America’s affectionate farewell to Ronald Reagan has focused attention on the similarities between the 40th president and President Bush, whose policies of tax cuts and a stronger defense parallel his Republican forefather.
“Whether it was economic policies, national security policies, like national missile defense, or reforming Social Security, everything Bush talks about was something Ronald Reagan had tried to do,” said Martin Anderson, who was chief domestic adviser in the Reagan White House.
But some of Mr. Bush’s conservative supporters also point to key differences between the two men, especially noting the president’s expansion of the Department of Education — which Mr. Reagan sought to shrink — and the creation of a new Medicare prescription-drug benefit for the elderly.
“Reagan wanted to abolish the Education Department, while Bush has increased federal spending on education and control of education,” said longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly.
Former Reagan Justice and State Department official Roger Pilon, now a Cato Institute scholar, said Mr. Reagan upheld the principles of “limited government conservatism,” while Mr. Bush was into “expanding government programs” such as the $400 billion Medicare prescription-drug entitlements that he signed into law on Dec. 8.
Still, Mr. Reagan was no slouch at expanding certain government programs, particularly the Social Security reforms he enacted that significantly raised worker payroll taxes, along with a $100 billion package of additional taxes he signed into law in 1982 that infuriated many of his conservative supporters.
“There are a lot of parallels between Bush and Reagan. They are very different people. George Bush is not Ronald Reagan. But on the other hand when you talk about Reagan and Bush over the years, the policies Bush came up with are very similar,” Mr. Anderson said.
Raising similarities between the two presidents is a sensitive subject for the White House and the president’s re-election campaign right now, although Republican officials say it is likely that the Republican National Convention in New York from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, where Mr. Bush will be nominated for a second term, will include a major tribute to Mr. Reagan in prime time.
Mr. Bush’s senior aides and his campaign advisers are uncomfortable making any comparisons at a time of national mourning for the late president.
But it is no secret that next to his father, former President George Bush, Mr. Reagan is Mr. Bush’s favorite president, and that this week’s nonstop televised reminiscences of the former president reveal significant parallels between the two men.
“It doesn’t hurt to be compared with one of the most popular Republican presidents of the modern era,” a Republican Party official said.
Both Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush were successful two-term governors from big Western states — California and Texas, respectively. Both were most comfortable with a frontier lifestyle of blue jeans, with belt buckles, Western boots and the open range of their ranches where they reveled in clearing brush from the land and repairing fences.
Each of them made large, across-the-board income tax cuts the centerpiece of their fiscal agendas to revive ailing economies.
“One of the similarities is they both have a sense of good and evil, a moral clarity about evils in the world,” said Edwin I. Meese III, who was Mr. Reagan’s White House counselor and U.S. attorney general.
Mr. Reagan battled the Soviet Union’s expanding “evil empire” and saw its collapse not long after he left office, and Mr. Reagan took military action against Libya and a communist coup in Grenada.
After the attacks on the United States on September 11, Mr. Bush similarly condemned the “axis of evil” among terrorist states and sent troops to bring down the regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Other longtime supporters and advisers said the presidents are especially similar in their religious faith and their views on cultural and social issues.
William Clark, who was Mr. Reagan’s chief of staff during his governorship and became a state judge, said that “both are faith-based, high-principled and certainly believe there is a divine plan and we should follow it.”
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the former Moral Majority leader, pointed to similarities in their “faith and values,” and said Mr. Bush was in many ways “a protege of Ronald Reagan’s.”
Another big difference between the two presidents is their speaking abilities, Republican strategists said yesterday.
“To put other presidents in the same category as Reagan in terms of expectations to effectively communicate is probably not fair,” said Christopher Ingram, a media adviser.
“Bush’s communications style is not his area of expertise. But even though he may not communicate what he says as eloquently as Reagan, he comes across as sincere and believable,” Mr. Ingram said.