Compassionate Conservative Guru Sees Culture as Culprit

The Washington Post, April 3, 2001, by Ken Ringle

Even before he was elected president, George W. Bush was criticized for being weak in what his father once dismissed as “the vision thing” — an overall philosophy of government comparable to the conservative ideological rigor of Ronald Reagan or the liberal chameleonism of Bill Clinton.

We know the president wants a tax cut and better schools, but how do we further define the “compassionate conservatism” he embraces so earnestly, if fuzzily?

The improbable answer to that question is now before us, a bespectacled fellow with the moon-faced amiability and mutton chop whiskers of a character out of Dickens. Maybe Mr. Pickwick. Which he sort of is.

His name is Myron Magnet.

Magnet’s colleagues at Columbia realized before he did how out of step he was with the political thinking in the university. He was elected to Columbia’s prestigious Society of Fellows, but any prospect of gaining tenure became less and less likely, so in 1980 he followed his fascination with political theory to Fortune magazine. There he specialized in urban problems and, in the late 1980s, wrote a series of articles on poverty and social policy that evolved into The Dream and the Nightmare in 1993.

Magnet says he found [George W. Bush] “very quick, very intelligent and focused, but I told him at that first meeting that there was one thing he should understand if he decided to run for president. I said if you talk about cultural issues, you have to be ready for the elite press and the New York Times in particular to call you an [bodily orifice]. They won’t say they disagree with your ideas. They won’t even engage your ideas. They’ll just say you’re a moron and a rube … beneath contempt. And of course, that’s just what happened to Bush in the campaign.”

Magnet says Bush believes, as he himself does, that the foremost index of social decay has been the enormous growth of teen pregnancy and illegitimacy. Conservatives, he says, have tended to blame the phenomenon on social programs they claim “subsidize” illegitimacy by providing unwed mothers another welfare payment for each child. But Magnet says money is not the crucial factor. The Aid for Dependent Children program dates back to the New Deal, yet illegitimacy has become a major national problem only since the ’60s.

Continue reading at The Washington Post

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