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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.

Thanks, but No Thanks

Needless to say, Bush-bashing goes over pretty well in San Francisco, where some local wags think so highly of the president that they want to put his name on a monument: the local sewage-treatment plant.

A group dubbing itself the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco has gathered thousands of voter signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot that would rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant as the George W. Bush Sewage Plant.

Organizers say the renaming would be "a fitting monument to this president's work." They are also planning a citywide "synchronized flush" to bid Bush farewell on Inauguration Day in January.

The city's Republican Party chairman dismisses the effort as the work of "typical San Francisco crazies." White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters, "I just don't think it dignifies a response."

Everybody in the Pool -- or Not

Warning: Media navel-gazing ahead.

A brouhaha erupted last week among the ranks of the White House Correspondents Association, the official club of reporters who cover the aforementioned building. The trouble centers on a move by the WHCA board to limit distribution of some pool reports, which are dispatches describing photo opportunities, Air Force One flights, and other doings not open to the entire press corps.

A dwindling number of newspapers and media companies are paying to send reporters with the president when he travels at home or abroad, leaving it to a few big papers (full disclosure: You are reading one) to pick up the tab. As a result, the WHCA decided to limit some reports to those traveling with the president.

The move set off a fevered debate via e-mails that -- reporters being reporters -- were quickly leaked to Mediabistro.com's FishbowlDC.

"The idea that pool reporting on the road with the president will be available only to those who travel and pay for it should be repugnant to our profession," wrote Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune. "I call it pay to play."

But Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times called the out-of-town pool system "broken" and wrote in an e-mail: "A system that called for pool duty -- let's not forget the word duty -- was set up so that we could share the responsibility for coverage, as well as the information gathered. Today only the information is shared."

So far the association is holding firm, but current WHCA President Ann Compton of ABC News has urged members to weigh in.

Hold the Maple Syrup

The only state that hasn't gotten a visit from Bush received a second one from his wife last week. Laura Bush announced a trails grant and went hiking with friends at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont, according to press reports.

No word on whether Bush will make it to the Green Mountain State, which is about as politically blue as you can get. But there's still plenty of time: Bill Clinton waited until the month before he left office to make his first presidential visit to Nebraska.

Quote of the Week

"And I reminded the president that I am reminded of the great talent of the -- of our Philippine Americans when I eat dinner at the White House."

-- President Bush with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, referring to White House chef Cristeta Comerford, who was born in Manila.

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