That's the overwhelming impression from the first few days of the W. administration. Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising when a president appears determined to use the office of the presidency to accomplish serious things for this nation. Somehow it is, though. Shocking, really.
A few weeks before the inauguration I was sitting with a group of policy wonks, chewing over what it all means. In particular, how can it be that George W. Bush, a man who tried harder than any Republican before to appeal across racial lines, ended up with less of the black vote than Bob Dole? Of course, African-Americans aren't likely to become a major GOP voting bloc any time soon, but still, the successful demonization of someone who seems to most of us a pretty likable and well-meaning guy was puzzling and disheartening. No Republican, we feared, would ever again make such a concerted outreach to African-Americans with so little prospective political payoff.
But in his first few days in office, President Bush has made it clear: Compassionate conservatism wasn't some campaign fig leaf; it was one man's core convictions. It is not mere political rhetoric; it is the new president's governing philosophy -- both the compassionate and the conservative part.
For President Bush, the call for a change in tone in Washington is not mere window dressing. Conservatives who complain he has not allowed beleagured Cabinet candidates to fight back have missed Bush's point: Tit for tat is not a game for grown-ups. "Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment," declared Bush in his inaugural. "It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos."
Civility is an act of faith, a moral declaration that in America our political opponents are not our enemies. Such an attitude may not serve the interests of our great talk-radio, talking-head media machine, which thrives on heroes, villains and holy wars, but it has the advantage of being true. I've met a great many people in politics, some of whom work for causes that I think are dangerous to America. But I have met very few who did not seem to me to be trying hard to get ahold of something they perceived as "the good."
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.