WASHINGTON — Two important conservatives departed this life within days of each other. One was a world-historical figure with extravagant political gifts, and she rarely harbored any doubts about the way forward. The other’s misgivings about politics led him to counsel Christians to undertake a political “fast” and “flock to soup kitchens, battered women’s shelters, prison cells and hospitals.”
Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday, changed Britain and altered the trajectory of global politics. David Kuo, who passed away last Friday, received well-earned attention for his work in and out of politics on behalf of the poor. But he would almost certainly laugh, dismissively if merrily, at the idea of a former White House aide being linked with someone so central to the narrative of our era.
Yet because Thatcher, 87, and Kuo, 44, represented two sides of the conservative disposition and two forms of the “conviction politics” for which the Iron Lady was known, both have much to teach us about the debate we need now.
Thatcher’s was the stern conservatism of the marketplace. She valued the virtues of thrift and enterprise, evangelizing not about religion but about an economic system. She loved capitalism for its “vivacity” and “verve,” for “the energy, the vigor, the dynamism” it promoted, and she set her face against collectivism and socialism.
Kuo was no less committed to capitalism in principle. But his faith was religious. He was one of the original “compassionate conservatives,” and he remained one to his dying day. As his friend Joe Klein of Time magazine put it: “He was a man of faith, rather than of religion. He called himself a Follower of Jesus. Many of his friends had ministries, but David’s church truly had no walls.”
Kuo’s passions were engaged less by honoring the contributions of the successful than by demanding attention to the suffering of those left out of the grand capitalist party — among them the 35 million Americans “at risk of hunger every day,” and the million people “released from prison every year with virtually no one to help them productively re-enter society.”
Thatcher’s fans loved her for the enemies she made among trade unionists, leftist intellectuals and members of her own Conservative Party (“the wets” as they were labeled) prepared to compromise with the forces of socialism.
Kuo ruffled feelings after he left the White House when he sharply criticized the workings of former President Bush’s faith-based initiative. This disillusionment led to his suggestion of a Christian political fast in his 2006 book, Tempting Faith.