- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Compassionate conservatism is not for bleeding hearts who want the government to save the poor.

Rather, it is for people with "warm hearts and tough minds" who don't mind working with the poor themselves, says Marvin Olasky, the man who coined the phrase.

"Compassionate conservatism is not an easy slogan. The practice of it is very hard," Mr. Olasky, a Texas journalism professor and historian, told a Heritage Foundation audience yesterday. "Some candidates still see that phrase as word candy for a political campaign, to not offend."

They've got it wrong, he said.

The topic has stirred national debate since Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican presidential contender, dubbed himself a "compassionate conservative" in 1997.

In a policy speech last year, Mr. Bush said "compassionate conservatism" would guide his social policy if he reaches the White House.

Mr. Olasky introduced Mr. Bush to the concept in 1993.

In sum, the University of Texas professor said, compassionate conservatism also the title of his new book is about putting needy Americans on their feet by as much person-to-person involvement and religious freedom as possible, and as little government involvement as necessary.

This "new paradigm" for social improvement starts at the most basic level of the family, relying secondly on a religious community and thirdly on the civic community, Mr. Olasky said.

Nevertheless, he tells fellow conservatives, this hands-on compassion does involve government, preferably through tax credits or vouchers to private-sector groups.

As a last resort, he said, direct funding to social ministries run by Christian, Jewish or Muslim groups also is acceptable as long as they do not have to shed their religious identities.

"A pure libertarian would say, 'No,' " Mr. Olasky said, referring to a view that shuns all government intrusion in individual lives. He then quoted Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th-century conservative British prime minister, as saying, "Paying attention to political reality is a conservative principle."

Federal welfare systems will not go away, he said, and social need is far greater than local faith-based service groups can handle.

Indeed, Mr. Olasky pictures a future where there still will be a "central welfare office" run by the government or a foundation, but the referrals there can be to religious-run social services, not just secular units.

When Mr. Bush adopted the concept, some conservatives derided it as suggesting that conservatism since the 1980s was not "compassionate" the very charge that liberals had made against Reagan-era social policy.

To help Vice President Al Gore in his bid for the presidency, President Clinton also made fun of the label last year, saying he had "really worked hard to try to figure out what it means." He concluded, "It means, 'I like you. I do.' "

Yet, ever since the passage of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, leaders in both parties are talking about some balance of private and government-funded initiatives to help unwed mothers, drug addicts and the poor.

The "charitable choice" clause in the Welfare Act allows faith-based ministries to use government funds without shedding their religious identities.

But according to anecdotes told by Mr. Olasky, who visited projects in Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia and elsewhere, government still interferes too much or fails to aid faith groups on par with secular welfare projects.

"Overall, faith-based groups are achieving much more than their well-funded secular counterparts," he said.

Mr. Olasky's talk yesterday evoked familiar objections of the welfare-reform debate.

"In the long run, this kind of entanglement of church and state will be detrimental to the programs he supports," said Joe Conn, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Today, at the Hudson Institute, Mr. Olasky will debate the Hudson senior fellow Michael Horowitz, who argues that any entanglement with government inevitably will force faith-based groups to become secular.

At the Heritage Foundation, welfare-reform expert Robert Rector said all religious giving to the needy adds up to only one-fourth of the $1 trillion the federal government will spend on welfare in the next four years.

"We've had welfare for that past 50 years, and we'll have it for the next 50," Mr. Rector said. "What we need from the federal program is requirements and support for work and marriage."

He said only states require "welfare to work," but faith-based ministries don't. No one, he said, is requiring the needy to seek solutions in marriage.

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