Bush's copying Reagan model

March 13, 2001|By Helen Thomas

WASHINGTON - President Bush II seems inspired not by his father's presidency, but by former President Ronald Reagan's White House tenure in the 1980s.

A reading of Ronald Reagan's weekly radio addresses in the compilation "Reagan In His Own Hand" makes it clear: Mr. Bush is cribbing from the Gipper.

It's all there: the tax cut; budget cutbacks; anti-missile defense, an increase in military strength; plans to give states more control over federal social programs; vouchers for school options and anti-abortion rights.

Mr. Reagan also was big on school prayer although he never could push it through Congress.

With Mr. Bush following the Reagan model, conservatives are having a heyday. It's morning in America again.

Much as President George H.W. Bush tried, he could never quite convince the ultra-right in the Republican Party that he was a true follower of Mr. Reagan, especially after he canceled his read-my-lips vow against new taxes and instead supported a tax increase, euphemistically called "revenue enhancement."

In Mr. Reagan, the conservatives had a "true believer." The same is true for the current occupant of the White House.

Like Mr. Reagan, George W. Bush is obsessed with selling a tax cut. Both presidents billed themselves as "outsiders" who came to Washington to cure the nation of an alleged Beltway mentality favoring big government. Both, however, held an affection for the "Beltway bandits," the representatives of the military-industrial complex who lobby Congress and defense officials for unnecessary weapons systems.

Look at the makeup of Mr. Bush's Cabinet. Many jumped to industry from top-level government positions and are now back running the show again. They don't need the money now, but they lust for power.

Like Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush sees himself as the supersalesman. That's why he is on the road so often.

Like Mr. Reagan, he is not a man for details. Mr. Reagan presided as a chairman of the board, leaving the nitty-gritty of government operations to his staff and Cabinet. This president - and Mr. Reagan before him - only wants to talk about the big picture.

This style protects Mr. Bush, who has said many times when confronted with his lack of knowledge on given issues: "I'll rely on my advisers."

That ring of advisers mainly consists of those who made the long march with him from Austin, Texas. Also in the mix is Vice President Dick Cheney, the voice of Washington experience.

In his first speeches as president, Mr. Reagan declared that the only role of the federal government was national security. For a time, it seemed that he wanted to privatize everything in Washington with the exception, maybe, of the Washington Monument. And I often wondered about that.

Mr. Bush, in the name of "reform," wants to overhaul Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Reform is a fancy word for change - and change to Mr. Bush means handing over government functions to private business.

Also like Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush is obsessed with the "Star Wars" concept, even though the weapons still don't work.

One big difference is that Mr. Reagan had the "evil empire" and the Cold War to confront. Mr. Bush is operating in peacetime and has only Iraq's Saddam Hussein to demonize.

There is also a difference in personality. Mr. Reagan was friendly, charming, but aloof. He was great with one-liners and ad-libs.

Mr. Bush is a backslapper, a hale fellow, an ex-fraternity president who gives affectionate nicknames to friends. The book of Mr. Reagan's radio speeches shows that he had a strong hand in writing them. They are folksy, optimistic and reflective of his philosophy.

His speeches drew on his experiences in broadcasting, in the movies and in life.

A typical Reagan quote: "If you had to choose between shrinking the size of government and shrinking the size of your paycheck, what would it be? Chances are, you are paying enough taxes already."

On religion, he said: "The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people from religion. That amendment was written to protect religion from government tyranny."

This one has been borrowed by Mr. Bush whole hog from Mr. Reagan: "Washington is a town that likes to spend money - your money."

Mr. Bush has several speechwriters and he is carrying on the tradition of weekly radio broadcasts. The results so far show that he can't touch the "Great Communicator" when it comes to the microphone.

Helen Thomas is a Washington-based columnist for Hearst Newspapers. She can be reached at 202-298-6920 or through her e-mail address, helent@hearstdc.com.

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