- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

Something profound happened in Philadelphia and it was only secondarily about the nomination of George W. Bush. In fact, it happened behind the scenes and did not even make the news. Yet, it changed the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

The outsider could see some manifestation of the hidden struggle by comparing the plebeian nature of the platform with the soaring vision of the governor's acceptance speech. Or by comparing the original platform draft with the final product. From draft to subcommittee product to final platform to the words from the candidate's own mouth, things got more conservative, more inspiring, more principled. Platform chairman Gov. Tommy Thompson admitted that the platform moved this way, to the right, but why was this so?

The secret was that the draft platform was created by congressional staffers. An inkling was the almost constant citation of the wonderful Republican Congress. Another was the constant reference to government bureaus and programs. The most significant was the moderate language and the minimal goals. It was the voice of the Bill Clinton-whipped Republican Congress. After disregarding warnings that Newt Gingrich was leading the party off the cliff in 1995, the followers had "learned." Going to the opposite extreme, they learned the safety of doing nothing. Now they were imposing the same establishmentarianism on the presidential candidate. Where was the president's vision, except in cases such as Social Security, where it could not be avoided?

Steven Goldsmith was supposed to be Mr. Bush's top domestic policy adviser. He is the most creative person in America on reviving the city. He did it too, as mayor of Indianapolis: instituting extensive privatization of government services to improve them and revitalizing communities through what he called "municipal federalism." Where was any of this vitality and vision in the platform? Where the platform mentioned privatization, it began with "if" and gave only the most tentative support. The only creativity was using faith-based private organizations and charitable tax credits to help the poor again impossible to ignore and the support was listless, a good description of the whole platform.

The most public expression of this phenomenon was the fight on the platform committee over education. The draft document presented seven "principles of Gov. Bush's education reforms." They proposed new "federally funded programs," five federal grants, "report cards" for local schools, a target number of local charter schools, and federal prosecution of youths carrying guns. The subcommittee delegates simply stripped all of the "principles" from the platform in disgust at the increased federal role, even after they were told they "could not do this to the governor's program." It was obvious the nominee could not be embarrassed this way, so Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, was recruited to browbeat the delegates into submission, which he did the next day, aided by strong-arm support from the chair by Mr. Thompson.

But something strange happened in between. The supposedly inviolate "principles of Gov. Bush's education reforms" were changed. Seven essential principles were down to five. Gone were the bureaucratic reforms, the reference to new programs and the rest. Instead, the magic words "increased local control and accountability to parents" appeared. And a statement added by the delegates that the federal role in education should be "progressively limited" over time was not muscled at all. It was not that Mr. Bush had changed his principles but that the Bush advisers finally got to read and change the congressional bureaucrateese.

And then came the Bush speech. Here, charitable tax took on life, as part of "a responsibility era" to neighbors. "Government cannot do this work. It can feed the body but it cannot reach the soul." He found a "Founders vision" of "small unnumbered acts of caring and courage and self-denial." Without flinching or apology, he declared, "The surplus is the peoples' money," not "the government's money." "On principle," no one "should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government." And so on. It was alive.

With the long Democratic control of Congress, their presidential party was the agent of liberal change and their legislative party was the conservator of the status quo. For many years, Republicans were seen as different. The real conservatives were in Congress, pushing more moderate presidents like Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush to the right. Ronald Reagan was the exception but even he was often pushed by his party in the House. After Newt Gingrich, the Republican Congress has become establishmentarian and Mr. Bush is the one pushing right. The metamorphosis happened quietly but it is, indeed, profound.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a columnist and a Washington-based policy consultant.

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