Origins of the term
Historian and presidential advisor Doug Wead may have been the first person to use the phrase compassionate conservative. In 1977, Wead wrote a book about Kolkata, India, entitled The Compassionate Touch. In 1979, he gave a popular speech entitled "The Compassionate Conservative" at the annual Washington Charity Dinner. Tapes of the speech were sold across the country at corporate seminars.
Wead contended that the policies of Republican conservatives should be motivated by compassion, not protecting the status quo. And Wead declared himself to be "a bleeding heart conservative," meaning that he cared for people and sincerely believed that a free marketplace was better for the poor.
In 1981, in a perhaps-unrelated usage, Vernon Jordan of the National Urban League said, of the Reagan administration,
I do not challenge the conservatism of this Administration. I do challenge its failure to exhibit a compassionate conservatism that adapts itself to the realities of a society ridden by class and race distinction.
— Vernon Jordan
In 1982, Wead co-authored with Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James G. Watt, the book The Courage of a Conservative and developed his ideas further in chapter five of the book, which was entitled "The Compassionate Conservative."
In 1984, U.S. Representative James R. Jones (D-OK) told The New York Times:
I think we should adopt the slogan of compassionate conservatism...We can be fiscally conservative without losing our commitment to the needy and we must redirect our policy in that direction.
— Rep. James R. Jones
Earlier the same year Republican Ray Shamie proclaimed that "I believe in a visionary and compassionate conservatism"
In June 1986, Wead wrote an article for the Christian Herald, describing then-vice-president George H. W. Bush, to whom he served as an aide, as a "compassionate conservative."
According to journalist Jacob Weisberg, George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush's son, first picked up the term "compassionate conservative" from Wead, in 1987.
In 1992, when Doug Wead ran for U.S. Representative from Arizona, he wrote a campaign book entitled Time for a Change. The first chapter was called "The Compassionate Conservative" and outlined Wead's philosophy that the masses didn't care if Republican policies worked if the attitude and purpose behind the policies were uncaring.
Some insist the doctrine was invented by Dr. Marvin Olasky, who went on to memorialize it in his books Renewing American Compassion (1996) and Compassionate Conservatism: What it is, What it Does, and How it Can Transform America (2000), and Myron Magnet of the Manhattan Institute. Olasky has been called the "godfather of compassionate conservatism".
The phrase was popularized when George W. Bush adopted it as one of his key slogans during his 2000 presidential campaign against Al Gore. Bush also wrote the foreword to Olasky's Compassionate Conservatism. Olasky said others had come up with the term first.