George Will discusses a new book that analyzes the ascendency of American conservatism, but he does miss a few points. It is true that Clinton's greatest successes came when he steered to the right, and that his most liberal proposals died an ugly death. But as Will himself has noted in other columns, many of the assumptions of American liberalism--a much more moderate variety, even at the height of The New Deal/Great Society era, than its European cousins--remain unchallenged by the right. Nobody disputes that government bears some responsibility for helping senior citizens with retirement and medical costs. Thanks to George W. Bush, the GOP has conceded a large federal role in public education. Even a conservative idea like medical savings accounts is a concession that the federal government has some responsibility for helping people meet their health care needs.
What Bush has understood is that there is no political gain in trying to radically shrink government. Just ask Newt Gingrich. What he aims to do is reduce middle-class dependency on government through partial privatization of Social Security, free market solutions to the health crisis, and school vouchers and faith-based initiatives. At the same time, as Paul Krugman and Jonathan Rauch have noted, he is trying to slowly shrink government by reducing its revenue sources--namely income taxes. You may disagree with what he is doing, and it does raise a number of social justice questions, but it's hard to argue that it isn't a coherent governing philosophy.