Compare and Contrast the Reagan and Bush Presidencies

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It is widely accepted that George Bush Snr. was forced to play out his presidency in the mighty shadow of Ronald Reagan. Reagan's charm and personality was one of his greatest strengths and, even now, is widely revered for his time as President. Bush was reportedly always conscious of people's expectations of him in view of his predecessor and this burden seemed to weigh heavily. Reagan's achievements in Washington were considerable if not in number than in impact. His political and strategic skills were impressive and Bush cannot be said to have equalled his achievements certainly at home, and this is borne out by Bush's failure to win re-election.

Nevertheless Bush made some staggeringly important contributions to the international arena and is deeply respected for his part in world events where there is every reason to suspect that Reagan would not have been.

The huge differences between the two are even more interesting given that Bush was a dutiful Vice President to Reagan for eight years and sought on gaining office only to take over where he left off. Bush did not set out to ring the changes between Reagan and himself; quite the opposite. He purported to be the archetypal guardian president; consolidating Reagan's good work and continuing to steer America on the same path. So why then did they turn out to be such almost polar opposites?

This essay explores the realms of domestic politics, vision and leadership and international issues with the focus on drawing comparison between the two men and their styles of leadership and analysing in each instance who may have been the more effective president. I will conclude that, regardless of actual achievements real success in presidential terms depends on successful handling of the media, an area Reagan understood and Bush never would.


It is almost universally agreed that Ronald Reagan's greatest strength, certainly early in his first term and arguably until he left office was his ability to communicate with the American people. He won the presidency not only on his package of radical reforms at a time when the current policy orthodoxies had failed the Americans (along with most of the rest of the western world), but on his winsome personality, his awesome eloquence and his considerable charisma. A direct comparison with Margaret Thatcher can be drawn as regards the radical package of reforms, however Reagan enjoyed much higher levels of personal popularity than 'Thatcher the Milk Snatcher' back in Britain.

By direct comparison, George Bush, despite having been elected on a higher majority of the popular vote than Reagan , was more of an 'establishment politician'. It has been said that Bush "knew probably more Americans than any other human being has ever known" , and it is well documented that he (perhaps naïvely) expected these relations to carry over into the decision-making arena. He was reluctant to go over the heads of his friends and colleagues by using the bully pulpit; and was painfully conscious of his shortcomings as a mass communicator. On the other hand, he knew well that his strength lay in well-informed discussion on a smaller-scale, and for this reason chose the press conference as his most frequent point of contact.

Where the Reagan White House was determined to 'stage-manage' all media coverage (even going as far as to set a 'line of the day', and allegedly making up quotes where the president has nothing to say ), Bush was determined that he was to be more open and accessible to the press. To this end he left it to the press to decide what area of policy to focus on, and held some 280 press conferences in four years, as against Reagan's 47 in eight .

This difference in style was not purely to do with Bush's lack of speaking ability, although he was conscious that he was unable to be another Reagan. Rather it was indicative of the inherent difference in...
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