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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
Compassionate Conservatism is a strand of the conservative political philosophy which states that through the use of traditional conservative political beliefs, the general welfare of society with improve. The terms origin is credited with the US politician Doug Wead who coined the term in 1979 during a speech.
In the United States, compassionate conservatism is the belief that Republicans should be motivated to change the status quo of American society, and that the efforts required to do that should be driven by compassion above all else. Wead’s belief was that the general populous would not support Republican policies, even if they worked, if they were seen to be uncaring first and foremost.
Perhaps the greatest use of compassionate conservatism occurred under the Presidency of George W Bush who stated that “It is compassionate to actively help out citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on accountability and results”
However, the belief is often criticised for sugar coating a harsh conservative approach to government. In 1999 President Bill Clinton gave a scathing attack on compassionate conservatism in which he summarised the approach of saying conservatives ‘would like to do something, but they can’t’. This was followed up Tony Blair who said in the House of Commons by saying ‘compassionate conservatism will tell you that they are not going to help you, but that they are really sorry about it”.
The term fell into decline with the end of the Bush administration in 2009, eclipsed by the Tea Party era of radical right wing conservatism.