During his campaign last year, George W. Bush told us that he was
a "compassionate conservative" and a "different kind of
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
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
Not on abortion. He reversed Clinton initiatives to encourage
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. …