Compassion vs. Conservatism 

Political ads dissected and explained.
July 21 2000 3:00 AM

Compassion vs. Conservatism 

"Blueprint" was produced for the Republican National Committee by National Media. For a transcript of the ad, click. Click here to launch a RealVideo version of "Blueprint" from the RNC Web site.

Advertisement

From: William Saletan

To: Chris Suellentrop

After love-bombing the country with "compassionate conservatism" for two years, Bush has reverted, at least for 30 seconds, to the more authentic conservative mission of debunking compassion. What a relief. After Al Gore's latest {{feel-your-pain ad#86375}} on victims' rights, I was beginning to worry that the election would degenerate into a sap contest.

This ad starts out with Bush's usual sentimentalism ("make sure no child gets left behind") but proceeds to remind viewers that compassion and tough love are paradoxical. Compassion in the form of generosity can be a character-softening curse, while sternness can be a constructive blessing. "Promoting failing children to the next grade" isn't a way of helping them, Bush argues. It's a way of "giving up on them." And just "spending more" on a flawed education system isn't brave; it's "easy." What's hard—what requires "courage"—is the opposite of such indiscriminate support: "raising standards," "expecting more," and imposing "accountability" and "discipline."

The chief moral problem with this year's election is that because times are good, politicians figure they can coast to victory by throwing free candy at us—Democratic subsidies, Republican tax cuts—and demanding nothing in return. The only people they're willing to be tough on are criminals and North Koreans. My hat's off to any politician who's got the guts to flunk my kid—and to any ad writer who's got the brains to explain why sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

From: Chris Suellentrop

To: William Saletan

I disagree. True, this ad isn't a carbon copy of the Gore ad we discussed earlier this week. But it's a mirror image. In the DNC ad, Gore tried to look tough by talking compassionately. Stock tough-on-crime images of police, crime victims, and an all-white audience contrasted with Gore's tender words about victims' rights. Now Bush wants to look compassionate by talking tough. Heartwarming images of minority children, a Boy Scout, and a high-school graduation contrast with Bush's take-charge tone.

And the language in this ad is just as fuzzy. Compare Bush's embrace of "standards" and "accountability" with the Gore " accountability agenda." This is the most irritating hallmark of centrist politics. The agendas are different, but the language is the same. Once upon a time, Republicans said they were for tax cuts, and Democrats said they were opposed. Democrats said they were for universal health care, and Republicans said they were opposed. Now everyone's for a patients' bill of rights, ending the marriage penalty, campaign-finance reform, and reforming the estate tax. And on education, everyone's for "standards," "accountability," and "choice."

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.