Some journalists have tried to draw parallels between George W. Bush and the late Ronald Reagan. It’s a futile effort. President Bush is to President Reagan as a minnow is to a whale.
Every human being is unique, thanks to the miracle of creation, but Reagan was a most exceptional man. What made him exceptional was not his policy positions. Lots of people shared those. It was his personal qualities. A combination of genes and environment — an environment, by the way, that no longer exists — created this man whom no one can duplicate.
We have the testimony of those who knew him longest and most intimately that he never changed. He was the same man before he ran for governor as he was after two successful terms. He was the same man after eight years of being president. It is an exceptional man indeed who can win such victories, receive such accolades and survive such criticism and crises without allowing any of it to change him.
He also had no ego, a most exceptional characteristic among politicians. His modesty was genuine. Another exceptional quality was that he treated all men the same — king or groundskeeper, prime minister or janitor, Reagan treated every human being he met with the same courtesy, respect and kindness.
Finally, there was that physical energy. For a man to run for president at 69 is remarkable; to run for re-election at 73 is even more so. Former California Gov. Pat Brown, whom Reagan defeated, once complained that Reagan’s hairline and waistline never seemed to change.
In short, Reagan was a man sure of himself, sure of his own masculinity and courage, and he never felt the need to prove anything to anybody. That kind of man is exceptional in these more feminine times.
President Bush, on the other hand, despite his cocky front, seems as insecure as an elephant on a tightrope. He’s defensive, sometimes paranoid and often irritable. It’s pathetic and sadly funny that he keeps trying to compare his war on terrorism to World War II and to the Cold War. That’s like climbing the monkey bars on a playground and boasting that it’s the same as climbing Mount Everest.
Unlike Osama bin Laden hiding in his cave and sending misguided young men out to set off bombs or crash airplanes, Adolf Hitler conquered all of Europe and most of North Africa and drove to within 18 miles of Moscow. Western civilization was literally at risk. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill led an alliance in a war that killed 55 million people.
In the Cold War, Reagan faced an enemy with the capacity to wipe the United States off the map in 30 minutes. It was not a question of some guy leaving a bomb in a shopping mall. If the Soviets had pressed the button, 150 million Americans would have died instantly and most of the rest later from radiation and nuclear winter. The Earth itself would have been wounded, perhaps mortally. If any did survive, they would surely have envied the dead.
If the president wishes to compare himself to someone, he might compare himself to Eliot Ness going after Al Capone, the Chicago gangster in the 1920s and 1930s. Terrorists are essentially criminal gangs too weak to do anything but stage an occasional sneak attack. At no time in human history has terrorism ever destroyed a government, not even the government of a small country such as Israel.
It is unbecoming for the president to go about swatting flies while pretending that he is shooting elephants or Cape buffalo. That’s all that al-Qaida, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein amount to. They are flies on the great rump of humanity.
Unlike Reagan, President Bush has an ego that is bigger than either his enemies or his victories.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.