SAN FRANCISCO – Ever since Ronald Reagan's (search) death earlier this month, White House aspirant John Kerry (search) has been honoring the conservative icon even before the most partisan Democratic audiences.
Kerry and Reagan had many differences during the Washington of the 1980s. But in the aftermath of the 40th president's death, Kerry has lauded Reagan's bipartisanship and global leadership and held up his battle with Alzheimer's as an example of the need for stem cell research.
The unmistakable implication is that President Bush isn't living up to Reagan's legacy.
"Leadership is lacking that asks people to come to the White House and sit for hours, as we used to with a Ronald Reagan, with George Herbert Walker Bush, with Bill Clinton, working at trying to find real solutions," Kerry said at a luncheon fund-raiser Monday in Aspen, Colo. "But not with these folks (in the Bush administration). It's my way or the highway."
Kerry suspended his campaign for a nearly a week after Reagan died on June 5. Some Democrats were concerned that the tributes for the former Republican president could inspire admiration for the GOP and give a boost to Bush.
But that hasn't stopped Kerry from joining in the praise of Reagan, who was viewed favorably by 83 percent of those questioned in an Associated Press poll last week.
Even when he's criticizing Reagan's record, Kerry is sure to say something kind about the leader who remains immensely popular in his death. At a fund-raiser in San Francisco Wednesday, Kerry said Reagan was a big spender who ran up the nation's deficit, but added, "God rest his soul, we loved him for his strength and many things."
Kerry even claimed a personal — if distant — connection to one of Reagan's favorite quotes, that America is "a shining city on a hill." Kerry told a fund-raiser in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday night that the phrase was coined by the first governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, who also "happens to be an ancestor of mine." Kerry is a descendant of Winthrop through his maternal grandmother, Margaret Winthrop.
Earlier Wednesday, in a speech to the Service Employees International Union, Kerry held up Reagan's global leadership as a contrast to Bush's lack of diplomacy and continuing loss of life in Iraq.
"We just lost a president who helped us to win the Cold War, to provide us the continued peace and prosperity we had all those years," Kerry said, as some in the union crowd responded with boos and hisses.
Reagan, who fired 12,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, is not a popular figure in the labor movement.
But Democrats are normally polite when Kerry mentions Reagan's example, especially concerning stem cell research. Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and his family called for more research into possibly using stem cells to fight the disease.
Bush has refused requests to relax the restrictions he imposed in 2001 on using federal money for stem cell research using embryos.
"As America said goodbye to Ronald Reagan we also honored the devotion and love of his wife Nancy," Kerry said in a speech in Denver Monday. "Her pleas for stem cell research joined the pleas of millions across this country and reinforces in all of us the need to tear down every wall today that keeps us from finding the cures of tomorrow."