- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

PHILADELPHIA.George W. Bush reminds many of the delegates here of Ronald Reagan. He has the naturalness that suggests comfort in who he is.He's on the national presidential stage at a much younger age and he lacks an older man's stature and political experience. His playfulness has not yet been tamed by the wisdom that often comes with maturity. He still has a whiff of the youth-wants-to-know about him. But his desire to fill in his blanks suggests that he's open to drawing on the knowledge of others. With the announcement of Richard B. Cheney as his veep the arrogant smirk morphed into an engaging smile that hints of a little humility.Dazzled delegates say he's a Ronald Reagan for the 21st century who surrounds himself with men and women who share his political philosophy but who know the crucial details better than he does. He's inclusive and reaches out across a broad spectrum of Americans, beginning with the Republican base.The Rev. Jerry Falwell says he energizes Christian conservatives the way Ronald Reagan did. Several guests at a party sponsored by Human Events, the magazine for hard-right conservatives, told me they trust his instincts more than they trusted his father's.

Arianna Huffington, who describes herself as a "recovering Republican," did these conservatives a favor. She organized the hangers-on, soreheads, poor losers and '60s-radical wannabes at her Shadow Convention, where John McCain was all but silenced with hoots and boos when he said a few kind words for George W., and put them out on the fringe where nobody is paying them much attention.

George W. & Company personalize conservatism. When the public discovered that one of the Cheney daughters is a lesbian, George W. offered the embrace that seemed to come from the heart, absorbing her into "the big family" of his campaign. When George W. met with homosexual activists he told them he judges people for "what's in their heart and soul."

It sounds corny to the pressies (and no doubt to some others), but not to the Bushies and most of the delegates in Philadelphia.

Never have the negative spinners been so blatantly out of sync with the times. They put down Mr. Cheney's experience and competence as a return to the past. But what desirable candidate doesn't learn from the past? Al Gore is praised for having "grown" with his experience; Mr. Cheney is merely frozen in time with his voting record. The polls suggest it's a strategy that may have to go back to the drawing board.

George W.'s opponents scorn his respect for his father's counsel as a liability. Bush biographer Bill Minutaglio says that George W. is afraid of his father not in the sense that he'll do something for which he should be punished he simply doesn't want to shame or embarrass him. Freud would call that George W.'s superego, the moral conscience called upon to discipline behavior. Not a bad thing in a president. Bill Clinton never displayed such conscience.

If Ronald Reagan is evoked by the delegates as a model for George W., their comparisons are based on both issues and character. The issues have changed, but are rooted in conservative principles, such as less government is better than more government. Instead of abolishing the Department of Education, George W. wants to make it lean, muscular, to do the job that will help states help all children to read.

Moral issues, however, are the crucible for conservatives. President Reagan effectively ushered in the debate over "family values." For years the Democratic Party's defense of the welfare status quo was retrograde, as the government took over the role of the father in the family. Illegitimacy soared. Bill Clinton, pushed by a Republican Congress, signed onto welfare reform, co-opting one of the most powerful issues generated by conservatives.

But what Bill Clinton couldn't co-opt was the moral imperatives behind the family-values folk. He personally degraded the country with his behavior in the Oval Office and shamed his wife and daughter along with the rest of us.

The Americans her husband meets on the campaign, Laura Bush told us in her opening-night speech, plead with her husband to restore a time when children can "respect the president of the United States." That's only part of it. But it's where the rest of it starts.

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