Some Wishful Thinking From George Bush Sr.?

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George Bush the elder has a theory, to wit:

His son George W. Bush will be elected in November because American voters periodically want a change. After eight years of Bill Clinton, they will reject Al Gore in favor of a fresh start — meaning George W. That's what happened in 1992, the elder George says: After eight years of Reagan and four of Bush, the voters were restless. They had Republican fatigue. They wanted something different.

The elder Bush proposed his theory the other day in a long, occasionally hilarious interview he gave, along with his wife, Barbara, to The New York Times' Frank Bruni. The interview took place at the Bushes' family compound in Kennebunkport, Me. The obstreperous Mrs. Bush kept interrupting her husband in order to fire stray shots at Al Gore, and the former president would testily shush her. "What are you doing?" he asked her at one point. "You're not going to be in this interview if you're going to start talking like that. George will call and he'll be furious." The interview sounded like the pilot for a sitcom.

Does the Bush craving-a-change theory make sense?

I have doubts. For one thing, at the turn of the millennium, rapid change (technological, social, cultural) has become so pervasive in American life and sometimes so difficult to absorb — think of the genome project and its implications, to cite one of a thousand examples in a world of techno-miracle and deconstructed tradition — that voters might actually prefer continuity of political leadership.

Besides, the history of time-for-a-change politics (history that George Bush Sr. witnessed during his own career, and from which he draws his idea) is deceptive. The myth of 1960, for example, is that voters, sick of a long-familiar regime in a dreary decade (eight years of Eisenhower and his supposedly tired-blood, country club Republicans) embraced a new generation in the person of young, dashing John Kennedy, who promised to "get America moving again." Hmmm. It was not much of an embrace. Kennedy won that election by an eyelash — some think it was an electoral eyelash conjured up by Mayor Richard Daley from the graveyards of Cook County, Ill. In any case, too close an election to support the Bush thesis.

Ike himself, in 1952, did represent a definite change after Democratic rule stretching back to the first inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. But the election of 1952 was mostly a mandate for Ike, not for the Republican way of life. Besides, before Eisenhower declared himself to be a Republican, the Democrats had hoped he would be their presidential candidate. If Ike had run as a Democrat and (inevitably) won, would that have been interpreted as a verdict for change?

George and Barbara Bush said they think the nation's "Clinton fatigue" is real. Undoubtedly real — but not decisive in the election, any more than it was in the Monica days. The American itch for a change does exist. But it is not powerful enough, by itself, to transport George W. Bush from Austin to Pennsylvania Avenue.

If Bush wins, it will be more because of massive American doubts about coreless Al Gore. If Gore wins, it will be because of massive American doubts about Bush — anxiety about his inexperience in the world and about the people he may name to the Supreme Court. But I suspect that a cycles-of-change theory doesn't quite work. We have all the change we can handle, every day. This election will be decided more on the merits, such as they are.

And if Bush wins, there is a terrific sitcom waiting to be done about the President's parents.