I recall back during the 2000 campaign, when things didn't look very good for Dubya I had told a couple of folks that the only way George W. Bush could pull out a victory at that point was if Ronald Reagan died prior to the election and the country found itself swept by a temporary nostalgia for the golden days when there really was a vast sense of unity --- for the most part --- in America.
Compared to the divisive years of reprehensible --- yes --- Republican partisanship, disgraceful and baseless attacks on a sitting President, unending trumped-up investigations and an eventually discredited impeachment, it seemed to me that America might just latch onto Dubya's rising star as he inevitably would have sought to capitalize on Reagan-mania by casting himself in The Gipper's warm after-glow.
Such a comparison at the time, had it played out that way, as morbidly opportunistic as it might have been, could have caught the imagination of a nation starved for optimistic days of unity and propelled George W. Bush to the front of the race. It seemed, back then, Bush's only hope as I saw it.
Little did I imagine, of course, that they'd end up stealing an election to seal the deal. And of course, Reagan suprisingly held on for another four years, only to "slip the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God" at a time that may as well be 100 political years later than the year 2000.
Now, instead, it seems that Reagan's passing occurs at a rather unfortunate moment for George W. Bush. Aside from occuring on a weekend during which Team Bush had otherwise hoped to benefit from the now routinely "decadanal" D-Day Bump in Presidential esteem, his death at this time succeeds only in pointing up how Bush so desperately pales by direct comparison to a real American leader.
Oh, darn the luck.
Undoubtedly the desperate Right will twist history any way they can to draw some kind of inevitable tortured positive comparison. (Be sure to listen for it as it undoubtely happens live tomorrow on both Rush's and Sean's shows). But I think the trick is now unlikely to gain much traction. The vast differences between the real McCoy and the boy Pretender are now simply all to clear.
The endless retrospectives via every imaginable media outlet only serves to shore up the vast differences between the two men. Reagan actually was, it seems to me, someone with true core beliefs gained by decades of real life experience on both sides of the political aisle; The bold ideas of his strongly held Liberal FDR New Deal roots were applied to a time-earned move to the Right as experience not opportunistc political idealogy - --- as with our boy who would be king --- seemed to govern his core beliefs. Like him or hate him, Ronald Reagan, at least, was the real thing.
Former Reagan Chief-of-Staff and Secretary of State James Baker related this morning on This Week that Reagan "would rather get 80% of what he wanted then go over the cliff with his flag flying". It was a life-lesson learned which Dubya, apparently, hasn't the body of knowledge or intellectual curiosity to even contemplate. That, as he makes his Wile E. Coyote-like descent to disappear in a tiny poof at the bottom of the cliff.
Reagan was so successful in politics because he allowed for pragmatism to win out over rigid Conservative hopes. As Governor, he raised taxes to help balance the budget, he signed the country's most liberal abortion rights legislation at the time, and imposed strict environmental regulation on industry in places like Lake Tahoe ensuring that --- to this day --- there are still clear blue waters visible for 70 feet below the surface.
An Op/Ed in today's LA Times speaks of the many paradoxes of Ronald Reagan, outlining changing and/or nuanced beliefs that the transparently disingenuous GOP of today would have described as little more than "flip-flops" --- assuming, of course, that they applied to a candidate they opposed instead of supported.
Of note also, on a personal and local level, is that Reagan was first an actor from "Liberal Elitist" Hollywood. Who was wise enough to acknowledge on many occassions that "I don't know how you do this job without being an actor".
Meanwhile, for political expediency, today's GOP are the first to denigrate an American with an opinion on the basis that they are "an actor from Hollywood". Pusillanimously reserving, in the meantime, a convenient and hypocritical blind-eye for the Reagans, Schwarzeneggers, Eastwoods, Bonos, Thompsons and Gibsons that carry their water.
Reagan also displayed the strength of character necessesary to take real responsibility, at least occassionally, when things went horribly wrong.
As the ever sharp (and delightfully ascerbic) BRAD BLOG commenter Jaime pointed out, after 241 US marines were killed by terrorists in Beirut and America subsequently withdrew, Reagan bravely told the country "If there is to be blame it rests here and with this president."
Contrast that courageous admission to Bush's hemming and hawing, inability to recall a single mistake in his policies, continuous avoidance of any responsibility for anything from 9/11 up to the present day Iraqi morass were over 800 are now dead and thousands more wounded for a cause that was tenuous at best, and completely discredited now at worse. The stark difference between these two men couldn't be clearer.
Only the despicably blood-sucking Paul Wolfowitz (someone please explain to me why this man still has a job on the United States payroll!) was debased enough to attempt to usurp the nation's love for a true leader before the body was even cold. Just an hour or so after the news broke, while most thoughtful commentators had the reason to focus on Ronald Reagan and avoid comparison in the short term to George W. Bush, there was Wolfowitz on Fox (where else?) attempting to tell America how Ronald Reagan would have supported Bush's current policies in Iraq. How reprehensible. Not to mention, more than likely wrong.
Unlike George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan actually was a uniter, not a divider. Or as close to it, in any case, as anybody can come to such a thing in national politics today anyway.
Mr. Wolfowitz, I grew up during Ronald Reagan's presidency. I voted for Ronald Reagan. Mr. Wolfowitz, George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan.