Where Is the Real George Bush?

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

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 4)

Ideas and ideologies do not move Bush. People and their problems do. Domestic issues, in particular, stir him little. One man interviewed by Bush in 1980 for a senior post on his presidential campaign staff asked the candidate what two or three issues mattered most to him. Bush paused, then answered in his own way: he would put the best people in charge and create a superb Government. Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes.

This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year's campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. "Oh," said Bush in clear exasperation, "the vision thing." The friend's advice did not impress him.

Bush's greatest strength as a national candidate is his broad and energetically cultivated understanding of global politics. When he visits world leaders, he is no longer the loyally mum Vice President; he speaks out, and with assurance. Today Bush is far less conciliatory about the Soviets than when he served in the early 1970s as United Nations Ambassador and envoy to China; a subsequent stint as director of the CIA acutely altered his views of the Kremlin's objectives around the world. Bush the moderate became more hawkish. Now he speaks out sharply in behalf of the Nicaraguan contras and is not reluctant to employ weapons and money elsewhere to expand democracy. Meanwhile he pushes, even in the worst of times, for continued dialogue with Moscow. In doing so, he plays an important role in keeping the President's more aggressive tendencies in check.

An unfailingly courteous man, Bush sometimes seems to spring from another era. When he meets people, he pulls his feet together and deferentially drops his head. Even the flustered moral indignation he displays under attack has an old-world quality. He is not self-pitying, and the business of getting even -- a favorite pastime of other politicians -- does not interest him. "There isn't a bitter bone in the guy's body," says an old congressional friend.

Away from the office, he pours his energy into diverse interests: fishing, tennis, listening to country-music favorites like Dolly Parton and Crystal Gayle, replanting his blueberry bushes. At Kennebunkport, Me., where the Bushes own a sprawling seafront house, the Vice President spends hours at the wheel of his 28-ft. boat, Fidelity, skipping across choppy water at 50 m.p.h., dodging lobster pots in his path. He stays close to his five children and ten grandchildren and relies heavily on his wife Barbara, a vibrant, strong-minded woman who is far less forgiving of criticism than is her husband.

Thoroughly unpretentious, Bush is touchy about even the symbols of elitism. His reaction to being called preppie was to stop wearing button-down shirts and striped ties. No matter how Bush modifies the costume, his Eastern roots show clearly. He has a duke's air of natural infallibility. Hence, while paid political operators are viewed strictly as hired help, volunteers win Bush's high admiration.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4