Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
George Melloan, in the WSJ (June 15, 2004):
... some of the same people who were attacking Ronald Reagan in the 1980s are still around doing the same thing to President Bush. Teddy Kennedy was calling Ronald Reagan a warmonger in 1984, thus feeding useful nuggets to KGB propagandists; he today chortles that Iraq is President Bush's"Vietnam." Senator John Kerry, now on the campaign trail accusing the president of irresponsibility, was similarly scornful of President Reagan's moves to resist Soviet and Cuban efforts to grab Central America. He called the president's well-founded fears of an invasion of Honduras by the Nicaraguan Sandinistas"ridiculous."
In a recent newspaper article lauding Senator Kerry, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.— that well-known chronicler of Democratic Party triumphs and Republican failures— wanted to make sure that George W. gets the blame if things go wrong in Iraq. He wrote that the war"was a matter of presidential choice, not of national necessity."
In 1982, Mr. Schlesinger came back from a trip to Moscow to report that there was fat chance that Ronald Reagan could push the Soviet Union into a social and economic collapse. Things were looking bright there, he said, admiringly. But of course that is exactly what Reagan did by touching off an arms race that overtaxed the sluggish, muscle-bound communist system.
I'm indebted for these recollections to Peter Schweizer's excellent book, published in 2002 by Doubleday, titled"Reagan's War." As he points out, Democrats were not the only Reagan doubters. A majority of the president's own cabinet was against the massive $32 billion military-budget increase he launched two weeks after entering the Oval Office. He replied that his primary responsibility was for the security of the U.S. and that the arms buildup would go ahead.
Former Republican presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon also thought Mr. Reagan was spending too much on defense. Republican Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, a former corporate boy wonder (Bell & Howell), took it upon himself to counsel Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin not to"play into Reagan's hands" by taking a hard-line position.
The stakes were high in those Cold War years. As Mr. Schweizer recounts, President-elect Reagan just before his 1981 inauguration was briefed on the procedures to be followed if the Soviets launched a nuclear attack. Because Soviet missile submarines, called"boomers," were cruising in the Atlantic not far off the American coast, the president would have to decide how to respond to an attack within a space of six to eight minutes. An officer carrying the"football," a briefcase with the codes for launching a U.S. counterstrike, was standing nearby as Mr. Reagan took his oath of office.
In harking back to those years, it seems clear that Ronald Reagan was no more free of political adversaries than George W. Bush today. The idea that he got along better than Mr. Bush with Europe doesn't hold up to close scrutiny either. His support for a NATO plan to deploy Pershing II rockets and cruise missiles in Germany to counter Soviet SS-20 intermediate missiles trained on Europe provoked protest riots in Rome, Bonn and Berlin. Charges that he was a wild-eyed Western" cowboy" were similar to those leveled against President Bush today.
Elisabeth Bumiller, in the NYT (June 14, 2004):
...This past weekend, the White House Web site prominently featured a collection of Reagan remembrances and a photo essay of Mr. Bush at the funeral for the former president. The Bush campaign Web site went one better, offering a video of Mr. Reagan uttering his most famous lines -"These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc" - interspersed with Mr. Bush's own words -"He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character."
It was difficult to tell where the 40th president ended and the 43rd began, a blurring further promoted by Ken Mehlman, the president's campaign manager, who told an Iowa Republican Party convention on Saturday that Mr. Reagan's spirit lived on."Every time an American soldier, sailor, airman or marine risks his or her life to ensure our security and peace, Ronald Reagan will be there," Mr. Mehlman said.
Of course, Mr. Bush's effort to wrap himself in the Reagan legacy drew plenty of skeptics, including a number of top Reagan officials, who said, all anonymously, that the presidencies could not have been more different. Mr. Reagan was pragmatic, they said, but Mr. Bush is ideological. Mr. Reagan was a unifier, they argued, while Mr. Bush has polarized.
"Bush wants to defeat his opponents, Reagan wanted his to join him," one former official of the Reagan White House said.
Leaving aside what many historians call a nostalgic rewriting of the Reagan era - plenty of Democrats despised and derided Ronald Reagan in a highly partisan time -there are still striking and significant contrasts in the politics, artifice and style of the two presidencies.
The first that leaps out is Mr. Reagan's ease with the camera and the way it captured his personality and seemed to enhance who he was. Americans felt they knew Mr. Reagan, who was little different off television than on.
"He had so much experience - he knew the expressions, the posture, the lighting, the angles," said Michael Evans, Mr. Reagan's White House photographer, who recalled that Mr. Reagan, so used to Hollywood sets, had no problems letting him into the Oval Office on historic occasions to shoot through the day.
"I'd say hello in the morning, and then he'd just totally ignore me," Mr. Evans said.
Mr. Bush, in contrast, is stiffer and often more tongue-tied on television than in person. He finds the camera so distracting that his staff quickly shoos photographers away."He just likes to get it over with," said David Hume Kennerly, who has photographed every president since he was Gerald R. Ford's White House photographer."If he had his choice, he wouldn't do it."
The second difference is in the business of politics. Mr. Bush, who is his own de facto campaign manager, loves the combat and gossip. His advisers say he knows his exact standing in recent polls, the names of his chairmen in the battleground states and probably the names of important county chairmen.
Mr. Reagan, in contrast, did not."Are you kidding me?" said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who was Mr. Reagan's last White House chief of staff."He didn't want to hear about the political ups and downs." Mr. Reagan's detachment meant that his operatives handled the dirty work, while Mr. Bush's immersion has helped drive one of the most politically aggressive White Houses in decades....