Heroic rhetoric

When I first heard George W. Bush talking about “compassionate conservatism” in 1999, I figured (and certainly hoped) that it was at least 80 percent ad campaign and no more than 20 percent policy guide. Eight years later, it seems to me that, in practice, the Bush administration probably hasn’t strayed too far to the wrong side of that proportion.
Nonetheless, it’s clear from reading his syndicated columns that Michael Gerson, formerly Bush’s chief speechwriter, doesn’t just take compassionate conservatism seriously, but literally makes a religion of it. Now Gerson has written a manifesto for his political religion called Heroic Conservatism.
I haven’t read the book, and probably won’t — Gerson’s columns satisfy my appetite for what he has to say. George Will elegantly explains why compassion should never be the defining attribute of political heroism, much less of conservative political heroism.
David Frum, who also wrote speeches for Bush, has reviewed Gerson’s book for National Review, but the review apparently is not available online. Frum agrees, I think, that Gerson’s compassionate conservatism did relatively little to inform actual Bush administration policy. But, naturally enough given Gerson’s position, it did much to inform the president’s rhetoric, and Frum argues that this gap inflicted significant damage on the administration


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