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Would Compassionate Conservative George W. Bush Recognize His Party?

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LAS VEGAS – George W. Bush ran for president as a compassionate conservative just a decade ago, but it seems like forever. We're now into an era of what might you might call Darwinian conservatism -- a fend-for-yourself philosophy advanced by people who are skeptical about federal help, at least for others.
Republican Senate candidates across the country, many of them non-incumbents powered by a Tea Party fusion of conservatives and libertarians, seem to yearn for the America of pre-Depression days, when there was no federal safety net.

What would their country be like? Two say the federal government should not be setting a minimum wage and two others have said it should not run programs like Social Security and Medicare. At least two challengers have said unemployment benefits are bad for the unemployed, making them lazy when they should be taking low-paying jobs.
Joe Miller of Alaska contends unemployment benefits are unconstitutional. Ken Buck of Colorado says Americans need to be weaned off federal aid programs like student loans. Rand Paul of Kentucky says the federal government shouldn't have banned private-sector discrimination against minorities and the disabled.
And that's just the Senate. Gubernatorial candidates (some Democrats as well as Republicans) are competing over who would crack down harder on illegal immigrants. Republican Carl Paladino, running for governor of New York, says children shouldn't be "brainwashed" into thinking being gay is as "valid" as being straight. "It's not," he said, days after a gay teenager had committed suicide and attackers tortured three men they believed to be gay.
"Some of these people may get swept in with the tide, but they don't reflect where the country is," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and strategist. He predicted "callous conservatism" would have an outsize influence on the 2012 Republican presidential nomination process, and in a negative way. "It damages the brand," he said.
Bush's "compassionate conservative" tag was meant as a signal to moderates, and he had real policies and positions to back it up. They included immigration (he pushed hard for a comprehensive approach that would have given some 12 million undocumented immigrants a way to earn citizenship); AIDS (he spent tens of millions of dollars to fight the disease in Africa); education (he called it "the civil rights issue of our time" and expanded school and teacher accountability under the No Child Left Behind law); and health (he added a new prescription drug benefit to Medicare, paid for with borrowed money).
You could argue, as many conservatives do, that Bush's signature initiatives were not conservative because they expanded the size, reach and cost of government, and swelled the federal budget deficit. You could also argue that his big push for private Social Security accounts did not display empathy toward risk-averse workers of modest means, who did not want to bet their retirements on the stock market. Bush's privatization drive failed, but many of this year's Republican Senate candidates -- 14 by Democrats' count -- have taken up the banner.
James Pinkerton, who writes a blog on health policy, said Republican rhetoric has changed since he was a policy aide for Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, in the White House. The elder Bush called for a "kinder, gentler" country, installed self-described "bleeding-heart conservative" Jack Kemp as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (one of the laws that Paul says overreaches).
"Some of these Tea Partiers have an extremely unrealistic view of what's possible," Pinkerton said. "They're talking the language of reading a book in the library, or how to win a Republican primary." He noted, correctly, that some GOP candidates such as Nevada's Sharron Angle are now trying to walk back earlier positions. If they're elected, he said, they could be a force for constructive, creative budget-cutting.
This new type of conservatism is at its height here in Nevada. Angle, the Tea Party-backed Senate nominee, has said that entitlement programs violate God's First Commandment and have "spoiled our citizenry." She has said that people with problem pregnancies should make "a lemon situation into lemonade." She has said that Medicare and Social Security should be "phased out" and "transitioned out."
She has also said she would not have intervened to save 22,000 jobs at CityCenter, a huge new complex on the Las Vegas Strip. Her Democratic rival, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, called the bankers, they extended financing, and the project was completed. Though Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the country, she declared Thursday at the pair's only debate, "Harry Reid: It's not your job to create jobs."
At a time of two wars, when thousands of veterans are returning with terrible mental and physical problems, Angle also has signaled that she's interested in privatizing the veterans' health care system. That has spooked Johnathan Abbinett, 57, a disabled combat veteran who served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War, and now is active in Democratic Party politics in Nevada. "I risked my life -- I sweated, I cried, I bled for America," he said. "And the promise is, I get my health care."
Angle has also provoked advocates for people with autism by belittling a new Nevada law requiring insurance companies to cover early treatment for autistic children. "You're paying for things that you don't even need. . . . Everything that they want to throw at us now is covered under 'autism,' " Angle said at a 2009 Tea Party rally, making air quotes with her fingers as she said the word. "So, that's a mandate that you have to pay for. How about maternity leave? I'm not going to have any more babies, but I sure get to pay for it on my insurance. Those are the kinds of things that we want to get rid of."
Autism advocates say early intervention makes a big difference in people's lives and functionality, and can greatly reduce the projected $3.2 million cost of lifetime care. "Free markets are great, but when we looked around Nevada, there was no way insurance companies were going to cover children with autism if we didn't step in with a mandate," assemblyman James Ohrenschall, the bill's sponsor, told me. "I think it will be cost-effective to society as a whole."
Mark Olson, whose teenage daughter Lindsey is autistic, said Angle has a fundamental lack of knowledge of how insurance works. "She doesn't understand the concept of a pool. It's frightening for a senator," he said, adding: "If she and the Tea Party are so offended by being in a pool of coverage, there's another solution for them. It's called cash. She only has to pay for exactly what she needs treatment for."
Asked during the Senate debate if there was any condition insurance companies should be required to cover, Angle said no. But she has not stuck to this principle in the past. The Las Vegas Sun reported that as a state legislator, she co-sponsored five bills to mandate various types of insurance coverage. Nor can Angle claim the high ground when it comes to dependence on government -- her husband, a retired Bureau of Land Management employee, gets a federal pension and federal health insurance, as Reid pointed out.
Angle is not the only candidate who both denounces and relies on the government. Government aid has flowed to a company owned by Wisconsin's Ron Johnson. Miller received federal subsidies for farmland he owned in Kansas. Paul, an ophthalmologist with many patients on Medicare, wants the government to cut spending -- but not Medicare reimbursements. "Physicians should be allowed to make a comfortable living," he said.
There's nothing wrong with any of that, if only the recipients would acknowledge that other people are no less deserving of government help and protection. Alternatively, they could stick to the principle that the feds should stay out of the aid business, whether it's for the jobless, the elderly, farmers, corporations or themselves. But is that what we really want? "It all comes down to selfishness or selflessness," said Abbinett, the disabled veteran. This year's anti-government candidates, almost all of whom have jobs, money, health insurance and good educations, should consider his words.
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(This story has been updated since initial publication to add that Johnathan Abbinett is active in Democratic Party politics.)

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114 Comments

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TED

Slavery is an immoral act using the threat of violence/imprisonment/death or some other form of punishment to coerce another person to work for another without compensation. When the government forces someone to pay taxes in order to support another it has committed an immoral act of forced slavery. It has enslaved the worker that had to work for free and the recipient of another's labor is enslaved by not having the incentive to provide for one's self and therefore creating a dependency that is usually generationally learned.

October 17 2010 at 12:21 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jbluhm1951

Most Common sense Americans understand clearly what the "Tea Party" people stand for, and that is exactly what most Americans stand for. So, this last minute put down is not working. Let's all join the "Tea Party" voters and vote these liberals out of office.

October 16 2010 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jbluhm1951

I disagree with the Democrat writer. I do understand the Democrats are on the wrong side of most issues and writers like this one will not help them out. People are more informed today and slanted articles like this one actually hurts the writer's credibility. Say what they will, but the American people will have the last say. There are ways to get the correct facts, and once you have them, stories like this one are just that, stories.

October 16 2010 at 11:08 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
exoticbeauti222

Unemployment benefits does not cost the tax payer a dime unlike welfare. All unemployment benefits come from the company who laid off their employees. It helps the unemployed people to find another job after being paid 6 months. Welfare is a total waste of money. Illegal immigrants who don't pay their taxes can still recieve welfare. It also promotes families and unemployed people to become lazy. People abuse the system too much therefore making it a waste of tax payers money.

October 16 2010 at 9:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
conservgirl8

"Our goal isn’ t welfare or handouts, it’ s jobs and opportunity."(R. Reagan) Bush made the welfare mistake and Obama is making the welfare mistake. They both have and are robbing every citizen of their right to have a job and opportunity. How sad is that? If you don't know what your opportunities are, I suggest you go back to school, if you don't have a job, why? When Reagan was President we had both and if you deny that you are doing so because you want to be surley and your liberal feelings are getting in the way.

October 16 2010 at 6:57 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
eyeforeye42

George said one thing and acted 180 degrees different. Conservative is anything but how he spent this county into the worst deficit and resulting recession not seen since the 30's The only compassion he showed was to his friends in big business and millionaires with the sympathy tax cuts and lining their pockets with gold as the country floundered

October 16 2010 at 6:57 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
Samuel John Anderson

It is interesting to gauge economic libertarian perspectives in America at this time. There seems to be a push to be radical, rather than a push to be sensible. I despair when I read remarks made by Angle however when you listen to Rand Paul he makes a lot of reasonable sense (although the disability and minority Act repeal is a little underwhelming). My biggest problem with this libertarian stance is to whom are they comparing themselves with. The "Founding Fathers"? It seems that the further they go back in history to make their claims seem reasonable the less believable they become. Moreover with the exception of Reagan there has not been a GOP administration or Senate or Congress that has enacted the extreme views that this group of politicians represent. The quickest way to stop spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money is not cutting medicare its cutting the industrial-military complex. Wars are expensive and they dominate domestic politics. Ironically, this view was aired by none other than President Eisenhower in farewell address to the American Public, January 1961.

October 16 2010 at 6:48 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
IRONSLAP

Unemployment pays just enough to get by while this so called free market capitalism dosen't even pay a living wage. From riches to rags & no jobs thanks to bush's non action on south of the border trespassers. Have a nice day.

October 16 2010 at 6:20 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
trinitysydney

I've never met a Tea Partier who actually KNOWS what the Tea Party stands for. Most of them would not be happy if they were to get it, either. This is a movement that plays on the emotions of the ignorant and angry. No logic, no reason, not an ounce of rational thought. Racism is the least of their issues and is, more or less, simply a symptom of their willful lack of intellect. The Tea Party can be summed up this easily, "Poor people fighting for a rich person's bulging pocketbook." The story hasn't changed since the end of the barter system and the beginning of the history of money and I doubt it ever will.

October 16 2010 at 6:10 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
Helen

The parties do not matter. The world is changing and being truly educated and able to work in a world society is the only way you are going to be able to survive. Ignorance will get you no where. Wise up kids are you are not going to survive no matter which party is in power or which idea is blasted on the TV.

October 16 2010 at 5:47 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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