Some talk of a kind of welfare for rich people. Despite enormous advantages, standards for them really are lower than for the rest of us. Some talk of a kind of welfare for conservative ideologues. Few believe their ideas, so goes the claim, but they achieve national prominence anyway. That may be the case. Michael Gerson might be an example of the latter–he's a conservative ideologue, he was the President's speech writer for Pete's sake, and now he has a position in a national newspaper, where he can argue that the standards for Bush, a privileged prep school kid, ought to be lower:
My goal is a humbler assessment: Did President Bush, in the course of seven years, cast aside compassion and become the "same kind of Republican"?
The answer is no. Proposals such as No Child Left Behind, the AIDS and malaria initiatives, and the addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare would simply not have come from a traditional conservative politician. They became the agenda of a Republican administration precisely because of Bush's persistent, passionate advocacy. To put it bluntly, these would not have been the priorities of a Cheney administration.
This leaves critics of the Bush administration with a "besides" problem. Bush is a heartless and callous conservative, "besides" the 1.4 million men, women and children who are alive because of treatment received through his AIDS initiative . . . "besides" the unquestioned gains of African American and Hispanic students in math and reading . . . "besides" 32 million seniors getting help to afford prescription drugs, including 10 million low-income seniors who get their medicine pretty much free. Iraq may have overshadowed these achievements; it does not eliminate them.
Many have convincingly argued that these programs have been rhetorical successes–like, for instance, the term "compassionate conservatism"–and not much else. One could and no doubt one will examine the evidence of the success and actual earnestness of these programs, against the ones that were vetoed or the problems that were ignored or the federal agencies staffed with incompetent cronies, and so forth. But Gerson's invocation of Dick Cheney has some kind of meaningful comparison in compassion really makes that point on its own.