"Weekend At Dutchie's" 

Think what you will of Dog Playing Poker, but you can't call this column insensitive. OK, maybe you can - but you can't say that it's insensitive consistently. Unlike some other sections of Orlando Weekly (hello, Mr. Slug), we voluntarily backed off from saying anything negative about Ronald Reagan while the guy's body was being paraded across TV screens like the stuffed Trigger that used to welcome guests to Roy Rogers' place. We were happy to honor the neocons' wishes that the fallen ex-prez be given, oh, say, a weeklong grace period in which no American would take a public potshot at his personality or his achievements. Not a problem for us. We had other fish to fry. And by our calculation, that self-imposed moratorium ends ... four ... three ... two ... NOW!

Whew. We hope we never have to go through that again. But it wasn't suffering silently through a sugarcoated marathon of revisionist Gipper-suck that was the real problem. It was seeing our current commander-in-chief and his people do everything in their unholy power to associate the two men in the minds of the voting public that really chapped our testes. Reagan was a great president, the self-styled experts lied, but let's not forget our pal Shrub! He's "great" too, you know! This epidemic of hubris had reached ludicrous levels by late in the week, when one of the saner morning-news commentators dared opine that it might be, you know, too soon to say if Bush's legacy would equal Reagan's. After all, the pundit declared, it's just not right to compare our current president to a dead one.

We think we know what he meant, but the way it came out, it instead validated something Dog has believed all along: In a matchup between Dubya and a dead guy, the corpse always has the unfair advantage.

Or does he? That unintentional howler got us pondering a historical riddle of our own. Who would be the better president, we wondered, George W. Bush or Ronald Wilson Reagan as he exists right now? In other words, if the Great Communicator's physical remains were airlifted from their resting place and installed in the Oval Office in place of its present occupant, would the country be any worse off? Or would the lot of our lives actually improve somehow? Here's what we determined.

Foreign policy – Not even close. The Reagan of today would be physically incapable of alienating almost every civilized nation on earth through his belligerent unilateralism. He'd be unable to sign an official withdrawal from the Kyoto protocols, and he'd never scare a roomful of Middle Eastern rulers down to their skivvies by informing them that God had commanded him to launch an unprovoked assault on a sovereign nation. Upon leaving momentous gatherings like the G-8 summit, the worst that our allies could do would be to complain of a slight inattentiveness on the American leader's part. But we're sure they'd get over it.

Economic measures – At first blush, this one looked like a toss-up. It was the trickle-down irresponsibility of Reaganomics, after all, that set the stage for the tax-code insanity of the Bush era. But there's a world of difference between harboring a disastrous economic philosophy and being able to implement it. Bush has hammered his fiscal agenda home via the usual Washington means: creative P.R., political persuasion, exposing his adversaries as acid bombers. None of those options would be available to a dead Reagan. The only chance for corporate criminals to score a windfall off him would be through some creative redrawing of his will, or simply by rifling through his pockets for spare change. (Rupert Murdoch, we're keeping an eye on you!)

Personal energy/vim 'n' vigor – A rare rout for Bush, unless there's a pretzel, a bicycle and/or some high-grade Peruvian flake involved.

AIDS – Call it a draw. Bush promises millions in South African relief he has no intention of delivering. Reagan condemned countless Americans to death by refusing to even acknowledge the scourge of HIV, and there's no reason to expect him to break the silence any time soon. So we're awarding this category to Neil Patrick Harris, TV's Doogie Howser, because he has stronger medical credentials than either of them. Plus, we like to squeeze his name in wherever we can.

Domestic security – You'd think that Bush would win this one handily, being able to walk and talk and all. But walking it the way you talk it is something else again. No, Reagan wouldn't be able to authorize the dismantling of terrorist sleeper cells, but neither could he switch courses in midstream to concentrate on settling one of his father's old scores. (Who would his father have been miffed at, anyway? Kublai Khan?) And if you accept the idea that another attack on U.S. soil is inevitable - which everyone inside the Beltway seems to have asserted at one time or another - only one of our two candidates could rightfully claim ignorance of the available evidence. Following a catastrophic incident, not even Teddy Kennedy would dare suggest that Reagan was "asleep at the wheel." A side benefit: the awed respect of several island nations, who are said to consider electing a corpse as your leader the utmost in bad juju.

Furthering stem-cell research: Take a wild guess.

UFOs/the Kennedy assassination: Conspiracy theorists wish that the Bush administration, like every administration before it, would end the Washington cover-up of these raging mysteries. Satisfying those nutballs would be a tall order for any president, but a Reagan comeback is pretty much X-Files material to begin with, so his return could be seen as a sort of olive branch - especially if a mental link between the Gipper and David Blaine could be established on live network TV, with lots of spooky theremin music playing in the background and one of those ominous counters ticking away in the lower left-hand corner.

So let's review. Reagan runs off with five categories, while Bush manages to eke out triumph in a measly one. (We'll even throw him Doogie's win, if the guy just proves too busy to serve.) What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a timely twist on the idea that participating in a two-party system means settling for the lesser of two evils. When the chips are down, we've learned, we'd be happy to replace "lesser" with "less dangerous." And of course, it goes without saying that a President Ray Charles would kick either fella's ass - yesterday, today or tomorrow. Amen.

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