Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry can resist the comparison all he wants, but he's more like George W. Bush than George W. Bush.
The comparisons were unavoidable. They've both been Texas governors. They're both fluent in Bubba, and both unapologetically have been brought to their knees by Jesus Christ.
Perry instinctively rejected the Bush comparison. He's his own man after all. And, as yet, history has not rewarded Bush's efforts to democratize the Middle East with plaudits of prescience. The jury is taking its sweet time.
"I am Rick Perry and he is George Bush," Perry told reporters at the Iowa State Fair. "And our records are quite different. . . . I went to Texas A&M. He went to Yale."
This not only makes Perry different. In these anti-elite times, it makes him better.
Moreover, how insulting to any man — or woman — to be disqualified on the basis of shared geography. But the similarities between these two are both more and less than that.
Upon meeting Perry, you can't help thinking that he's just like Dubya. They share not only the same speech patterns, but they have that same je ne sais quoi that corresponds to the way a confident Southern male asks a girl to take a spin around the dance floor: "Wanna dance?"
There's something slightly lazy in the mouth, half a smile, a knowing look. Both share a devil-may-care, towel-snapping streak — an attitude that either connects them to their quarry or sends their prey howling into the outer darkness. The same things that drove liberals mad about George W. will repeat themselves with Perry.
It's that certitude mixed with bravado. It is also — dare I say? —their certain brand of manliness. Weathered, creased and comfortable in jeans, they convey a regular guyness that everyday Americans relate to. Take it or leave it, it happens to be true.
Clearly, definitions and impressions of manliness differ, and masculinity doesn't translate the same for all people or all regions. In fact, the sort of masculinity that Bush and Perry share isn't admired much in the coffeehouses that dot most urban corners.
But the tea partiers, evangelicals, NASCAR crowd and others who live in America's heartland don't need this explained to them, and they don't care if you get it or not. They know a real man when they see one, and they like him.
In the world of ideas and policy, none of this means anything that matters, but it means everything in straw polls and caucuses where emotions and guts do the voting.
Who's gone from the race? Tim Pawlenty. Plain and simple, not manly enough. Good on policy and accomplishment, weak on chemistry. If Democrats are postmodern, Republicans are proudly Early American.
An e-mail that dropped into my inbox provides insight into how this breaks down.
A woman was commenting on a story about Perry and wrote: "I can equate to bathing in a galvanized washtub . . . also sleeping on the porch with no A/C. He's got my vote!"