Where Is the Real George Bush?

The Vice President must now step out from Reagan's shadow

  • Share
  • Read Later

All the factors and issues involved in deciding a presidential election notwithstanding, voters ultimately tend to select the individual whose character and ideals they think are most suited to the challenges of the job. This is the first in a series of occasional TIME profiles that will attempt to give a sense of the personal characteristics and individual outlooks of the major potential 1988 contenders.

November was drawing to a close, and though the Iran arms scandal was an accelerating political danger, the President, even in private conversation, still refused to concede error. George Bush confided to a friend that he was troubled by Ronald Reagan's position. "He won't even listen to the word mistake," related Bush. The President, he told the friend, had to make some kind of move. It was a rare lapse for the fastidious Vice President: even with close friends, he maintains a total blackout about his dealings with Reagan.

Bush's discipline in that regard has been astonishing. At White House meetings, he stays mostly silent. One man who has attended hundreds of small sessions with Bush says he has no idea what the Vice President really thinks. When the aides who prepare him for his weekly one-on-one luncheon with the President grow curious about the fate of their ideas and ask about Reagan's reactions, the Vice President clams up. He is determined that no one discern differences between himself and the President.

Such unquenchable loyalty fits Bush's upright nature. Yet he has so drastically subordinated himself, become such a burbling presidential cheerleader, that his own political identity is almost unrecognizable. Often he seems politically frightened, a finicky, pandering man with no mind of his own. But there is far more to Bush. He is, in private, vastly self-assured, opinionated, almost bullheaded in his views. What happens to all this confidence when George Bush is called upon to be his own man? Does he have the personal force and imagination for real leadership, or is he just a sycophantic smoothie hanging on by his fingernails?

Family members recall that in his youth, success was always paramount with George. In 1943, at 18, he became the youngest pilot in the Navy. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery under fire. Longtime friends believe that Bush, one of four sons, was determined to please his imposing father, Prescott Bush, a Wall Street banker who later became a U.S. Senator from Connecticut. However it happened, the son has ever since been in physical overdrive.

Bush is a man of action rather than reflection. He prefers talking out problems to reading written staff summaries. Doubts about a particular decision set off a flurry of activity, as though sheer motion will somehow make them go away. Campaigning, he moves along an airport rope line, a metallic smile flashing on and off his face, racing almost manically through the process. It is no surprise that the Vice President greatly prefers power- boats to sail. Power, he says, saves time.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4