BOSTON – Never mind Reagan Democrats. Here's a Democratic Reagan, or at least a Reagan who sounds like one on TV.
Ron Reagan (search), son of the late president, was accorded a plum speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday for reasons other than his expertise as a dog-show host on Animal Planet.
The prime — really only — reason is his name, the magic monicker of the Republican Party now pressed into the service of the other side. Nothing tickles partisans like seeing someone associated with the opposition make common cause with them.
Republicans also plan an in-your-face guest at their convention, Georgia Sen. Zell Miller (search). The conservative Democrat insists he never strayed from his party, the party strayed from him.
"Democrats like me have a courageous and honorable leader," he likes to say. "It just so happens that he has a little R next to his name." That's R as in Republican George W. Bush.
That's a head-snapping switch from the 1992 Democratic convention, where Miller, as a keynote speaker, attacked the first President Bush (search) and other R's with gusto. "George Bush just doesn't get it," he charged. "He doesn't see it, he doesn't feel it and he's done nothing about it."
"He had so many zingers," recalled political scientist Eugene Alpert of Washington, D.C. "He had the place in stitches."
As for the younger Reagan, he's never had much allegiance to the GOP.
A liberal commentator on MSNBC as well as anchor of canine competitions on cable, Reagan once declared the freezer section of his grocery store more interesting than Republicans. He made the comment when the 1996 GOP national convention honored his dad. He didn't watch.
Reagan will talk in Boston about the potential of stem-cell research (search) in treating diseases such as Alzheimer's, which shadowed his father for a decade until his death in June. President Bush has restricted federal money for research on human embryos out of moral concerns voiced by social conservatives.
Kerry says he'll issue an executive order reversing Bush's restrictions if he becomes president.
Although Reagan says he won't bash Bush from the stage, that stage is the most politically charged in the nation. The mere appearance of a Reagan is meant to tell voters that nominee John Kerry (search) appeals to Americans beyond the Democratic base.
"Reagan's participation is the latest example of the campaign's commitment to reaching out to individuals from all parts of the political spectrum," the Kerry campaign said, calling Reagan an independent.
But Reagan for years has been both a biting critic of conservative policies, including his father's, as well as a cutup who danced in his underwear in a 1986 "Saturday Night Live" skit that took him years to live down.
(His father's comment on the performance at the time: "I was very surprised.")
Ron Reagan has made no secret of his disdain for the current president, criticizing his use of religion in politics and his actions in the Iraq war. He's called Bush unqualified and said his administration is "just plain corrupt."
Alpert doubted Reagan would talk like that in Boston, or that Democrats would go overboard in claiming him as one of their own. They don't have to — what counts is the name.
Democrats pulled off a similar coup in 1996, showcasing President Reagan's former press secretary, Jim Brady, and his wife, Sarah, gun-control activists since Brady's partially paralyzing injury in the 1981 assassination attempt on the president.
"Jim, we must have made a wrong turn," Mrs. Brady, a former Republican activist, cracked when they spoke to Democrats in Chicago. "This isn't San Diego," site of that year's GOP convention.
Democrats have played down gun control in this campaign, judging Al Gore (news - web sites) pushed too hard on the issue in 2000, and Kerry is emphasizing his support for the right to bear arms and his credentials as a hunter. Stem-cell research, however, offers clear divisions between the two candidates and, on that issue, Nancy Reagan stands with her son and the Democrats.
Not, however, on the stage of the Democratic National Convention.