The name of Steve Hofman, a former director of House Republican policy groups, was misspelled in yesterday's report on a GOP domestic policy debate over "empowerment." (Published 12/1/90)

It sounds for all the world like a Republican soap opera: Prominent and not-so-prominent members of the Bush administration and Republican conservative establishment attack one another, make up, retreat, demand apologies, scheme revenge and plot humiliation, all in the name of "empowerment" of citizens to make choices now made by government.

At issue is a clutch of ideas that sell a philosophy of self-help and government by incentive that has been at the heart of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp's most insistent speeches. They have been packaged under a distinctly uncatchy title coined by Bush domestic policy adviser James P. Pinkerton: "The New Paradigm."

Kemp believes domestic policy should emphasize a "new war on poverty," predicated on individual achievement and empowerment of the poor that would reach into every government agency. The economic empowerment task force he chairs -- part of the White House Domestic Policy Council -- has drawn up a list of policy ideas that members are lobbying Bush to include in his State of the Union speech.

In the role of heavy in this drama is budget director Richard G. Darman. He is portrayed by angry conservatives as a visionless bureaucrat and poor tactician who climbed out on a policy limb last week by dismissing the debate as a discussion of a "neo-neo-ism" that is neither new nor workable. But President Bush sawed off that limb by voicing his support for it a few days later.

In a Rose Garden ceremony Wednesday, Bush embraced the "new paradigm" concept, with sweeping language. A delighted Kemp stood nearby as Bush praised him.

"The status quo of the centralized bureaucracy is not working for the people, the ones who need affordable housing, the ones who want to choose the best schools for their kids, or child care for younger children, the ones who want to pull themselves out of dependency and into a life of self-sufficiency in a safe, clean and drug-free community," the president said.

Officials close to the process will not reveal details of the task force proposal -- widely assumed to include tenant ownership of public housing, giving parents the ability to choose public schools and providing tax incentives to businesses located in "urban enterprise zones."

One senior White House official predicted the debate will yield domestic initiatives "of modest proportion in the 1991 budget" and initiate a new discussion on "the two faces of Republican governance:" one that advocates managing government differently and another that supports revamping it entirely. Darman, this theory goes, represents the management school and Kemp, new Republican National Committee Chairman William J. Bennett and House Republican Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (Ga.) are the radicals. Vice President Quayle also supports the self-help approach.

"You have views developing within the Republican Party and in this administration that a lot of these problems need to be tackled and not just continually managed," said one senior White House official. "This is a party accused essentially of benign neglect of the anti-poverty and social programs, of ignoring them."

Kemp made peace with Darman earlier this week. He even scrapped his plan to deliver a critical speech to the Republican Governors Association next month entitled: "The New Paradigm: Social Darmanism" -- a play on "Social Darwinism," a philosophy which holds that those who "succeed" do so because of inherent superiority and eschews assisting the disadvantaged.

Gingrich, who was the object of one of Darman's sharpest digs -- Darman assailed what he called "new-Newt-ism" -- called for the budget director's resignation Tuesday night but spoke to Darman yesterday.

"When Dick said, 'You visionary guys don't have a detailed plan,' I agreed," Gingrich said afterward. "And {I} said, 'Why don't you help us? You're the best detail man in America. Tell us what the limits of our dreams are and help us figure out how to get there.' " Gingrich said he and Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) plan to meet with Darman again today.

Republican officials and party operatives admit that part of the sudden interest in domestic policy matters has come as the administration searches for positive messages to deliver in the president's State of the Union speech.

"The problem with this White House is they're not for anything," said one GOP strategist. "They define themselves by vetoes."

Pinkerton -- who drew the phrase "new paradigm" from a book by historian Thomas S. Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" -- is less anxious to subscribe to the theory of political convenience as an explanation for why his ideas are now flourishing. The collapse of communism, the rise of community activists who emphasize individual achievement and of free market advocates in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the Third World have led to a "mainstream critical mass" of support for the concept," he said.

Pinkerton, disputing the notion that his ideas are mere intellectual posturing, points to advocates like Polly Williams, the black Wisconsin state legislator who won support for an education voucher system so parents can choose where their children go to school.

"When educational choice was a parlor room concept for white, male supply-siders, it wasn't getting anywhere," he said.

Kemp said he assumes money will be found to back up Bush's words, but the source of this infusion of funding or political will is unclear.

Making changes in these programs could produce "major, major incredible fights in Congress," said Steve Hoffman, a former director of House Republican policy groups. "I can't conceive of the White House taking on some of the battles involved here."

To the extent the worth of a policy idea is defined by how well it plays as political reality, then the next struggle is likely to develop over how well these high-flown ideas, of which several, such as enterprise zones, have been rejected by Congress, survive the next budget year and election cycle.

"That's leadership, and that's what our party has to provide," said Kemp. "And if we don't, we'll be out of office in 1992. And if we do, we'll be in office. It's that simple."