tampabay.com

Right then. Right now.

By Jim Verhulst, Perspective editor
Published March 9, 2008


Ronald Reagan was the first true conservative elected president, a leader of big ideas who favored small government, a man who shifted the political debate in ways that realized the vision of the just-departed William F. Buckley Jr. He united the disparate right wings of the Republican Party in common cause, something John McCain, who traveled to the White House on Wednesday for the president's blessing, has not yet managed to do. In fact, many conservatives are still wary of McCain, saying he is no Reagan. But there is the Reagan of myth and the Reagan of reality. With McCain winning the Republican presidential nomination last week, Times researchers Angie Drobnic Holan and Will Short Gorham took some time to compare the real Reagan and the real McCain to see how they match up. Jim Verhulst, Perspective editor

Ronald Wilson Reagan John Sidney McCain III
Marital history Divorced first wife, Jane Wyman. Married to second wife, Nancy Davis, for 52 years, until his death. Divorced first wife, Carol Shepp. Has been married to second wife, Cindy Hensley, for 27 years.
Children Has children from both marriages, including an adopted son, Michael, with his first wife. Has children from both marriages, including an adopted daughter, Bridget, with his second wife.
irish ancestry Related to Reagans of County Tipperary, Ireland. Related to McCains of County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
the west Reagan moved to California in June 1937 and thereafter considered himself a Westerner. In 1980 he declared I am a Sagebrush Rebel. Reagans Rancho del Cielo (Ranch of the Sky) was known as the Western White House. His hosting of Death Valley Days in the early 1960s made him a Westerner in the American popular mind. McCain was accused of carpetbagging in his first House race (1982) after having moved to Arizona only the previous year. His response in a candidates forum that year became the stuff of legend in Arizona politics: Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. ... We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the first district of Arizona. .... As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.
Gun control Reagan did not pursue gun control while in office, typically deferring to the states, but in 1991 publicly supported the Brady Bill, saying in a statement, Its just plain common sense that there be a waiting period to allow local law-enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to purchase handguns. He also signed a letter along with former Presidents Carter and Ford in support of the Assault Weapons Ban, noting that while we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals. We urge you to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons. McCain voted against extending the assault weapons ban in 2004. He sponsored a bill to require criminal background checks on all firearms transactions at gun shows. The Gun Owners of America gives McCain a grade of F for the previous two sessions of Congress.
Notable flip-flop Switched from a registered Democrat to a registered Republican following the election of John F. Kennedy, saying I didnt leave the Democratic Party. The party left me. Voted against Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, but now wants to make them permanent.
Abortion Opposed abortion. Favored a constitutional amendment to end abortion. As governor of California, he signed a bill to legalize abortion for the health of the mother. Later he said he regretted it as a mistake. Opposes abortion. In 2000, he said that Roe vs. Wade should not be overturned, but quickly recanted his statement and said he misspoke.
Religion Reagans father was Catholic and his mother belonged to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), where Reagan was baptized. Beginning in 1963, Reagan regularly attended Presbyterian services at Bel-Air Presbyterian Church, Bel-Air, Calif., but did not become an official member until after leaving the presidency. In the first 1984 presidential debate Reagan said, I have not believed that prayer could be introduced into an election or be a part of a political campaign, or religion a part of that campaign. In that debate Reagan explained why he didnt attend church: I have gone to church regularly all my life. (But) now, in the position I hold and in the world in which we live, where embassies do get blown up in Beirut ... I pose a threat to several hundred people if I go to church. I know the threats that are made against me. We all know the possibility of terrorism. ... I dont feel that I have a right to go to church, knowing that my being there could cause something of the kind that we have seen in other places. ... And I miss going to church but I think the Lord understands. McCain is Episcopalian (his great-grandfather was an Episcopal minister) and attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., but regularly attends North Phoenix Baptist Church (a so-called megachurch in Phoenix). His wife and children are members of the church. He has said that the most important thing is that Im a Christian. He says he prays throughout the day and has credited his spiritual help and strength through God with helping him withstand his years of confinement as a prisoner in Vietnam.
Gay rights Journalist Robert Kaiser referred to Reagan as a closet tolerant in a March 18, 1984, Washington Post column after the Reagans interior decorator, Ted Graber, spent a night in the private White House quarters with his lover, Archie Case. In 1978, Reagan opposed Californias Proposition 6, which would have prohibited gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools, writing in a letter that was later excerpted in the San Francisco Chronicle, Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individuals sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a childs teachers do not really influence this. A footnote: Despite common misconception, Reagans son, Ron, is straight. During the 1980 campaign Reagan noted, My criticism is that (the gay movement) isnt just asking for civil rights; its asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I. Its good news that Sen. McCain is on track to win the nomination because he believes in a big tent Republican Party. His record is not perfect, but there are definitely positive signs, according to Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon. McCain voted and publicly spoke out against amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in 2004 and 2006, but in 2006 he also campaigned for an unsuccessful amendment to Arizonas constitution to prevent recognition of non-male/female marriages and said he would support amending the U.S. Constitution in the event that federal courts order gay marriage.
Scandal Iran-Contra, an arms for hostages deal with Iran and the illegal use of the resulting proceeds to fund to the Contras, insurgents in Nicaragua. Keating Five, a 1989 scandal involving five U.S. senators, who were accused of interfering with an investigation of a savings and loan. McCain was criticized for questionable judgment.
A major accomplishment Credited with bringing about the fall of communism by diplomacy and drawing the Soviet Union into an expensive arms race it couldnt afford. In 1987, Reagan challenged leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the Berlin Wall: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also called the McCain-Feingold law, banned unregulated, unlimited soft money contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to national political parties and federal candidates. President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2002.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; White House biography of Ronald Reagan; the American Conservative Union; Tampico Historical Society; Gun Owners of America; Ulster Heritage Magazine; Times wires; Library of Congress.

Compiled by Angie Drobnic Holan and Will Short Gorham