In today’s Philly Inquirer, noted UPenn professor, sociologist, author, and former Bush faith-based head, John DiIulio writes a tenderly devastating piece about Bush’s “compassion contradiction” that still offers Bush a chance to do the right thing.
DiIulio notes that it was eight years ago this week that Bush delivered the first public policy speech of his campaign, titled “The Duty of Hope” where he rejected extreme Republican notions that government should just get out of the way and let our social problems solve themselves. Rather, government had to help “in the common good, and that good is not common until it is shared by those in need.” Included in the areas where government should help? Medicaid for poor children. DiIulio notes that he helped draft that speech and in some areas Bush has made good, including increased funding for public schools that serve low-income children, a new mentoring program for children of prisoners has “made progress.” US efforts to combat the global HIV/AIDS epidemic should be noted as well. Then begins the chopping away at reality:

On the other hand, poverty rates have risen in many cities. In 2005, Washington fiddled while New Orleans flooded, and the White House has vacillated in its support for the region’s recovery and rebuilding process. Most urban religious nonprofit organizations that provide social services in low-income communities still get no public support whatsoever. Several recent administration positions on social policy contradict the compassion vision Bush articulated in 1999.

– Rejecting a bipartisan House bill that increased funding for Head Start.
– Vetoing a bipartisan Senate plan that would add $35 billion over five years to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a decade-old program that insures children in families not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to afford private insurance. Bush has pledged $1 billion instead. DiIulio writes:

Bush should return to Indianapolis. There, SCHIP covers children in families with incomes as high as three times the federal poverty line. The Republican governor who signed that program into law is Mitch Daniels, Bush’s first budget office director. For compassion’s sake, the president should compromise on SCHIP – say, $5 billion a year more – and work to leave no child uninsured.

More than any other single person John DiIulio helped create and drive the compassionate conservative movement. He did so not from the ivory tower of academia but from the streets of Philly where he saw social devastation firsthand and started rolling up his sleeves to help.
His voice matters a lot.
And what he says here – between the lines as well as in the words – brings home the sadness of this Bush presidency… that of all things to be compromised, Bush compromised his compassion first.

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