How Reagan's passing helps Bush

  1. How Reagan's passing helps Bush Reagan's passing helps Bush
    It's easier now to invoke aura of an icon-and it's very safeBy Howard Fineman
    MSNBC contributor
    Updated: 1:53 p.m. ET June 07, 2004WASHINGTON - As if he didn't have enough to deal with-a gaggle of cooks in his campaign kitchen, a job-creation surge that muddles his economic message, an air-hogging, book-hawking Bill Clinton-Sen. John Kerry now has to deal with this: a week of justifiable nostalgia for the late Ronald Reagan. The Gipper's passing won't be enough to re-elect George W. Bush, but it may well help the president in terms of timing, tactics and message.

    After a series of closed-door strategy meetings in Boston last weekend, Kerry was set this week to pop forth with a newly revised economic message, designed to stress the quality and salary level of jobs rather than their mere existence. But the rollout is now delayed, or smothered, as Kerry sensibly goes dark for most of the week, which will be dominated by Reagan's funeral.

    A master of the theatrical in politics, Reagan chose an exquisitely perfect time to depart the stage, especially from Bush's point of view. The former president died just as the remnants of his own, Greatest Generation were gathering to listen to Bush and other leaders remind us of the need to defend freedom, whatever the cost.

    The parallels between World War II and the post-9/11 world are inexact and, in the case of the war in Iraq, probably more misleading than inspiring. Saddam was evil, but no Hitler. Baghdad was under siege, but not Paris. The Republican guards were brutal, but no match for the systematic genocide in Europe.

    And yet, Osama bin Laden and his theocratic ideology of hatred, death and terrorist mayhem are every bit the threat to Western ideals of freedom that the Nazis were.

    The heritage of Ronald Reagan
    George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan, and no Franklin Roosevelt and no Winston Churchill. Voters can and should question the strategy he is pursuing. There are many who think that Iraq, unlike Normandy, was the wrong invasion in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, as commander in chief in the "war on terror," (which really is a war against extremist theocratic Islam) Bush projects an elemental refusal to accept the "realists'" notion of live and let live. In that attitude at least Bush can claim the heritage of Ronald Reagan.

    Now we know what the Republican convention in New York is going to be about, other than showing off Rudy Giuliani et. al., and replaying the videotape of Bush, bullhorn in hand, at Ground Zero. It's going to be about the legacy and ideas of Reagan-a show that might have seemed ghoulish had he still been alive, but sadly lost in the oblivious world of Alzheimer's. Now the tributes can be full, and you can be sure they will be, and filled with emotion when, say, Nancy Reagan and the Reagan children wave to the crowd.

    Little to risk, much to gain
    There is little risk, and a bit to gain, for Bush in associating with the Reagan aura. Voters on the left who think the comparison is damning to Bush weren't going to support him anyway; voters on the right who think the comparison makes Bush looks small are going to vote for Bush anyway. Voters in the middle who still aren't sure what to make of Bush may see a wee bit more vision in his thinking-and vision is a thing every president (and every president running for re-election) needs.

    This season of remembering Reagan helps the Republicans in another way. It diminishes the accomplishments of the Democrats' two-termer-Clinton-who is launching a nostalgia tour of his own this month. The Clinton years were among the most prosperous in modern American history. But even Democrats would have to admit that Reagan's signal achievement-joining Maggie Thatcher, Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II in toppling the Soviet Union-is a tad more significant than outlasting the Vast Right Wing Con-spiracy.

    Howard Fineman is Newsweek's chief political correspondent and an NBC News analyst.
  2. 31 Comments

  3. by   SharonH, RN
    This all could backfire on the President as those who loved the Reagan image might look at Mr. Bush and decide he just does not measure up. But there is no doubt that he(Mr. Bush) will try to milk Reagan's memory for everything it's worth.
  4. by   Mkue
    No one could possibly measure up to Ronald Reagan, those are big shoes to fill. I do see a few similarities between Reagan and Bush, they both took a few important issues and focused on them, rather than trying to "fix" everything and please everyone, which is impossible as we know. They both stood firm under partisan criticism and never wavered. They both LOVED and LOVE their Ranches and both were criticized and called Cowboys. Both Reagan and Bush take/took the sacrament of Marriage very seriously and the LOVE for their wives is/was very evident.
  5. by   mattsmom81
    Bush milking Reagan's death??? I sure don't see that...the families are close but I don't see anything other than respect and admiration, and support for Nancy. Some folks sure are cynical.....

    Kerry is trying all his might to 'use' Reagan's passing as a platform for he was lambasting Bush's lack of support for stem cell research to aid in treatment of Alzheimers...within 24 hrs of Reagan's death. No coincidence I'm sure.
  6. by   Spidey's mom
    Reagan "chose" to die at this particular time? Sheesh.

    I completely disagree that it is obvious that George W. Bush will "milk" Mr. Reagan's death for all it is worth.

    Obviously it is ok to talk about the impact Mr. Reagan's death might have on the election - but some of the statements are ludicrous.

  7. by   fergus51
    I don't think it will matter. Not close enough to the election and some of us actually remember Regan as human.
  8. by   VivaLasViejas
    You got that right, Fergus. The American people have a collective long-term memory problem......that, or we are simply the most forgiving people on earth.

    I think history will be very kind to Mr. Reagan, if the number and content of the media portraits these past couple of weeks are any indication. I remember the '80s as a time of great hardship for my family, no small part of which was directly or indirectly related to Reagan's famed indifference to the poor.

    That said, I also will confess to liking the man personally---I voted for him twice---and admiring the grace and elegance he and Nancy brought back to the White House after Carter's aw-shucks informality and Ford's clumsiness. I was glad Reagan was the one to comfort the nation when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, and proud that he stood up to the Soviet Union and told Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!!".

    Most of all, I thought he was a decent, good-hearted man who loved this country, and if he wasn't perfect, well, he was a damned sight better than Carter, Ford, Nixon, or Johnson, and infinitely preferable to a couple of his successors. May he rest in peace.
  9. by   SharonH, RN
    Quote from mattsmom81

    Some folks sure are cynical.....

    Hardly. Already Republican strategists have admitted that they are hoping that Reagan's death will lead to a boost in the polls for Bush. And just today Dick gave a speech in which he compared Bush's mission and resolve to Reagan. Very subtle.

    Will we see a return of the "Once more for the Gipper" campaign buttons of 2000? Of course not, that would be too tacky. But I expect to read and hear constant references to Reagan's America, his resolve, his optimism, blah-blah and how Bush can bring it all back. I'm just going on what I've already seen.
  10. by   VivaLasViejas
    Reagan and Bush aren't even in the same ballpark, especially as far as class, wit, and charm are concerned. The idea of Bush comparing himself with Reagan is almost insulting. It's like comparing filet mignon with hamburger. :stone
  11. by   Mkue
    Quote from mattsmom81
    Kerry is trying all his might to 'use' Reagan's passing as a platform for he was lambasting Bush's lack of support for stem cell research to aid in treatment of Alzheimers...within 24 hrs of Reagan's death. No coincidence I'm sure.
    That is interesting that Kerry criticized Reagan for years and Kerry never once mentioned that he supported stem cell research until this week. Odd. No coincidence there.
  12. by   fergus51
    Kerry has never claimed to be a pro-life candidate, so I assumed he wouldn't have the same ethical qualms about stem cell research as Bush 2. I don't think that's a new thing. I hope Bush will change his mind about stem cell research just like Nancy Reagan did.
  13. by   elkpark
    That is interesting that Kerry criticized Reagan for years and Kerry never once mentioned that he supported stem cell research until this week. Odd. No coincidence there.
    Where'd you get that idea -- because he hasn't called your house and told you? Google instantly turned up the following, and kazillions more:

    "... There is clearly a divide between John Kerry and President Bush on the issue of embryonic stem cell research. In 2001, Sen. Kerry co-sponsored the Stem Cell Research Act and has indicated that, if elected, he would increase funding to the National Institutes of Health and, in particular, stem cell research. In a speech at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Kerry asserted, 'This president has put partisan politics above scientific and medical advancement.' Until this political gridlock can be broken, significant advances in stem cell research in this country will be hampered ..." (

    "... Other candidates have not made as bold a statement yet, but Manganiello said others -- especially Sen. John Kerry (D, Mass.) -- have been ardent supporters of stem cell research ..." (

    "... Meanwhile John Kerry, who was an early supporter of stem cell research, has been lambasting the Bush administration on the issue, accusing him of choosing ideology over science ..." (,00.html)
  14. by   Energizer Bunny
    Thanks elkpark...I was just about to go on a hunt myself because I knew Kerry's support of stem cell research wasn't a "new" thing.