The Un-Bush -- it's not his father's party

Monday, April 30, 2001 at 1:00am

Christine Todd Whitman faces a brutal challenge heading George W. Bush's Environmental Protection Agency.

It's bigger than arsenic or Kyoto or even the environmental issue.

The two-term New Jersey governor's problem is that she comes from a brand of Republicanism this president wants to disown.

I'm talking about that enduring GOP moderate seen most often in the Northeast, Northern California and the better-off suburbs coast-to-coast. I'm talking about the Republican party of George W. Bush's father.

For 100 days, this 43rd president has done everything he can to disassociate himself from the 41st.

He began by embracing a Bible Belt hero, John Ashcroft, to run his Justice Department. He then played to ardent right-to-lifers with an inaugural ban on U.S. dollars to aid groups that provide abortion counseling. Since then he has crusaded for a $1.6 trillion tax cut with near-religious zeal and presented himself as something far short of Rachel Carson on environmental issues.

In each instance, George W. Bush has distanced his young presidency from that of his father's. Senior Bush pegged himself as "kinder, gentler" than the Reaganism he replaced. No nasty budget cuts, no red-meat ideology.

George W. made it clear from the get-go that he's an unafraid conservative. He knew before naming Ashcroft that making him attorney general would trigger an all-out fight with the liberal opposition. The People for the American Way, Hollywood, the Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP would all be up in arms.

Young Bush did it anyway because he knew naming a hero of the Christian right to the Attorney General's office was precisely what his father would never have done.

This father-son seesaw can be seen on other playing fields:

Dad broke a promise with a painful tax hike. Son has bet the ranch on a big tax cut.

Dad trumpeted a

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