Why 'Compassionate Conservatism' Failed

Why 'Compassionate Conservatism' Failed
AP Photo/LM Otero

After a recent spate of state level laws curtailing abortion passed in Missouri, Alabama, and Georgia, I noticed a familiar argument from progressive friends. If evangelicals truly embraced a pro-life ethic, I was told, they should also favor expanding welfare state programs like Medicaid and SNAP. I also heard the argument that conservative evangelicals have no problem with state intervention in people's lives when it comes to abortion or LGBTQ+ rights, but show their hypocrisy when they don't extend the role of the state to providing programs that provide for people's health.

I understand the kneejerk urge to point out this perceived hypocrisy, but I think these arguments misunderstand how evangelical Christians think about poverty solutions.

In 2000, Marvin Olasky published the book Compassionate Conservatism. Named after a phrase that George W. Bush popularized during his first presidential campaign, the book outlines a change in political and rhetorical strategy for conservatives. While welfare reform successfully shrunk and changed the responsibility of government, it hadn't done enough to address the needs of people once they moved off of welfare. In other words, it wasn't compassionate enough. Those people needed compassionate, local organizations to promote and instruct them in rehabilitative change.

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