whose political worth was considered to be more valuable than rubies.
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