When the public relations machinery that controls electoral politics in this nation invoked the phrase "compassionate conservative" and attached it to the vision and intentions of the man who would be President (now known as "The Decider"), I was skeptical. All of my life the Republican party, policy and platform, had represented race-baiting. poverty-ignoring, industry-coddling, war-mongering conservatism, completely without compassion. Conservatism of this sort moralized about personal responsibility, enriched the coffers the few who were already rich, and ignored governmental responsibility for promoting the general welfare. But where once I was skeptical, now I am downright angry.
The news this week is dominated by stories of appropriations. Defense Secretary Gates (on behalf of The Decider) is preparing his request for an estimated $190 billion for the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, one-third more than the original projections. At the same time, a bipartisan effort in Congress is haggling over a bill to extend health coverage to 10 million uninsured American children. The price tag? $35 billion over 5 years. And the haggling is primarily about making the bill sufficiently bipartisan so that enough Republicans will sign onto it and make it veto proof. Why does it need to be veto proof? Because our compassionate conservative Decider has an ideological opposition to federal government intervention in health care, even for the sake of millions of children.
Here's what I don't get. Our government can write a blank check and incur unprecedented debt to intervene uninvited and reorganize a nation halfway around the world in the name of democracy without offending his ideology, but a (cheaper) action to save the lives and promote the health of children at risk in our own nation goes beyond the pale of appropriate federal interference. Big government for war; small government for children. We can afford to remain in Iraq indefinitely, but we cannot insure the children who will ultimately have to pay the debt we are incurring.
In my posts thus far, I have been speaking to Christian-types, church people who I believe need to think more deeply about the issues of our day. And this blog is no exception. I don't hold out much hope for the current President. He is what he is, and does what he does. The challenge actually belongs to the church, the same people who initially felt that the compassion part of the "compassionate conservative" vision could lead to politics that conforms to a fundamentally (not fundamentalist) moral vision. The question for Christians is Have we finally reached the point where we can resist Bush's veneer of Christianity and condemn his policies?
When do we pay attention to the carpenter from Nazareth who observed 2000 years ago that where your treasure is there will your heart be also?