Former President George W. Bush called it “compassionate conservativism,” a combination of responsibility and results with the obligation to help those in need.

Since Bush’s departure, the GOP has seen a continued rise in the power of the far right and has endured the defeat of two presidential candidates. In the wake of this, the party asked itself a very important question.

Do Republicans really care about all people?

An exploration of that question and many others is contained in a Republican Party 98-page subcommittee report called “Growth and Opportunity Project.” It’s part confession, part manifesto and perhaps a lot of public relations. And it squarely addresses the lack of caring issue perceived by the public.

“… if we are going to grow as a party, our policies and actions must take into account that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty,” the report said. “To people who are flat on their back, unemployed or disabled and in need of help, they do not care if the help comes from the private sector or the government – they just want help.”

People just want help. That seems like a pretty basic need.

Yet on the national level Republicans are leading the charge to cut food stamps. In Wisconsin, the party cracked down on what recipients can purchase with food stamps, is pushing income tax cuts that favor the rich and wants to reject a federally funded Medicaid expansion.

The report is somewhat shocking with its candid message that the party needs to soften. But it remains on message that Republicans should champion private growth so people don’t need to turn to government as a means of primary support. And it notes that some Republicans have apparently been more successful in their message because they are winning more races at the gubernatorial and state levels.

Here in Wisconsin with Gov. Scott Walker, we have someone the Democrats view as the ultimate water-carrier and Republicans view as the champion of those ideals. Whether you love or hate him, he is committed to his conservative principles.

But Wisconsin has not seen enough private economic growth. Our tepid economic turnaround lags behind many other states, and job growth continues to be abysmal. You can blame union unrest, recall election uncertainty or even tout the chaos theory, but at some point our leaders need to take action and be held accountable.

Yet our state’s Republican leaders — in the midst of crafting a budget – are determined to push an agenda that comes straight from the far-right playbook rather than from an interest in helping people. They want elections to be more restrictive. They are driving a wedge in public education from kindergarten through college with wide-open vouchers, and the distrust of our university system. And they want to keep campaign contributors happy with less restrictive campaign donor rules.

Cutting taxes is clearly a Republican plank, and providing some financial relief for job creators should help create jobs. But aside from a tuition freeze that will help students, there appears to be little else in the state party’s agenda that improves the economic situation of Wisconsinites from all walks of life and income levels. The GOP’s own report emphasizes that should be a goal.

“The Republican Party must be the champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder of life. Low-income Americans are hardworking people who want to become hard-working middle-income Americans. Middle-income Americans want to become upper-middle-income, and so on. We need to help everyone make it in America.”

Are we helping everyone make it in Wisconsin?

Democrats have their own problems. They have yet to bring forth a candidate who would be able to mount a strong challenge to Walker in 2014. They have little chance of regaining control of the Assembly because redistricting favors Republicans. And unfortunately they have little voice to work on some common sense, bipartisan proposals because there is reluctance from Republicans to find middle ground.

We live in a world of party-line votes. Most Republicans are fearful of working toward the middle when there are political consequences from their own party extremists who question their purity and bring out primary opponents for anyone daring to compromise. Yet compromise, the party says, is exactly what may be needed.

“The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues were we do agree,” the report said.

Being driven by ideology rather than compassion will make it difficult for the GOP to embrace the ethnic, cultural and sexual differences that are growing in our country, despite awareness raised in the report of why that is so important to the party’s future.

The report includes feedback from former Republicans who left the party. They said the party is “scary, narrow-minded and out of touch,” and is a party of “stuffy old men.” That’s hardly the stuff that will attract a younger and diverse population.

What do Republicans care about?

Actions speak louder than words.

Chris Hardie is executive editor and weekly papers publisher for the River Valley Newspaper Group.

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