- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

At the midpoint of his presidency, Mr. Bush seems to have a very firm grasp on what drives him and what he wants his administration to accomplish. On Tuesday, the president delivered a State of the Union address remarkable less for its adornment than for its conviction.

What's certain is that in the near term that conviction will lead America into Iraq. Whether by force or by some last-minute diplomacy, Mr. Bush left no doubt that the days of Saddam Hussein are numbered. For the vast majority of the country and perhaps the world, the recitation of the case against Saddam Hussein was a revelation. Only the biggest tin ear can doubt his justification and his resolve, and we expect to see substantial amounts of the national doubt that existed to resolve in the president's favor.

But what struck us most about the speech wasn't the emphasis on Iraq and the war on terror, but the new programs devoted to eradicating the "cause of hopelessness."

In proposing $10 billion over the next decade to battling AIDS in Africa, Mr. Bush establishes that America's role in the international community will not just be to wage war, or to grandly pursue altruisim only when it meshes with our self-interest. Altruism takes other forms, entirely selfless forms, and the president has committed America to be an unparalleled leader in these areas, too. In pledging $600 million over three years to fund a new program to combat addiction, Mr. Bush demonstrates that his agenda is a heartfelt one, borne of his own family's trials. And in promising $450 million for a volunteer mentoring initiative for the children of prison inmates, the president offers hope and empathy in a way that cold bureaucracy never could. But more important than any of these proposals is Mr. Bush's committed expansion to similar efforts begun last year broadening the Peace Corps and the Freedom Corps, and calling for greater participation by faith groups in society.

This, then, is the maturation of compassionate conservatism. The president has taken what at one point seemed a talking point, a useful slogan to blunt the election-year criticisms of the traditional Republican agenda enacting tax cuts, promoting education devolution and accountability and curtailing the social-services bureaucracy and transformed it into a doctrine of its own. Whereas the phrase "compassionate conservatism" once served an agenda, the agenda now serves a philosophy that stretches beyond the borders of both his party and our country. They are borders we commend him for seeking to dissolve.

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