WASHINGTON. — President Bush's success in leading the coalition partners to victory in the Persian Gulf War has moved him out of Ronald Reagan's shadow. He has forever established himself as Mr. Reagan's equal, or even superior -- a tough guy who is not to be trifled with and whose lips mean exactly what they say when America's interests are challenged by a foreign foe.
There is but one Reagan shadow left to expunge. It is domestic issues. Mr. Bush hates dealing with domestic affairs, but he must act on them, and quickly, to move from being a good to a great president.
Barring an unforeseen disaster, Mr. Bush's re-election seems a certainty. But if he wants to change the direction of the country for years to come -- the real test of greatness -- he will have to come down from his stratospheric perch and win an even bigger war on the home front.
What should compose the New Domestic Order?
Without question, an attack must be made on government spending. Because of the smoke and mirrors used by the White House budget director, Richard Darman, most Americans are not aware that the growth rate of President Bush's domestic spending doubled that of the Great Society builder, Lyndon Johnson. For the first time in a quarter-century, federal spending has risen to 25 percent of GNP.
An exhaustive study of Mr. Bush's fiscal 1992 budget by Scott Hodge of the Heritage Foundation concludes that once the one-time costs of the savings-and-loan bailout are removed, the Bush budget proposal increases domestic spending 8.2 percent, nearly twice the inflation rate.
If the administration continues at its present rate, it will outdo the first-term domestic increases of the last five presidents and boost domestic spending an inflation-adjusted average of $29 billion per year, according to Mr. Hodge.
The president should immediately propose a cap on spending at the rate of inflation and link it to tax relief for overtaxed working Americans. Relief ought to include a doubling of the personal exemption for every child under 18. This would give a boost to two-earner households who want one parent to stay home with the children.
The president should also rekindle a long-dormant social agenda. The causes of poverty and high welfare costs are rooted in the break-up of the two-parent family. The Census Bureau last week reported that children of divorced or separated parents are twice as likely to be living in poverty as children in households with two parents.
Government ought to be doing more to keep families together, including scrapping no-fault divorce laws, passed in the hedonistic '70s, and rewarding parents through tax breaks and other incentives (and disincentives for repeated births out of wedlock) for decisions that will strengthen families.
The administration also should stop allowing the liberal civil-rights establishment to define the meaning of civil rights. The ultimate civil right is a job with an income decent enough to provide a home and dignity for the wage earner and family. An emphasis on economic opportunity, rather than political power, should be the cornerstone of a Bush civil-rights platform. This is the route taken by every ethnic group that has succeeded in America.
And the president should push hard for freedom of choice in education. He should ask whether opponents want to condemn children to crime and condoms in public schools or whether parents (they're paying for it) ought to have the freedom to decide where their children stand the best chance of learning not only how to make a living but acquiring the values that will help them know how best to live.
The New York Times' White House correspondent, Maureen Dowd, has asked the right questions: ''Will the president use his political capital to take a new, more forceful approach on domestic issues, or will he continue to amble along in an unimaginative and uninterested way, cleaving to the status quo? Will he learn the power of fixed principles in leadership, or will he continue to engage in waffling and expedient stances on issues like abortion, civil rights and taxes?''
We've witnessed the victory of fixed principles in the success of Desert Storm by the liberator of Kuwait. Now it's time for some ''domestic storm'' to liberate America.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.