Friday, June 11, 2004

Bush is no Ronald Reagan

I don't agree with a lot of the argument made in this Grauniad opinion piece, and I certainly don't share its author's confidence that Bush is destined to lose the November elections - chalk it up to wishful thinking on the part of a "former senior Democratic party strategist" - but I have to agree on the central point, which is that Bush may wish to walk in Reagan's footsteps, but he's shaped up thus far to be a poor imitation of the Gipper.

For one thing, while deficits may have ballooned under Reagan's watch, he at least had the excuse of a Democratic congress opposed to the spending cuts he wanted to make, and he actually did try to cut spending. What is more, whatever sceptics might say about his successes on that front, it is a fact that government spending as a share of the economy was actually 1% lower after he left office than when he came in, which may not be much, but is definitely to be preferred to the explosion in government expenditure under Bush's watch that has made Bill Clinton come to seem an Eisenhower Republican.

The second, and for electoral purposes more important, aspect in which Bush fares poorly by comparison to Reagan is the public persona he projects. Reagan exuded an infectious optimism, one even hardened political enemies found difficult to resist; he was a full-time living advertisement for American confidence and dynamism, the vision of the United States as the promised land of freedom and opportunity, and this came across very clearly even in places as far away as Nigeria. Reagan knew how to coin a memorable phrase, and he knew how to deliver it as well - who doesn't remember lines like "Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev", or his description of America as "a shining city on a hill"?

Bush, on the other hand, often looks dour or scowling on the public stage, and has acquired a not entirely undeserved reputation for malapropisms and inarticulateness. One simply doesn't get the feeling listening to him that America's tomorrow is obviously going to be even better than today, or that the United States really is a land where any poor boy from some forelorn country can come and make a great name for himself, that every American is a potential Horatio Alger story in the making; sure he mouths words to that effect now and then, but the words do not associate with the man himself, and for that he alone is to blame.