Communitarianism

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In his February 1, 2001, article "Needed: Catchword For Bush Ideology; Communitarianism Finds Favor" in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank wrote: [1]

"It's been difficult to pin an ideological tail on the nascent Bush White House. One day the president is called a staunch conservative for nominating John Ashcroft to run the Justice Department and acting to restrict U.S. funding to overseas groups that support abortions. The next he's labeled a bleeding heart for helping prisoners' children and promoting literacy programs.
"The problem, some Bush advisers and friends say, is that conventional political definitions do not adequately explain what the president is trying to do. His actions have less to do with the left vs. right, they say, than with his embrace of many of the ideas contained in the movement known as 'communitarianism,' which places the importance of society ahead of the unfettered rights of the individual.
"'This is the ultimate Third Way,' said Don Eberly, an adviser in the Bush White House, using a favorite phrase of President Bill Clinton, who also sought, largely unsuccessfully, to redefine the debate with an alternative to the liberal-conservative conflict. 'The debate in this town the last eight years was how to forge a compromise on the role of the state and the market. This is a new way to rethink social policy: a major reigniting of interest in the social sector.'
"'Communitarianism,' or 'civil society' thinking (the two have similar meanings) has many interpretations, but at its center is a notion that years of celebrating individual freedom have weakened the bonds of community and that the rights of the individual must be balanced against the interests of society as a whole. Inherent in the philosophy is a return to values and morality, which, the school of thought believes, can best be fostered by community organizations. 'We need to connect with one another. We've got to move a little more in the direction of community in the balance between community and the individual,' said Robert D. Putnam of Harvard University, a leading communitarian thinker.
"Many of Bush's early proposals fit this approach. This week, Bush moved to make it easier for the government to fund religious groups that cater to the poor and disadvantaged. He also gave a boost to AmeriCorps, the national service program that sends volunteers to help community initiatives. Last week, Bush rolled out an education plan that gave localities more authority over their schools. A week earlier, he spoke of the need for character education in schools. Even his tax plan, due next week, has what are touted as community-building elements: a new charitable tax credit, a charitable deduction for those who don't itemize, and a reduction of the marriage penalty.
"Bush's inaugural address, said George Washington University professor Amitai Etzioni, a communitarian thinker, 'was a communitarian text,' full of words like 'civility,' 'responsibility' and 'community.' That's no accident: Bush's advisers consulted on the speech with Putnam. At the same time, Bush has recruited some of the leading thinkers of the 'civil society,' or "communitarian," movements to his White House: former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith, University of Pennsylvania professor John J. DiIulio Jr., fatherhood advocate Eberly, speechwriters Michael J. Gerson and Peter Wehner. Even Lawrence B. Lindsey, long before becoming Bush's economics adviser, was a Federal Reserve governor who explored ways to lure capital to rebuild poor urban communities." [2]
"Other communitarians wonder whether Bush's community-minded words are mere drapery, and they suspect top Bush strategist Karl Rove, who introduced Bush to the thinking, sees it merely as a tactic to please religious conservatives. Rove declines to discuss the subject. Other communitarians say they fear Bush, who believes in changing individual 'hearts' through religious salvation, is more concerned with legislating religion than instilling community values." [3]
"There is still no such thing as a card-carrying communitarian, and therefore no consensus on policies. Some, such as DiIulio and outside Bush adviser Marvin Olasky, favor religious solutions for communities, while others, like Etzioni and William Galston ["a communitarian thinker at the University of Maryland who served as a Clinton policy adviser"], prefer secular approaches. But both sides believe Bush is nudging the White House in a more communitarian, civil-society direction." [4]

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