Bush's Left Right-Hand Men
By Julie Kosterlitz, National Journal
National Journal Group Inc.
Friday, May 4, 2001
Black Panther patron. Communist Party member. McGovern organizer. Lifelong
Democrat. Scion of a prominent liberal family. George W. Bush never cared
much for the ferment of the 1960s and '70s, but he has surrounded himself
with former radicals and Lefties from that era who are now the truest-blue
Those aren't the sort of entries one expects to find on the resumes of
advisers and appointees to a conservative Administration. But each
describes a facet of the lives of the team members assembled to help craft
and carry out President Bush's governing philosophy.
"Compassionate conservatism" just wouldn't be the same without them.
Indeed, it might not exist at all. Marvin Olasky, 50, the one-time
Communist and now Bush adviser, is an evangelical Christian scholar who
largely conceived the idea and who all but coined the term. But Olasky is
joined by at least five other top Bush lieutenants who have marched across
the political battlefields from Left to Right:
David Horowitz, 62, is the former 1960s editor of the New Left journal,
Ramparts, and one-time acolyte of Black Panther leader Huey Newton.
Horowitz counseled candidate Bush on campaign strategy and garnered a
glowing cover blurb, for his recent political playbook, from top Bush aide
Larry Lindsey, 46, Bush's top economic adviser and the chief architect of
the Administration's mega-tax-cut plan, was a campus organizer for
anti-war presidential candidate George McGovern.
John DiIulio, 42, the maverick Princeton University don whom Bush chose to
lead the controversial White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives, remembers his grandmother lighting a daily candle in memory
of "Mr. Roosevelt," and says he'll leave this world the way he entered it
-- as a Democrat.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, 40, was steeped in the liberal
politics of his family of "dedicated, principled Democrats."
David Frum, 40, Bush's economic speechwriter, is the son of one of
Canada's most famous broadcast journalists, and grew up imbibing the
"trendy," liberal views of his parents.
This isn't the first time in the nation's recent history that a flotilla
of leftward-listing intellectuals has Righted itself. It was the
midcentury journey of the New York Intellectuals -- Irving Kristol, Norman
Podhoretz, Daniel Bell, et al. -- from Trotskyite communism to liberal
anti-communism, and finally, to conservatism, that gave rise to the term
"neoconservative." (Originally a derisive epithet, it was later adopted by
the principals themselves as a brand of distinction.)
Nor is this the first time in recent history that a conservative
Administration has offered safe harbor to one-time Lefties. The
intellectual heirs of Kristol and Podhoretz permeated the Reagan
Administration's foreign policy apparatus: Cold Warriors such as Jeane
Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, and a few Culture Warriors,
such as William J. Bennett, Reagan's Education Secretary and later drug
czar for the first Bush Administration.
The refugees from the New Left who have turned up on George W. Bush's
doorstep aren't officially neoconservatives. That earlier group "was as
much a club as an ideology," says Abrams, now chairman of the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom. "Everybody knew each other.
There is a network. It still exists, and [these newcomers] are not a part
of it." Besides, Abrams notes, with the end of the Cold War, the
neoconservatives themselves have all but abandoned the term in favor of
plain old "conservatism." "Neoconservatism happened at particular time and
place; it lived, and it died. It's like saying, 'I'm an abolitionist,' or
'I'm a Whig.' It doesn't have meaning, because the historical situation is
The new crop of converts is also, for the most part, younger than the
original neoconservatives. Most of the younger group came of political age
during the waxing -- or, in some cases, the waning -- of the anti-war
movement, the New Left, and the counterculture. And, unlike the Reagan
Administration's Cold Warriors, they have, by and large, pursued careers
in domestic, rather than foreign, policy.
Yet some interesting echoes of the earlier movement reverberate in this
later one. In many instances, foreign policy and national security
concerns provided the impetus for the political conversion of the Bush
aides. And like the original neoconservatives, they tend to show a flare
for the intellectual and the iconoclastic.
So, call them "neo-compassionates," or "neo-neo-cons." Whatever the label,
these political pilgrims are clearly having a critical impact on the
conservatism of the new Bush Administration -- not in spite of their lefty
histories, but because of them. They are helping to construct a new, more
inclusive addition to the House of Reagan and Gingrich. But are they
adding a new floor, or just a new facade?
Horowitz And The Panthers
How did these neo-neo-cons get from their lefty points of departure --
whether Moscow or McGovern -- to Bush's front door?
The short answer is, they turned right during the mid-to-late 1970s.
For the older members of this crowd, Horowitz and Olasky, the
disenchantment with the doctrinaire politics they had embraced as youths
came swiftly and brutally.
Horowitz inherited the radicalism of his parents, 1930s Communists of the
card-carrying, cell member variety. In 1959, he went to the University of
California (Berkeley) as a graduate student in search of a political
utopia. Later, after several years in England, studying, writing, and
absorbing a genteel socialism, he returned in 1968 to a Berkeley that was
becoming the mecca and breeding ground for a proliferation of
more-strident and suddenly fashionable radical movements. At Ramparts, the
glossy muckraking monthly that published groundbreaking exposes on CIA
outrages and other scandals of the Vietnam War era, Horowitz helped
chronicle and promote various causes of the emerging New Left -- including
the Black Panthers.
Horowitz would later say that he was increasingly unnerved by the violent,
anarchic turn taken by a younger generation of Lefties. But, unlike most
refugees from the Left, he can pinpoint the single event that triggered a
cascading series of disillusionments. It was the 1975 death of the
magazine's bookkeeper, whom Horowitz had recommended for the job and who,
he and other reporters later came to believe, was murdered by the Panthers
after she began turning up irregularities in their finances.
Shocked and remorseful, Horowitz says the event shattered his rose-colored
vision of the world and his romance with radicalism. He began re-examining
the basic assumptions of his worldview -- and finding nothing but
contradictions, smugness, and hypocrisy. At the same time, his personal
life was in turmoil and his marriage was unraveling. So profound was his
disillusionment and disorientation that he retreated from politics
altogether for nearly a decade, before announcing his support for the
re-election of Ronald Reagan in 1984 -- when he became an instant pariah
in his former social circle.
But once the pain of conversion subsided, the role of pariah turned out to
be one that Horowitz relished. He became a professional provocateur and
polemicist in the service of a new cause: conservatism. Over time, he has
created a network of organizations and publications -- often with generous
support from private foundations -- and put out a series of books to
spread his message: The Left is not merely misguided but dangerous, and
conservatives must take its members seriously and fight them mercilessly.
A Higher Whisper
Like Horowitz, Marvin Olasky is an all-or-nothing kind of guy. Raised
Jewish, he became an atheist at 14. As a Yale undergraduate, he didn't
merely protest various injustices, he engaged in a five-day hunger strike
on behalf of striking campus cafeteria workers. After college, Olasky
spurned a job offer at the Boston Globe and biked cross-country to Oregon
-- drawn by the brooding beauty described in a Ken Kesey novel. He then
took a reporting job at the rural Bend Bulletin in central Oregon and, as
he would later write, "I would proceed to educate the residents of
Deschutes County on the way things ought to be."
Unlike Horowitz, Olasky preferred his socialism unadorned -- without the
fringed leather and all the other counterculture trappings -- so he joined
the pass Communist Party in the early 1970s. "Instead of listening to the
Grateful Dead, we listened to Paul Robeson," he recalls. He even hopped a
Soviet freighter across the Pacific to make a pilgrimage to the socialist
motherland and ride the rails.
Olasky, too, can date the unraveling of his worldview to a specific time
and place: on a November day in 1973 as he began graduate school in film
studies at the University of Michigan. "I was reading Lenin's famous
essay, 'Socialism and Religion,' in which he wrote, 'We must combat
religion -- this is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently Marxism,'
" Olasky explains in a treatise on his Web site, olasky.com. "At that
point, God changed my worldview, not through thunder or a whirlwind, but
by means of a small whisper that became a repeated, resounding question in
my brain: 'What if Lenin is wrong? What if there is a God?'"
For both Horowitz and Olasky, revelation was followed by profound
soul-searching and progressive disillusionment with their past lives and
beliefs. And, for both men, political upheaval was intertwined with
personal upheaval: Disillusion followed hard on the heels of the
dissolution of their first marriages. And, for Olasky and Horowitz, the
shedding of one extreme seemed only to invite another. By 1976, Olasky,
the Jewish-boy-turned-atheist-adolescent, had become an evangelical
Christian and a devout conservative.
And, as it had for Horowitz, the Left that Olasky left behind began to
figure in his thinking and writing as the cause of America's political and
social ills. In 1992, he wrote The Tragedy of American Compassion, which
argued essentially that an impersonal and indiscriminate welfare state of
the 20th century had supplanted the more intimate and value-laden charity
of the late 19th century -- to the detriment of the poor.
The book drew the attention of leading conservatives, including William J.
Bennett, future House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Karl Rove, who
added it to the syllabus of candidate-in-the-making George W. Bush.
For those who came later, the conversions were less dramatic but no less
real. Having journeyed less far to the left, they did not have as far back
to travel, once their philosophical bags were packed.
Larry Lindsey didn't have to work too hard to shed the fairly apolitical
Republicanism of his Westchester County, N.Y., upbringing for the idealism
of the civil rights and anti-war movements at Bowdoin College in Maine.
His politics, then, as now, he says, followed a common inclination. "Abuse
of power really bothers me," Lindsey said in an interview. "One couldn't
help but look at Bull Connor" -- the rabid police commissioner of
Birmingham, Ala., who turned fire hoses and unleashed dogs on civil rights
demonstrators -- "and not see abuse of power. And probably the same was
true of how the United States was conducting the war as well. It was easy
to perceive Richard Nixon as abusing power.... That's probably why" he
moved to the left, he says.
At Bowdoin, Lindsey participated in marches -- "peaceful," he is careful
to add. And, after his first-choice candidate, Maine's Sen. Edmund Muskie,
dropped out of the 1972 Democratic presidential primaries, he became a
campus organizer for then-Sen. George McGovern, polling and cajoling the
residents of his dorm to support the South Dakotan.
But Lindsey's views began shifting as the decade progressed -- not in an
epiphany, but with the accumulation of nagging events. There was the time
the local restaurateur in Bath, Maine, tried to use the cumbersome state
licensing system to keep Lindsey and a friend from opening a competing
hotdog stand (they persisted and stayed in business). There were his
studies in economics, "which said you should make a decision based on a
cost-benefit analysis... that there's a rational way to make a public
choice and not just, 'I feel this way,' which is kind of what politics is
based on," he said.
What proved perhaps most unforgettable and, eventually, unforgivable, for
Lindsey -- as it would for other younger neo-neo-cons -- was the specter
of human misery offered by the "boat people," who fled South Vietnam after
the fall of Saigon. "You could still maintain that the United States was
well intended, but that we shouldn't have [been fighting the war],"
Lindsey said. "But any illusions you had about the niceness of the people
on the other side certainly had to disappear, for anyone who was paying
Lindsey remained a reflexive Democrat for a little longer -- even
contributing money to Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign. But by 1980,
he was voting for maverick-Republican-turned-independent John Anderson --
"kind of an in-between," Lindsey says -- before being won over decisively
by Ronald Reagan.
In 1981, as an all-but-dissertation Ph.D. candidate in economics fresh out
of Harvard, Lindsey headed to Washington to join the staff of Reagan's
Council of Economic Advisers. But he fretted over it. "I hadn't voted for
him, and I was a little bit nervous about the whole thing.... I'd never
met a conservative -- a real conservative," he said. "I had such a funny
view of them that turned out to be false." He remembers that he began to
see the high marginal tax rates of the day as government abuse of power.
And he remembers how, at one dinner, even as a liberal economist dismissed
Lindsey's argument that lower tax rates needn't reduce government revenues
(since taxpayers would have less incentive to cheat), the economist's wife
was telling him about all the creative schemes they used to avoid paying
such high taxes.
"I began to be exposed to conservative thinking for the first time, and
so, having been shown quite clearly that the Left was: a) wrong, and b)
somewhat hypocritical, I haven't looked back since."
Born to a Catholic working-class family of FDR Democrats in urban
Philadelphia, John DiIulio says that it was the Democratic Party that left
him, rather than the other way around.
>From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, "the Democratic Party went off on
this hiccupping jag, and made pretend it was the Young Socialists'
convention. And it got away from the spoken word and the lived
philosophies of the Franklin Roosevelts, and the Hubert Humphreys, and the
Senator Henry 'Scoop' Jacksons -- and the Bobby Kennedys, for that
He blames the party's shift on the changes in the presidential nominating
rules after the 1968 convention, which he says "radically disempowered
traditional leaders and radically empowered amateur Democrats, if you
will, who were driven purely by ideology -- ideology often bereft of any
real understanding or real experience in the low-income communities which
they claimed to represent."
Son of a sheriff's deputy and a department store clerk, DiIulio entered
the realm of the intellectual elite by a fluke: A recruiter from the
prestigious Haverford School, in search of new football fodder, thought
DiIulio could be trained in the ways of the gridiron. His football career
did not last more than a year, but Haverford led him to the equally
prestigious University of Pennsylvania, and ultimately to graduate study
in political science at Harvard. There he sought out eminent
neoconservative social scientist James Q. Wilson, whose writings on police
practices DiIulio admired. Wilson, famous for his insistence on rigorously
empirical social science and a belief in the importance of morality in the
discussion of public policy, became DiIulio's mentor.
Armed with a Ph.D. by age 27 and a full professorship at Princeton by age
32, DiIulio has made a reputation for being an intellectual brawler as
much as a scholar. His hard-line positions on crime-and-punishment issues,
and his pithy, if provocative, turns of phrase (as when he wrote about
young "superpredators") drew the attention and plaudits of conservatives,
including Bennett, with whom DiIulio co-authored a book in 1996. But he is
also an inveterate iconoclast (opposing the 1996 welfare reform bill as
too draconian, for example), and his willingness to change some of his
positions (on the wisdom of tough mandatory sentences for drug offenders,
for example) has earned him a reputation as a fearless empiricist in some
circles, and as a political opportunist in others.
In the late 1990s, he became impressed with the work that he saw religious
groups performing on the front lines of urban war zones, and with
statistics showing a correlation between religious observance and positive
social behaviors. He turned his academic attention to investigating the
possibilities of religion as a force for social good. And in 1996, he
renewed a commitment to Catholicism in his personal life.
Though DiIulio's law-and-order positions and his frank embrace of religion
are at odds with the prevailing currents in the Democratic Party, he
remains committed. "For me, it's just a story of constancy," he said.
"Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a very simple philosophy -- that government
ought to help average men, women, and children lead peaceful and
productive, if not uniformly prosperous, lives." The party of FDR,
embodied perhaps most recently by Hubert Humphrey, was for equality of
opportunity, not equality of results, DiIulio says. Such Democrats "were
not opposed to a free-market system. They did not believe society was
responsible for every individual's problem. They believed in both
individual and collective responsibility."
He calls himself a "New Democrat," but he says he does not mind being
called a compassionate conservative either, in part because he believes
strongly in the view Bush put forth in one of his earliest campaign
speeches: "While government cannot be replaced by charities, it should
welcome them as partners, not view them as rivals."
By the time the tail end of the baby boom reached college, political
conversions were part of a broader political realignment in America. For
David Frum and Ari Fleischer, who entered college just a few years after
Lindsey left, shedding liberalism was a quicker and less complicated
Their liberalism, after all, was a matter of family and upbringing, rather
than something found, like Lindsey's, in the first blossoming of
independence. Frum's mother, Barbara, one of Canada's most popular
broadcast journalists before her death in 1992, and his father, a wealthy
developer, were "politically liberal and quite [trendy] in their views,"
during his childhood, Frum said. Ari Fleischer remembers the anti-Nixon
fervor of his liberal parents -- a father in the textile industry and a
mother who would go on to work for IBM -- in the affluent New York City
suburb of Pound Ridge.
The political state of affairs in 1978 and 1979 made the college
experience for incoming freshmen, such as Frum and Fleischer, vastly
different from what it had been even for those newly graduated, such as
Lindsey. "There was inflation, unemployment, disaster abroad... family
breakdown was very important. When I was in college, it was like the Angel
of Death was passing through the corridors, as one student after another,
their parents' marriages would split up as soon as the kids were gone,"
said Frum, who started at Yale in 1978. "If you were of an impressionable
age... there was a sense that everything was going wrong. Everything that
people took for granted was producing disastrous results. We needed
Unlike intellectuals of the 1950s, who "had to think their way through a
lot of prejudices in order to reach conservatism," Frum said, "in the
1970s, all you had to do was keep your eyes open. It was hard to miss."
For Frum, as for Lindsey, the image of the Vietnamese boat people was
indelible: Frum calls it the "first and most important" element in his
disillusionment. Whereas Lindsey had experienced the national and personal
misgivings over America's role in Vietnam firsthand, however, Frum
remembers mainly the sorry denouement.
Of his youth in Canada, he says, "I have no memory of the war, until it
was lost, and then I was angry." Most of his parents' friends, he says,
had been against the war, "often in quite extreme ways." But Frum, who
spent the summer of his freshman year in college volunteering with a group
to try to find sponsors for would-be Canadian immigrants among the
Vietnamese refugees, said he "was never willing after that experience to
be convinced that there was anything moral" about the U.S. withdrawal from
For Fleischer, ensconced at Middlebury College, a small liberal arts
school in Vermont, political awakening was spurred by his new awareness of
current events. Soviet domination of Eastern Europe had special resonance
for him, because he had relatives in Hungary, whom he had visited as a
"It wasn't very complicated.... I just thought that the Soviet Union was
wrong and that freedom was right. The people in Hungary weren't free, and
I blamed the Soviet Union. People were blaming America, and I thought, we
shouldn't be blaming America... we should blame the Soviets."
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 not only reinforced Fleischer's
views, it inspired him to register for the draft and even to write a
letter to the New York Times (never published) saying "how proud I was to
be able to register."
He remembers the pall cast over the 1980 Olympics by the Soviet invasion,
the U.S. decision to boycott the Summer Games in the USSR, and then the
thrilling upset victory of the U.S. hockey team over the Soviet team at
the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. "I was 19, and I remember people
chanting 'USA! USA!' That felt so good. That felt so right. It was really
an explosion of patriotism." Then there was Ronald Reagan's upbeat
candidacy, putting the lie to Carter's lament over national malaise.
"Ronald Reagan's view was that we weren't in malaise," according to
Fleischer, "but we were a fantastically optimistic country. We just needed
a leader to express it."
After college, Fleischer embarked on a career as a spokesman for a series
of increasingly prominent Republican political candidates. They included
the senior Bush, in 1992, as well as members of Congress -- culminating
with then-Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, when he was House Ways and Means
Committee chairman. Fleischer was spokesman for the short-lived
presidential campaign of Elizabeth Dole last year, when he caught the eye
of Karen P. Hughes, then-candidate George W. Bush's praetorian
communications director. After Fleischer had resigned and Dole had dropped
out of the race, Fleischer joined Bush's campaign. The rest is
Bush's Brain Trust
At first blush, there is a certain irony to the alliance between George W.
Bush and these former Lefties. Bush, after all, is a baby boomer (born on
July 6, 1946) who, in the standard retelling, rather famously sat out the
defining political and cultural movements of his generation in the 1960s
But, in fact, Bush didn't so much "sit out" those two decades as react
against them. "[Bill] Clinton was identified by the Right with all the
excesses of the '60s. Now he's being followed by another baby boom
President, whose intellectual moment was rebellion against the '60s," says
Marshall Wittmann, of the conservative Hudson Institute.
As the Washington Post's Hanna Rosin put it in a profile during the 2000
campaign, Bush actually defines "himself and much of his agenda as the
Republican presidential nominee by what he saw then and didn't much like."
She wrote that Bush, and campaign strategist Karl Rove -- now senior
adviser to the President -- began a dialogue stretching over the seven
years leading up to the campaign that "systematically refined those
resentments into a political philosophy."
If so, Bush's affinity for the new neoconservatives may have a lot to do
with vindication. These intellectuals can confirm and articulate the
wisdom of the instincts that Bush felt some 30 years ago, and frame them
in light of their own disillusionment.
But Olasky says that Bush may also personally identify with these prodigal
sons of the 1960s and 1970s.
"All of us have 'holes in our souls,' " Olasky says, paraphrasing a saying
of a Christian anti-drug program for teens that he admires. "People fill
those holes with different things. Some used alcohol and drugs, while
other people, like myself, filled that hole with leftist ideology.... I
was drunk on Marxism."
Bush "went through a personal change, a sharp break," with his past, just
as Olasky himself had. "He was, by his own admission, drinking too heavily
at times. And he changed," Olasky says. "He understands -- this may be a
bit of a stretch -- the way people can become inebriated [with an idea]."
Either way, Bush has had a tendency to soft-pedal his critiques of the
1960s. Unlike earlier conservatives, who have used the excesses of the
'60s as a wedge to divide people, Bush uses his critique as a "healing
device," to reach out to a generation who only grew up when they began
having children of their own, says Wittmann, who himself turned away from
the left-wing and labor politics of his earlier years. "Bush's explicit
message to boomers: 'It's all right to be faithful. You can forget the
crazy things you did. I did some, too.' "
"Compassionate conservatism," likewise, is a phrase and philosophy that
emphasizes fusion, not fission: Taking classic conservative themes -- less
government, more self-reliance, and strong social norms -- and linking
them with some of the passions and the language of the '60s and '70s, such
as combating poverty and championing civil rights.
Instead of demonizing government, Bush emphasizes that there is a federal
role for helping the poor. He promotes religious charity, not as an
alternative to government, but as a partner. He makes overt gestures to
the black community -- which did not give much support to his election --
in part through a promise to funnel money through black churches to inner
cities. And he has made a social issue -- education -- his calling card.
Bush is, in short, doing his utmost to recast the Republican Party as the
party of caring. To this end, he is benefiting from the views, skills, and
experience of the neo-neo-cons. In effect, they serve as cultural
interpreters in his bid to end America's internal, societal Cold War
peacefully, civilly -- but still decisively for Republicans.
Horowitz, for example, has made reshaping the Republican Party practically
his raison d'tre in recent years -- and he brings to it the crusading
zeal and guerrilla tactics he once used in service of the Left. "We are in
the midst of a huge political transition," he says, summarizing the
message he gives Republican candidates in his political handbooks and
lectures. "The parties really have the wrong names and identifying labels.
The conservative party -- the party who has been trying to conserve for 20
years the welfare state and the whole apparatus -- is the Democratic
Party; [and] Democrats are becoming the party for the wealthy. The
Republican Party is the party of innovations in every area, the one that
fought for and got welfare reform, that fought for and got deregulation
and restructuring of the economy, the one with the innovative ideas in
Rove and Bush met a few times with Horowitz as they prepared for the
presidential race. And other GOP leaders consult with him, too. House
Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, arranged to have Horowitz's book, The
Art of Political War, sent to Republican candidates in the 2000 election,
and DeLay features Horowitz's political advice column on one of his Web
sites. "It doesn't matter what Republicans call their strategy to [win
over independent voters] -- 'compassionate conservatism,' or something
else," Horowitz writes in his latest pamphlet. "For Republicans to win, it
is necessary to compete with Democrats on the caring issues."
Although Horowitz is interested in capturing the "caring" label for the
GOP, other neo-neo-cons say they are more interested in making policy that
synthesizes the best of their old liberal ideals and their newer
Even a free-marketeer such as Lindsey, while on the Board of Governors of
the Federal Reserve, worked to promote the Community Reinvestment Act,
which requires banks to make loans to credit-worthy low-income people in
poor neighborhoods -- a law that other conservatives and libertarians,
such as Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, R-Texas, have sought
to limit. It is, Lindsey says, a corollary to his antipathy to abuses of
power: "a need to be more enlightened about things."
DiIulio, who had a grandmother who relied on federal relief during the
Great Depression, family members educated by the G.I. Bill, and his own
federally subsidized student loans as a college student, has never doubted
a role for government. And today, he preaches the social philosophy of
some Catholic thinkers known as "subsidiarity." He says: "It is always
best, both in prudential -- practical -- terms, as well as in moral terms,
to deliver such help and such hope as you can up close and personal" --
from family, friends, neighbors, and fellow church members.
"Make the local call first," he advises, "but if the local call is not
answered, don't be afraid to make a long-distance call. If there is a
problem or set of problems that cannot be effectively addressed at the
individual, personal, spiritual, common-community level, there is no shame
-- and in fact there is obligation -- to seek help from larger entities,
and broader communities," including the federal government.
Subsidiarity, as embodied in Bush's "compassionate conservatism,"
transcends party labels, DiIulio says. "Pointing fingers isn't
important.... What matters is 'How do we get there from here?' and 'How do
we get there together?' "
This conciliatory tone also comes naturally to Bush spokesman Fleischer.
"You know, Bush talks about changing the tone" of politics in Washington,
he says. "It's easy for me. I think that one of my secret weapons in this
business is that I grew up in such a Democratic family, and I have such
respect for my family. We're so close that it teaches me not to take this
business personally. It's not a personal business. These are good people
who have different ideas."
So what do liberals, or left-leaning intellectuals, make of their departed
brethren and the "compassionate conservatism" they are bringing to the
nation? The question itself is fraught with squabbling over political
labels: Scarcely anyone wanting a serious hearing in the marketplace of
ideas claims to be a liberal or a leftist these days. But even a small
sampling of views from somewhat left-of-center thinkers reveals a few
The neo-neo-cons, in some ways, are battling chimeras from the 1960s of
their own invention, say their critics. Stephanie Coontz is a history
professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and was prominent
in the anti-war movement as a graduate student at the University of
Washington (Seattle). She said that some of the 1960s activists were
genuinely excessive. They later turned that excessiveness into intense
self-criticism during their transformational phase, and then finally
turned that criticism against their ideological beginnings. "The vast
majority of us were involved in peaceful, legal protest, had a strong work
ethic, and never got the news coverage of those who committed excesses,"
she said. "Most of us grew without abandoning our values. Those who were
most extreme and naive about how social change occurs discovered what most
of us have been telling them: 'Life is more complicated.' "
The Left is no longer allergic to the idea of value-driven or faith-based
programs to tackle poverty and social problems -- but still believes the
underlying hurdles are mainly economic. "As someone who works with
families, I am extremely open to experimenting with many different ways of
helping people at the community, personal, and economic level," says
Coontz, sounding something like DiIulio. Coontz has written several books
on the evolution of families in the United States. "But you can't make
bricks without straw. If there are not jobs to go to," she says, or no way
to get to them, and no one to watch the kids, "you can preach to [the
poor] as much as you like, but they will eventually get demoralized," she
Moreover, the large-scale effects of national economic policies pushed by
conservatives, argue those on the left, are bound to swamp any good that
comes from the small-scale efforts that exemplify "compassionate
"It's right to point to some of the pathologies [of welfare programs], but
wrong to think they can be replaced with a combination of an unfettered
market economy and local charity," said Theda Skocpol, a professor of
political science and sociology at Harvard University. "[Conservatives]
have given us a society of increasing inequality... that most of them seem
blind to," she added.
Or, put another way, compassionate conservatism is "all hat and no
cattle," said writer Michael Lind, recycling the popular saying of his
native Texas. "There's no money. There will be lectures on single
motherhood and keeping your virginity until marriage, but at the end of
day, there will still be working poor, people working 40 hours a week,
with incomes below the poverty line. It's a fraud. It's half of a program.
What's missing is the economic half.
"The Republicans use these emigres [from the Left] to teach them how to
speak this language, using words like 'empowerment' -- a left-wing word,
which Jack Kemp then steals -- or 'community,' " Lind said. "But when you
read the fine print, they're cutting the money."
Indeed, Lind, who once edited The Public Interest, the house organ of the
original neoconservative movement, and was an acolyte of its co-founder,
Irving Kristol, says he split with the neoconservatives over what he
considers their abandonment of economic justice. "The price that
successful neo-cons paid was to give up their economic views, at least in
public. They were welcome when they were denouncing single parenthood, or
racial preferences, but they couldn't speak about the declining value of
the minimum wage, or the shrinking of health insurance as benefits are cut
back by business." If they had, "then they would have been cut out."
Now, at the ripe old age of 39, Lind says he finds himself at home on
neither the right nor the left. As a senior fellow at the heterodox New
America Foundation, which seeks to promote "policy ideas that transcend
the conventional political spectrum," he hopes to give thinkers of his
generation a place to seek the truth, unconstrained by the dictates of
His fledgling effort is a challenge, he says, adding with understatement:
"The intellectual world tends to be very polarized."
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