- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

To those who believed that George W. Bush's understandable preoccupation with his duties as commander in chief have caused him to shunt aside a coherent domestic policy agenda, the president delivered a resounding claim to the contrary in California last week. In a lengthy speech focusing on domestic issues and embracing his 2000 campaign theme of compassionate conservatism, Mr. Bush outlined his legislative priorities and his domestic agenda.
Given Mr. Bush's regrettable reticence to participate in last year's two gubernatorial elections, which his party lost, the president will have taken a major step forward if his recent speech signaled his intention to enter the political foray of November's congressional and gubernatorial elections in a much more forceful manner. The simple truth is that the president's governing philosophy, which his speech elucidated, is right for the country, and he ought to spend more time arguing that fact.
The fiscal policy endorsed by Mr. Bush is a case in point. As evidenced by the policies pursued by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Mr. Bush rightly observed, "Our economy grows when the tax burden goes down" and, the president added, "stays down." To this end, the tax cuts enacted last year must be made permanent. On the spending side of the ledger, the president reminded his audience that "we've learned that more money is not always the answer." To those officeholders who measure their compassion by how much money they vote for the government to spend, Mr. Bush offered this simple, irrefutable fact: "If a program is failing to serve people, it makes little difference [on their lives] if we spend twice as much or half as much." Spending double the amount, however, makes a lot of difference on the government's fiscal health, a fact that should encourage government to "control its appetite for excessive spending."
Regarding the necessity of long-term economic growth and government's contribution to that goal, the president offered another simple, and irrefutable, fact. Evidenced by the failures of communism, "The role of government is not to create wealth," Mr. Bush declared. Rather, government's role must be limited to "creat[ing] the conditions for economic growth." In addition to pursuing a growth-promoting fiscal policy, government "must enact reforms that free entrepreneurs from pointless regulation and endless litigation." Recognizing that "our economy grows when trade barriers fall," Mr. Bush also beseeched the Senate to follow the House's lead by granting him trade-promotion authority.
In the end, the conservative president pointedly asserted, "The measure of true compassion is results." Although government clearly cannot solve every problem, it can contribute to solutions by "encourag[ing] people and communities to help themselves and to help one another." Helping citizens to build lives of their own is often the truest form of compassion. "It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need," the president said, and "it is conservative to insist on responsibility and results." Thus, the work-promoting 1996 welfare-reform legislation, which must be reauthorized this year, not only proved that a job was a source of income. Equally important, it proved that a job was also a source of dignity. Making the obvious observation that "strong marriages are good for children," the president took the next step by arguing that truly compassionate welfare reform would "encourage the commitments of family."
It also makes compassionate sense to promote the efforts of faith-based institutions to overcome poverty and dependence. Shelters for battered women, drug-treatment centers and mentoring programs for fatherless children "inspire hope in a way government never can. Often, they inspire life-changing faith in a way that government never should." How refreshing it was to hear a president tell an increasingly secular society how deeply he believed that his faith-based initiatives "can change lives one soul at a time."
Not content to restrict his compassionate conservatism to domestic matters, Mr. Bush made a strong case for applying his attractive philosophy on the foreign-aid front. "It is compassionate to increase our international aid," which will rise by 50 percent within three years, the president said. "It is conservative to require the hard reforms" eliminating corruption, opening markets, respecting human rights, adhering to the rule of law "that lead to prosperity and independence."
Implicitly addressing his political opponents, Mr. Bush offered one final truism. "The measure of compassion is more than good intentions," he reminded them. "It is good results. Sympathy is not enough."


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