Two `Lucky' Presidents in a Row?

By , Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

PRESIDENT BUSH has turned out to be a friendly, neighborly president. He has the knack of letting Americans know on an almost daily basis what is on his mind. No president in my memory has been so close-in to the public. President Reagan gave an impression of closeness. But he did it largely through stagecraft. He exuded warmth in his speeches. His one-liner quips won him many friends.

But Reagan was always a remote leader, never letting the public, or even his top advisors, get into a truly close relationship with him. He was an arms-length president who relied heavily on others to get the job done but forgot them as soon as they left his administration.

I once saw President Bush mistake someone in a receiving line for another person. After being told by Mrs. Bush of his error, the president made a point of catching up with his guest and apologizing profusely. His sensitivity won points with the guest and with those who observed the incident.

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Mr. Reagan once called a cabinet member by the wrong name and, observers reported, he never did get the person's name right all during his administration. Reagan's detachment from what went wrong in Iran-contra is most believable. He was a delegating president in the extreme: He stayed as remote from governing as he did from those who served him and, indeed, as he was from the American people.

As an administrator, Bush keeps close tabs on what goes on in his administration. He's no President Carter, who was much criticized for getting too caught up in details. Whether by instinct or intent, Bush is steering a course as an administrator that lies somewhere in between Reagan's total delegating approach and Carter's over-involvement.

Bush's popularity ratings hold at record highs - attracting even a high percentage of blacks, most of whom don't think he's really helping them very much. Pollsters find that the American people's contentment with Bush comes primarily from their relative happiness with their own lives. This state of affairs falls short of all-out loyalty and support for Bush. Thus, opinion analysts contend, Bush's popularity is especially vulnerable to a national setback - such as a sudden downturn in the economy.

As to accomplishments, Bush's success in office thus far is ironically acknowledged by critics who call him a ``lucky'' president. They particularly cite the breaking out of peace in Eastern Europe and the conciliatory attitude of Gorbachev as gratis assists to Bush.

Bush is also called lucky on the domestic scene. The economy is still rolling along quite well despite the budget deficit. Inflation has been held at bay.

Well, Reagan was called ``lucky,'' too, benefitting from a drift toward peace around the world and a slow but sustained economic advance.

Are we seeing two lucky presidents in a row?

Both presidents have contributed to their successes. Reagan's big military buildup arguably encouraged Gorbachev's astonishing shift in national policy. And Bush's ``toughlove'' approach may be helping to sustain the positive direction of Soviet policy.

At least from this corner, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

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