Accept No Imitation Gipper!

I’m way over here on the other side of the Big Water, so could someone enlighten me? People are not really falling – are they? – for the current president’s attempt to shore up the sagging belief in his elementary competence by invoking the mantel of the recently-deceased Ronald Reagan? Such as by giving his campaign website such a thorough-going makeover that it could make you think that it was Reagan who was campaigning for the presidency? It looks like at least some editorial cartoonists have this covered (a more-elaborate production here), as does the US’ “newspaper of record” (registration required). Or at least that latter is available to those who page/click through to the “Arts” section. But I fear such enlightenment is likely limited to the usual East Coast, wine-and-brie set, as well as to whoever else regularly surfs over to read flaming liberal web-zines like Salon.

Rest assured that the intelligent classes over here are not fooled. (But they’re pretty good about these things. They saw right through the Bush administration’s attempt to equate Iraq with the D-Day landings, too.)

All they have to do to set their thinking straight is peruse their main national dailies, whose very own writers have shown themselves willing and able to set out why George W. Bush is most certainly not Ronald W. Reagan re-incarnated. A good example is the recent article by the US correspondent for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Marc Chavannes (Vote Once More for Reagan, Choose the Bush List). Chavannes declares that “The ‘Great Communicator’ bests President Bush on several fronts” in his lead – no matter the wholesale appropriation of Reagan by the Bush presidential campaign website site, that he has also noticed – and then enumerates them. Reagan won out over Communism; the War in Iraq and “war on terror” have hardly been such successes. “Reagan Democrats” were a political phenomenon of that time, as the 40th president showed he could work together with the other side of the political aisle; whereas, as Chavannes writes, “the first ‘Bush Democrat’ has yet to identify himself.”

So much for that point, but I also have to admit that much of this NRC piece is taken up by an interview with one Grover Norquist, chairman of the “Ronald Reagan Legacy Project,” who apparently wants to see the ex-president’s name and/or image attached to streets, currency, mountains, etc. throughout the land. “It is perfectly appropriate that a people of 280 million wants to honor the greatest president of the twentieth century.” Truly scary! In the meantime, at least, many of Reagan’s key appointees and subordinates (as well as those who served under other previous administrations) know the difference between Reagan and Bush junior all too well, and are about to make their sentiments public this upcoming week, as the LA Times warns us (Retired Officials Say Bush Must Go – free registration required).


By the way, it wasn’t just Reagan getting the sainthood treatment all of last week. As an article in the Flemish newspaper De Standaard points out (Suddenly Nancy is Popular), that also applies to his widow, Nancy Reagan. But for her the halo looks rather less like something attached to her head with cardboard.

She was “anything but popular” as first lady, writes the anonymous De Standaard writer (who we know is female, at least; she’s labeled a redactrice), written off as a spendthrift, meddler, clothes-horse, and airhead, and condemned for not embarking on any First Lady projects of her own, such as LadyBird Johnson’s campaign to beautify Washington – or, of course, Hillary Clinton’s foray into health care policy. But now she has gained back considerable popularity for the way she never left Ronald Reagan’s side during his last decade of struggle with Alzheimer’s disease – not engaging professionals to substitute for her, but rather constantly never being more than five minutes away from his presence. At the same time (and in line with her latest public statement, just before Reagan’s death, that she was “determined to do everything to spare other families this pain”), she has campaigned for the liberalization of stem-cell research, something which this administration does not want to allow.

Update: Since I started this entry with a survey of conventional English-language treatments of the Reagan-Bush comparison (in various formats), let me not leave out Kevin Drum’s excellent appraisal in his “Political Animal” weblog. Yes, it’s true, Mr. Drum: He didn’t get us all blown up in the end.

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