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Compassionate conservatism

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It’s harder and harder to be a conservative these days. Just ask Jeb Bush.
The former Governor of Florida and potential 2016 presidential candidate remarked in an interview April 6 that immigrants who come to America illegally may be breaking the law, but that doing so is an “act of love,” not a felony. When this was mentioned by Donald Trump at a national gathering of Tea Party conservatives in New Hampshire on Saturday, Bush’s name was booed, and Trump mocked his comments.
Whatever your stance on immigration reform, think about that for a moment: Bush wasn’t criticized for proposing any specific policy solution. He wasn’t booed for any laws enacted when he was Governor of Florida. Rather, he was jeered for simply saying that undocumented immigrants love their families.
Some will say the episode is proof Bush is not conservative enough for today’s GOP. The truth of the matter, though, is that his comments had nothing to do with conservative politics and everything to do with a common-sense outlook on a difficult situation.
Have we really reached the point where a political figure is derided for using the term “love” as it relates to undocumented immigrants? Has the entire political environment become so vitriolic that those who mock the idea of loving one’s family are considered part of the mainstream? Do the family values promoted by many Republicans, love chief among them, not apply to those who come across the border illegally?
Too many self-proclaimed conservatives are intent on making a splash in the day’s news cycle or flirting with the most zealous, far-right-wing voters instead of articulating to centrist voters why conservative solutions to the nation’s troubles will benefit all Americans. It’s as if some in the party have forgotten why they became conservatives in the first place ⎯ presumably, to promote a government that will best serve the common good.
To make matters worse for the GOP, this is all happening at a time when Republican candidates should be making gains among the voters, as a liberal president struggles to promote the same unconvincing policies he has pushed since he took office more than six years ago.
Still, amid all the Donald Trumps out there intent on hijacking the Republican platform, hope remains in those figures who still speak the language of common sense. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was also in New Hampshire over the weekend and was asked about Bush on ABC’s This Week.
“I think he might have been more artful in the way he presented this,” Paul said about Bush’s comments. “But I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, he’s terrible for saying this.’ If it were me, what I would have said is, ‘People who seek the American dream are not bad people. However, we can’t invite the whole world.’”
You don’t have to agree with Paul’s official stance on immigration. But it’s hard not to respect a guy who recognizes there is nothing wrong with someone urging compassion for those who seek better lives in America.
There was a time not too long ago when “compassionate conservatism” was promoted by the leaders of the Republican Party. Part of me wonders if we’ll ever get that back…
As for the politics of today, I like Jeb Bush. I wish there were more like him running for office in 2014. I hope he runs for President in 2016. But I doubt he will. With the backlash he received in the past week from those on the far right, it’s hard to blame him if he decides not to run.
Rand Paul, however, will run for President. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t know yet whether I will support him or a different Republican candidate when that time comes. But I do know the GOP and the country are better off when he and his conservative peers speak not just the self-indulgent, extreme language of the far right, but the language of all people — compassion and, equally important, common sense.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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