A bad relationship can evoke an earlier, better one, as is the case with Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan.

A bad relationship can evoke an earlier, better one, as is the case with Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan. The Gipper freed Eastern Europe, rebuilt the military and swelled the economy. Obama nationalizes health care, explodes the deficit and divides like no modern president has. The greatest contrast is character.

Modest and fatalistic, Reagan termed the White House “public housing”; gave the American people, not himself, “credit for what we’ve done”; and said “You don’t become president. The presidency is an institution, and you have temporary custody.” Chief of staff Howard Baker said, “I never once heard Reagan brag,” even though he had much to brag about.

Reagan never patronized or demonized. “Before 5 o’clock, we’re opponents,” he told Tip O’Neill. “After 5, we’re friends." Reagan was ideological but conciliatory, regarding the other party as potential partner, not toxic prop. His description of America — “hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, decent, and fair” — applied also to himself.

In 1985, the Soviet Union released five imprisoned dissidents on the condition that Reagan not reveal it. “He never did,” Secretary of State George Shultz said, “though some leaders might have crowed.” Reagan kept his word -- serving others, not himself. In 1981, hospitalized after being shot, he spilled water from a pan. Entering his room, aides saw Reagan on hands and knees, wiping the floor, worried his nurse would get into trouble.

Reagan was courageous, telling emergency room doctors, “I hope you’re all Republicans.” He also was flexible, reading The New Republic to “see what the other side is up to.” He was that rarity: a politician funny on purpose. He was a teacher, a mentor: His vice president, George H.W. Bush, “learning more from Ronald Reagan than anyone I encountered in all my years in public life.”

The Great Communicator embodied great civility. By contrast, the would-be Liberal Reagan insults as regularly as he ignores Job(s) One. Campaigning, Obama mocked the small town and rural areas for “clinging to guns and religion.” Elected, our Juvenile-in-Chief ridiculed Nancy Reagan “séances,” called policemen “stupid,” and implied that Winston Churchill was a drunk.

In November, Obama derided U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown for driving a truck — evidently unconstitutional at Harvard — even as stooges call town hall protestors (the middle class) “Nazis” and now “narrow-minded … nut jobs” and “vile two-bit wing-nuts.” Obama finds time to be a hoops TV analyst, complete his tournament bracket, and twice cancel a Far East trip to pass socialized medicine — but not to tell aides to stop smearing America’s bourgeoisie.

Having said, “You can’t govern that way” about a 50-plus-one Senate strategy, the president does. He dismisses health care’s $1 trillion to $2.4 trillion cost — no one really knows — having browbeat moderate Democrats to commit political suicide. The New York Times quotes aide Rahm Emanuel calling “bipartisanship a fake to get what (we) want.” In Obamaland, moderation, truth and respecting others are now so yesterday. Did he ever mean a word?

In 2008, Hillary Clinton said, “We don’t want a president who looks down on us. We want a president who stands up for us.” She knew Obama. For the first time, a Gallup majority says he shouldn’t be re-elected, doesn’t share its values, and can’t manage government. By contrast, recall Reagan assigning Communism to “the ash heap of history,” yet merely saying of his record, “not bad. Not bad at all.”

Once Bush said, “Mr. President, we’ll get you on Mt. Rushmore yet.” The community organizer hallucinates that he’s there. Reagan was the complete package. Obama isn’t, yet thinks he is. The presidency is a terrible place to make a terrible first impression.

Curt Smith is the author of 13 books and former speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush. He Smith writes twice monthly for GateHouse Media’s Messenger-Post Newspapers. E-mail: curtsmith@netacc.net.