Compassionate Conservatism 2.0

By Dan Eggen
Monday, June 30, 2008

"Compassionate conservatism" is back.

President Bush focused attention on that signature phrase last week at a national conference for federal faith-based programs -- among his first, and still most controversial, policy initiatives.

As he noted in his speech on Thursday, Bush began talking as long ago as 1999 about loosening restrictions on the participation of religiously affiliated groups in government programs. That led to his executive order creating the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the White House, and a proliferation of similar offices throughout the government.

Bush said the moves were meant to "ensure that the armies of compassion play a central role in our campaign to make America more promising and more just."

But controversies have erupted regularly, usually focused on allegations of improper favoritism for the religious right or improper proselytizing. Last week, the Justice Department fired an official under investigation for her role in doling out faith-based grants after she did not show up for a House hearing.

But the president focused on the positive, casting the faith-based effort as part of a broader agenda to help those in need, including well-regarded initiatives to battle AIDS and malaria in the developing world.

"To me, it does not matter if there's a crescent on your group's wall, a rabbi on your group's board or 'Christ' in your group's name," Bush said. "If your organization puts medicine in people's hands, food in people's mouths or a roof over people's heads, then you're succeeding."

McClellan for Obama?

Scott McClellan's former colleagues at the White House have already labeled him disgruntled and out of touch, but this could be the final straw: The former press secretary says he might just vote for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Speaking after an address at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last week, McClellan said he hasn't ruled out voting Democratic this year -- or even registering as a member of the anti-GOP. "I haven't made any long- term decisions," McClellan said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

McClellan said his presidential choice will depend in part on whether Obama or his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), runs a positive, issues-oriented campaign. One of the themes of McClellan's best-selling book, "What Happened," is that Washington has become paralyzed by negative, winner-take-all politics.

The former spokesman, who spent a good deal of his time at the White House defending the early years of the Iraq war, also said the conflict "has gone on for longer than it should have gone on -- and it needs to be brought to an end."

Changing parties would not be an entirely new concept for McClellan. His mother, Texas politico Carole Keeton Strayhorn, was a Democrat until the 1980s, when she switched to the GOP. Strayhorn later ran as an independent against Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

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