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Comparing Dutch and Dubya: the leader and the led

NATIONAL Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie said of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush: "The parallels are there. I don't know how you miss them."

Not really, Ed. Reagan won presidency fair and square, by huge margins in Electoral College. (He even carried Massachusetts twice.) Bush is court-appointed administrator, installed with underhanded help from his brother Jeb, governor of Florida.

I never voted for Reagan but always felt he represented America with dignity and class. Bush's sloppy, casual manner at podium is embarrassing and unpresidential. And he still can't look serious without doing weird things with his mouth.

Reagan split Democratic Party and created Reagan Democrats; Bush has united Democrats as never before.

Reagan didn't know how government works, but he knew how America works, David Kusnet wrote in Grew up poor, worked as radio announcer, movie actor, union leader, and TV pitchman. Reagan played back American myths to us: that we're nation of can-do individualists, fair and kind people, distrustful of big government and deeply anticommunist.

Bush went to New England prep school and Ivy colleges, drank heavily, and used his father's connections to dodge combat, start and sink two oil businesses, buy and sell baseball team, win governorship and presidency.

Reagan raised taxes four times in 1982-84. He'd run up huge deficits caused by huge military buildup -- which, we're told now, was done to bring down Soviet Union. Incredibly, Bush's nuclear spending (in real dollars) is equal to Reagan's at peak of Cold War.

Reagan called USSR "evil empire." But came this close to deal with Soviet's Mikhail Gorbachev to ban all nuclear weapons. Signed INF treaty, first ever to bar whole class of nuclear weapons. Laid foundation for START treaty that Bush's father signed. Younger Bush signed one-page, toothless Moscow Treaty that ignored Reagan's trust-but-verify dictum.

Reagan gave speeches like polished actor. After Challenger tragedy he said of its crew: "They slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God." (Adapted by speechwriter Peggy Noonan from poem by American World War II pilot, John Gillespie Magee Jr.) "Mr. Gorbachev," Reagan demanded at Berlin Wall, "tear down this wall." Two years later, Germans tore it down, and his words were immortalized.

Bush hasn't one ounce of self-awareness. Reagan mocked himself often. On his leisurely work habits: "I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon." His age: "Just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all 13 states." On chilly relations with media: "Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement."

A dog got into Oval Office and ran around while Reagan signed papers. Aide Mike Deaver said, "Mr. President, if you don't get that dog out of here he's going to pee on your desk." Reagan said, "Why not, everybody else does."

Tower Commission confirmed Reagan officials had sold arms to Iran for hostages and used cash to illegally finance contras in Nicaragua. (In Senate, John Kerry exposed ringleader Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North's network.) Reagan told national TV audience, "I take full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration. . . As the Navy would say, this happened on my watch." Bush has taken responsibility for nothing on his watch, including Abu Ghraib, WMD, or 9/11.

Reagan got advice from wife Nancy, who consulted astrologer to stars, Joan Quigley. Bush went to war on advice of Vice President Cheney who consulted con man to neocons, Ahmed Chalabi. Not clear whether Quigley or Chalabi had better fix on reality.

Reagan was never publicly pious and rarely set foot in church. Bush calls his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "crusades," says his favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ, gives tax money to "faith-based" groups, openly courts right-wing evangelical leaders.

Not sure when Reagan became Saint Ronald, but Republicans will worship him at their convention this fall. And when it's over, Bush will still be Bush.

Dan Payne is a Boston-based media consultant who worked on John Kerry's Senate campaigns and for Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential primaries. His column appears regularly in the Globe.  

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