Is This a New Wave of Compassionate Conservatism?

In her GOP response to the State of the Union, McMorris Rodgers lays out an empathetic vision for Republicans.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., delivered the Republican response for the State of the Union.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Jan. 28, 2014, 5:36 p.m.

While Re­pub­lic­ans are not call­ing it “com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vat­ism,” they are at­tempt­ing to take the high ground with the war on poverty. And one of the biggest signs of this push was clear in the em­path­et­ic tone of the GOP’s of­fi­cial re­sponse to the State of the Uni­on.

Rep. Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers, one of the party’s rising fe­male stars, ad­ded a caring touch to her verbal re­but­tal to Pres­id­ent Obama’s prime-time ad­dress, high­light­ing her ex­per­i­ences as a moth­er and of­fer­ing a path for out-of-work or des­per­ate Amer­ic­ans.

“Our mis­sion — not only as Re­pub­lic­ans, but as Amer­ic­ans — is to once again to en­sure that we are not bound by where we come from, but em­powered by what we can be­come,” the Wash­ing­ton state Re­pub­lic­an said.

Rodgers, who is chair­wo­man of the Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence, is the highest-rank­ing Re­pub­lic­an wo­man in Con­gress and is of­ten seen next to Speak­er John Boehner dur­ing press con­fer­ences. The moth­er of three was the clear choice for a party that struggles to at­tract fe­male voters.

“We be­lieve in a gov­ern­ment that trusts people and doesn’t lim­it where you fin­ish be­cause of where you star­ted,” she said. “That is what we stand for — for an Amer­ica that is every bit as com­pas­sion­ate as it is ex­cep­tion­al.”

The use of “com­pas­sion” in her speech might help in that drive for wo­men.

The moth­er of a child with Down syn­drome also got per­son­al when talk­ing about Obama­care, say­ing, “And that wheth­er you’re a boy with Down syn­drome or a wo­man with breast can­cer, you can find cov­er­age and a doc­tor who will treat you.”

Over the week­end, House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an laid out a sim­il­ar vis­ion for the fu­ture of the Re­pub­lic­an Party in an op-ed to The Wall Street Journ­al, pro­mot­ing pro­grams that he said will lift people out of poverty. Part of that, he wrote, starts with curb­ing vari­ous wel­fare pro­grams and re­pla­cing them with pro­grams that help edu­cate their child and im­prove job train­ing.

So, it looks like Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers is pick­ing up right where he left off. Her tone even soun­ded sim­il­ar to that of former Pres­id­ent George W. Bush, who used the term “com­pas­sion” fre­quently. The concept of com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vat­ism pos­its that the free mar­ket can be used to help the poor and im­prove oth­er so­cial prob­lems, like health care and im­mig­ra­tion. But the term has been used to de­scribe Re­pub­lic­ans who might be fak­ing em­pathy, gar­ner­ing a neg­at­ive con­nota­tion.

Rodgers took a shot of Obama, say­ing that his prom­ises sound good, but it doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily help the poor.

“The pres­id­ent talks a lot about in­come in­equal­ity,” Rodgers said. “But the real gap we face today is one of op­por­tun­ity in­equal­ity.”

And though the policies might not be any dif­fer­ent than what Re­pub­lic­ans have pro­moted in the past, Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers’s speech might set a tone shift to help im­prove pub­lic per­cep­tion of a party once led by a mil­lion­aire pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate who in­fam­ously be­littled the “47 per­cent” look­ing for gov­ern­ment handouts.

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