James Pinkerton quips,
Ronald Reagan had three sons: Michael, Ron, and George W. Bush. That became clear yesterday when the 43rd president landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Why did he do it? Because it looked cool on TV. But while W. might be Reaganesque in style, he has yet to prove that he is Reaganesque in substance.
It’s a clichÃƒ© that Bush 43 models himself more on Reagan than he does on his own father. And why not? The Gipper was a two-termer, while the elder Bush, having mostly inherited the presidency from his popular predecessor, managed to lose the White House after just four years.
One of Reagan’s political strengths was that he was always surrounded by imagery that appealed to most Americans. Not everyone in this country likes straight-shootin’ and plain-talkin’ cowboys, but most do. And so Reagan, born in Illinois, remade himself into a Westerner. By contrast, the elder Bush, who flew combat missions in the Pacific while Reagan was making training movies in Hollywood, was betwixt and between image-wise, a little bit country and too much preppy.
And now the younger Bush, who might have landed on carriers 35 years ago had he not sought refuge in the National Guard, is the one decked out like a combat ace. Poor John McCain. He walked the walk in Vietnam, and now he sits on the sidelines as Bush talks the talk off the coast of California.
Like it or not, image is a huge part of the job of President, who is not only the head of the executive branch but the symbolic leader of the nation. The Bush team, in some ways even more than Reagan’s, is amazingly disciplined in staying on message.
I see nothing wrong with that, so long as there is substance to which that style is directed. Pinkerton seems to think there is not; I think there is. Bush annoys me sometimes, because he is not passionately ideological about most issues. Indeed, he seems not to care at all about most issues and is content to let his aides and Congress hash them out. But the handful of issues about which he is passionate seem to be getting done. Whereas Clinton, who was an even better showman than Reagan, let alone either Bush, seemed to be driven only by his poll numbers on virtually* everything, Bush 43 has a strong sense of mission on the handful of issues he cares about: the war on terrorism, taxes, and some social issues.
*The sole exception, for which I always credit Clinton, was his core belief in the value of free trade, for which he took considerable flack from his own base. Indeed, I wish Bush was a little more committed to it.
(Hat tip: RealClear Politics)