Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Gipper meets the Gypper

BBC: Senate passes Iraq-pullout bill; Bush pledges instant veto

Said Bush, "You know how I hate learning my times tables."

In a seemingly unrelated note, last night I watched "The Reagans," the miniseries that CBS lost the cojones to broadcast back in 2003 because Republicans complained that it didn't sufficiently worship the Gipper. What struck me most was how relatively benign Ronald Reagan came off, especially considering the magnitude of the GOP outcry and the fact that James Brolin played him. Most of Reagan's worst moments come in later scenes, as president. These range from his manipulation on the part of his handlers to his steadfastness on unfortunately disastrous issues. By the time the film hit 1987, I thought to myself, "This film could just as easily be about Bush!"

Years ago, I said that George W. Bush really is the new Reagan. I meant it sarcastically, coming as it did at a time when most Americans were saying it in earnest. As he finishes his second term, however, Bush's political fortunes are actually quite close to Reagan's at this point. Both reeled from scandals involving questionable foreign decisions; both took heat for their attempts to appoint ideologues to the judiciary; both claim no wrongdoing to the degree of pleading ignorance of illegal affairs. But the one characteristic that Bush and Reagan especially share is a fatal inability to bend once their minds are made up. And both have a particular talent for hasty decisions, those tending to be the ones most vociferously defended.

With Bush, the decision to immediately veto the withdrawal legislation proves once and for all that he will never compromise on Iraq. One bit. No matter how bad things get. For him, "staying the course" is a sign of strength. Reagan, too, took pride in ideological steadfastness. But Reagan had one quality that his wannabe protege cannot cultivate: the conviction that what he did what he genuinely felt was right. At this point, Bush comes all off with all the sincere veneer of a paid infomercial announcer. He has long transcended the label of "amiable dunce"; a more appropriate moniker now would be, "hardheaded dunce." Even Bush's hardcore supporters--all 28 percent of them--have to balk at the degree to which their hero, as Bush the elder might say,will not apologize, no matter what the facts are.

Finally, Reagan and Bush will share one last parallel: once Bush is out of office, his successor will quickly declare this a "kinder and gentler America." Which it will be, strictly by default. And again we will wonder why we let the president get away with as much as they did. With Reagan, it was because Americans liked him as a personality. What'll be our excuse for Bush?

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