During his campaign last year, George W. Bush told us that he was a "compassionate conservative" and a "different kind of Republican."
As one who has fought for decades to build a new center in American politics, I was hopeful that the new president would push the GOP to the political center, just as President Clinton and the New Democrats did for their party during the last decade. I applauded his Clinton-like call, in his first speech to Congress, for a government that is active, but limited.
It's still early, but as the Bush administration completes its first 100 days, a starkly different picture is emerging. He is governing as a conventional conservative whose ideology is to the right of recent Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan. His rhetoric may be compassionate, but his actions are conservative.
Changing a political party requires more than just rhetoric. It requires challenging party orthodoxy and taking on entrenched interests. I know something about that. As founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, I stood with President Clinton when we took on our party's left on issues such as federal spending, trade, welfare reform, crime, and the role of government.
When we prevailed, our party was very different, standing for economic growth and opportunity, not just redistribution; for fiscal responsibility, not "tax and spend"; for work, not welfare; for preventing crime and punishing criminals, not explaining away their behavior; for empowering, not bureaucratic, government; and for fostering a new sense of community and an ethic of mutual responsibility by asking citizens to give something back to their country.
But where has President Bush challenged his party's orthodoxies?
Not on taxes. His plan toes the conservative line of the past quarter century: Cut taxes, mostly for the wealthy, to reduce the size of government by starving it of revenues.
Not on Social Security or Medicare. Dealing with the impending baby boom retirement will require both greater fiscal discipline and modernizing Social Security and Medicare. Bush talks about partial privatization, a course we need to consider. But without setting aside the transition funding needed to reform the systems, it's bad policy - and privatizing Social Security has long been Republican orthodoxy.
Not on abortion. He reversed Clinton initiatives to encourage family planning.
Not on crime. He's phasing out the Clinton initiative to put 100,000 more police officers on community streets.
Not on gun safety. Despite recent school shootings, he has conspicuously avoided the issue. …