Editorial de  The New York Times del



TThe Republican Party has been in charge of the national agenda for almost three years now Democratic majorities in Congress don't crimp George W. Bush's style the way they did for his father or Ronald Reagan when they were in office. We have thus had an unobstructed view of what the 21st-century version of the party looks like. It's very clear this is not the father's G.O.P.

The most striking thing about the new Republicanism is the way it embraces big government. The Bush administration has presided over a $400 billion expansion of Medicare entitlements. The party that once campaigned to abolish the Department of Education has produced an education plan that involves unprecedented federal involvement in local public schools. There is talk from the White House about a grandiose new moon shot. Budgetary watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation echo the Republican Senator John McCain's complaint about "drunken sailor" spending.

All this has left Democrats spluttering over their own hijacked agenda while old-style Republican conservatives despair. "We have come loose from our moorings," Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska concluded as Congress left Washington at the end of the year. It was probably inevitable that a big central government would look a whole lot better to Republicans when they got control of it. And since this page tends to favor activist government, we have little reason to complain when the Bush administration agrees.

What has happened to the Republicans does not seem to reflect an actual shift in ideology; indeed, the philosophic center of this administration is hard to pin down. Yet whatever the reason, some formerly reliably Republican doctrines seem to have disappeared. Federalism is a case in point. After decades of extolling state governments as the best laboratory for new ideas, Republicans in Washington have been resisting state experimentation in areas ranging from pollution control to antispam legislation to prescription drugs.

Late-20th-century Republicanism was an uneasy alliance of social conservatives who were comfortable with government intervention in citizens' lives when it came to morality issues and libertarians who wanted as little interference as possible. That balancing act ended on 9/11. Since then, the Justice Department has enlarged the intrusive powers of government by, among other things, authorizing "sneak and peek" searches of private homes and suspending traditional civil liberties for certain defendants. The story of the military chaplain who was arrested apparently mistakenly as a suspected terrorist and then wound up being publicly humiliated with a public vetting of his sex life seems like a summary of a libertarian's worst fears of an overreaching federal government.

The Republicans' newly acquired activism, however, has very clear limits. The modern party's key allegiance is to corporate America, and its tolerance for intrusive federal government ends when big business is involved. If there is a consistent center to the domestic philosophy of the current administration, it is the idea that business is best left alone. The White House and Congress have chipped away at environmental protections that interfere with business interests on everything from clean air to use of federal lands. The administration is determined to deliver on corporate America's goal of cutting overtime pay for white-collar workers. At the same time, it has been tepid in asserting greater federal vigilance over the developing scandal of workplace safety.

Republicans have always enjoyed their reputation as the champions of business. The difference now is that they no longer couple their business-friendly attitudes with tight-fistedness. Discretionary spending has jumped 27 percent in the last two years; budget hawks complain Congressional pork is up more than 40 percent. Some of that money has gone to buy the allegiance of wavering party members in the closely divided House and Senate, but much of it is directly tied to the demands of big business. Agriculture subsidies to corporate farms have swollen to new heights, while energy policy has been reduced to a miserable grab bag of special benefits for the oil, gas and coal companies. The last Bush energy bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate, seems likely to be remembered most for the now-famous subsidy for an energy-efficient Hooters restaurant in Louisiana.

The two halves of Republican policy no longer fit together. A political majority that believes in big government for people, and little or no government for corporations, has produced an unsustainable fiscal policy that combines spending on social programs with pork and tax cuts for the rich. Massive budget deficits have been the inevitable result. Something similar happened in the Reagan administration. But unlike Ronald Reagan, Mr. Bush has given no hint of a midcourse adjustment to repair revenue flow. In fact, his Congressional leaders talk of still more tax cuts next year to extend the $1.7 trillion already enacted. That would compound deficits, which could reach $5 trillion in the decade.

This, it appears, is what compassionate conservatism really means. The conservative part is a stern and sometimes intrusive government to regulate the citizenry, but with a hands-off attitude toward business. The compassionate end involves some large federal programs combined with unending sympathy for the demands of special interests. If only it all added up.