Compassionate Conservatives
Jude Wanniski
June 18, 1999


Memo To: Dan Quayle
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Good For You

Now that Texas Governor George W. Bush has decided officially to proclaim himself a "compassionate conservative," I'm finding myself somewhat surprised that the idea is spreading. Other Republicans want to be compassionate too. As far as I can tell, you are the only candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000 who has barred the use of the term "compassionate conservative" in association with your campaign. Good for you. This kind of mush is exactly what one expects from the third and fourth generation of Old Money, noblesse oblige. W's dad, the former President, may have some vague memory of what it was like for his grandfather to be near the bottom looking up. Steve Forbes of course was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but is still within shouting distance of a grandfather who started from scratch. W never is going to make it if he persists in pushing conservative compassion toward the Oval Office. Really rich Old Money can get there in the Democratic Party, which is the bona fide Compassion Party. I've been calling it the "Mommy Party since 1995. Franklin Roosevelt was Old Money and had plenty of compassion for the poor folks, but he was a Democrat and there was a Depression. Who started the Depression? President Herbert Hoover, a really rich Republican who got to be President by promising to follow in the footsteps of Calvin Coolidge (who had zero compassion, but cut taxes to the bone and produced the Roaring Twenties).

Sadly, Hoover got to feeling sorry for all the vested interests that began showing up at the White House, weeping and wailing that they were not getting rich as fast as their neighbors, but could do so if only he signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. That would shut off foreign competition and the good times really would roll. Hoover never had run for public office, but became known for his generosity with the taxpayer's money when he was Commerce Secretary, providing relief to victims of one natural disaster or another. He could not bear to see grown industrialists cry, so he signed the tariff act, which almost immediately brought on the Great Depression, here and around the world. People became unemployed and Hoover started the first Great Society programs. When Democrats complained that the poor were suffering more than those who were still rich, Hoover wept and signed a tax bill that raised the income tax rate to 46% from 24%. His compassion knew no bounds.

There have been other compassionate Republicans, some in my own day. There of course was Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York for four terms, a fellow who raised taxes as high as he could to finance one grandiose program after another, then borrowed to the state's limits to finance more, then borrowed beyond legal limits, by bending the law. What compassion! He got to be Vice President of the United States, by appointment, when President Nixon resigned and Gerald R. Ford became President. Ford was always a weepy kind of guy, and still is, and so he asked Rocky to be his Veep. Rocky's chief contribution to the nation in his few years as Vice President was to preside over the "energy crisis" at the White House. It was Rocky's idea to solve the energy problem by turning coal into petroleum. Inasmuch as his brother David Rockefeller, who ran Chase Manhattan Bank, had invested in lots of coal fields when he became persuaded the world was running out of the stuff on which his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, had built the family fortune, he was happy to sell that coal to the federal government at reasonable prices. Rocky had corporate compassion.

You know, Dan, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. You also might say the road to hell is paved with political compassion. Whenever I get near a compassionate politician, I reach for my wallet, knowing he or she is looking for a way to buy some votes at my expense. There are always plenty of people who have more wealth than they can ever spend, who are willing to tax the incomes of people who have no wealth in order to finance programs for the poor and downtrodden. They hated Ronald Reagan because he got elected twice without shedding a single tear for the needy, instead concentrating on making it possible for people to do business with each other again without having their incomes confiscated by government taxation. If the road to hell is paved with compassion, the road to heaven is a ladder of hope, growth and opportunity. Yes, the phrase was coined by Steve Forbes, but it is available to all Republicans -- the "Daddy Party."

In the June 14 issue of the Weekly Standard there is an article about the man who will "define" compassionate conservatism for George W. It is the man W has chosen to be his chief economic advisor, former Fed Governor Larry Lindsey. Lindsey is a Harvard Ph.D. economist who was appointed to the Fed by Ronald Reagan in the mistaken belief that Lindsey was a "supply sider" because he wrote a book arguing against a marginal income-tax rate higher than 50%. The Standard article notes that Lindsey is not actually a "hard-core supply-sider," but now makes his economic arguments in a Keynesian framework. He is saying there should be no tax cuts now, because the stock market is a bubble that will soon burst, and when it does there will be a recession which could be corrected by temporary cuts in marginal income-tax rates in order to put money into people's pockets as fast as possible. At the Fed, Lindsey was known for his compassion toward minorities, doing everything he could to order banks to lend money to black folks and Hispanics whether or not they had collateral. No kidding. We've been doing this to developing countries for decades through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and the countries get poorer and poorer as they devote themselves to paying back the loans instead of concentrating on growth. Today's lead editorial in the WSJournal tells all about it, Dan. You should read how the IMF/World Bank is now talking about forgiving the $79 billion in debts of the African countries. This is so the IMF/World Bank can write off the loans and come back to the taxpayers for more capital.

Let the other GOP candidates engage in a compassion contest with W. Stick to the supply-side. Build that ladder of hope, growth and opportunity with low tax rates and a currency as good as gold. Good intentions are not good enough.