That jarring sound you hear from Washington is the Republican Party splintering along its political fault lines: Reaganite supply-siders versus Hooverite budget-balancers; Lindbergh isolationists versus Vandenberg internationalists.
The issues of the moment are the bipartisan budget compromise and the U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf, both of which have forced President Bush to prescribe bitter medicine that may bring an end to his happy ride high in the popular approval charts.
So far, in foreign affairs, criticism of the decision to put American forces at risk in facing down Iraq has been mainly limited to academic circles steeped in Fortress America philosophy. But when it comes to taxes and spending and the state of the economy, legislators facing re-election speak up to protect No. 1. Politics may stop at the water's edge, but it runs full tilt until it gets there.
Right now Washington is all a-twitter because the Republican House whip, Newt Gingrich, is fighting his own president's plans to raise taxes and cut spending as a recession threatens. Yet a certain logic (in addition to crass ambition) underlies Mr. Gingrich's revolt. For what Mr. Bush is proposing is heresy to supply-siders like Mr. Gingrich, who couldn't care less about deficits so long as economic growth is force-fed through a borrow and borrow, spend and spend approach.
For the past ten years, such policies have been known as Reaganomics, a formula Mr. Bush once labeled as "voodoo economics" until he joined the Reagan ticket. Then he kept his mouth shut for eight years as vice president and when his 1988 campaign strategy dictated a "no new taxes" stance to mollify the GOP's radical right.
Now Mr. Bush has returned to the conventional turf that is his true home base, just as Gingrich-style supply-siders always suspected he would. The result is the kind of intra-party upheaval on budget policy that could easily spread to foreign policy if things sour in the Persian Gulf.
The White House is distinctly unhappy about the Gingrich rebellion. However, if House Republicans deliver a majority for the president's package, this would ensure its passage in the full Congress. GOP moderates would no longer have to cater to subversives within. They could let the so-called "populist conservatives" find common cause with liberal Democrats who are currently defying their leadership. The middle-road bipartisan coalition formed on the budget agreement could become an on-going device for getting things done.
We welcome the emergence of the real George Bush -- the president unafraid to make tough decisions, nominate a David Souter to the Supreme Court, talk bluntly to the American people and follow his basic policy instincts.