Defining 'Compassionate'

Anyone who tuned in to the first night of the Republican National Convention should have a little clearer idea what "compassionate conservatism" is.

In a word, or a number of words, it's "literacy," "school choice," "faith-based activism," "minorities," "immigrants," and "adoption." This list is not comprehensive. But, essentially, what it implies is that the goal of the "new" Republicans is to show voters they care about the country's domestic problems and have ways to address them.

Not the old ways, mind you - not by revving up government spending and creating new bureaus. Rather, ways that stress grass-roots action at the state and local level, with Washington cheering on and chipping in with modest grants and tax incentives.

Is this enough? First, enough to convince voters who have long thought the other party had better answers to social needs? Second, enough to actually meet those needs to a meaningful degree?

Skepticism is expected. Dealing with it was the purpose of Colin Powell's speech Monday night, a speech that called on the party to embrace minorities. But this is a party with few black or brown faces on its convention floor and a party sternly opposed to affirmative action. As General Powell knows, Republicans have to move beyond an abhorrence of quotas to a clear plan for helping those still held back by the lingering effects of racial discrimination.

Principle dictates that this plan have enough scope to tackle vast problems like underperforming schools in inner cities. Nice words won't be enough. And, as Laura Bush emphasized, her husband is a man of principle.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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