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What Bush must do

A WEEK of conventioneering, in New Orleans as last month in Atlanta, leads to a surfeit of impressions. In this case, George Bush's carefully constructed week was jarred by his handling of the vice-presidential selection. The tremors over his choice of Dan Quayle of Indiana interrupted the planned attack on Michael Dukakis and threatened to upstage Mr. Bush's own acceptance speech. But Bush must look ahead to the start of the fall campaign, which begins in earnest on Labor Day. Some suggestions: Explain a few things quickly. Mr. Bush, we still don't know much about your Iran-contra role. But for the moment that is secondary to what we don't know about Mr. Quayle. He did not really respond adequately Wednesday, at his first press conference as vice-presidential designate, on the Paula Parkinson outing to Florida, his financial position, and especially whether he used influence to join the National Guard rather than serve in Vietnam.

As of this writing, the Bush campaign is coming under heavy fire for not having run Quayle through a responsible screening early enough. Even if reasonable replies can be found, it could take days for the campaign to recover its footing. Bush made much of the Quayle choice as his decision; it reflects on his judgment.

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The campaign must return to its major role: posing a choice between Bush and Dukakis.

Debate. You promised. Agree to debate Dukakis quickly. Include National League of Women Voters debates as well as the national party-sponsored debates. After all, why shouldn't citizens' groups participate in the process, too? The party organizations effectively become the tools of the presidential campaigns. Who, if not the league, can serve as arbiter?

Abandon self-reference. Mr. Bush, the people do not really want to hear whether you're up, down, confident, comfortable with yourself. They want you to discuss the issues at hand. Your reliance on personal relationships to advance your career has been a strength; in the choice of your running mate it made you vulnerable. You chose compatibility over the need to balance your forces for the campaign.

See the country as a whole, not as parts. Sure, American presidents are chosen state by state, by electoral vote. But why look at a map of the states as if it were a butcher's chart, defining the choice parts and what's left over for hamburger? America is more of a whole than ever before. Suburbanization is one factor: The suburbs of Texas are as akin to those of New Hampshire and Kansas as are their respective shopping malls.

The key swing states - California, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Michigan - are themselves microcosms of America. They usually have farm, industry, business, and finance elements that make them more similar than is often realized. That is why, in close national elections, they can go either way. So let's hear more of one message. You will have to focus on the big states, but spare us the North, South, farm, city packaging that insults us when we realize we are being market-segmented like so much meat on the hoof.

Let the dream lead. The American dream, that is. Jerry Ford had it right the other night (before he shifted into high Democrat-bashing gear) when he said Americans are Americans first, then Republicans or Democrats, conservatives, moderates, or, dare it be said, liberals. Trust the American people to pick the ticket they need.

Assume the race will even up. This should be cause for celebration. It is a sign of the health of American politics when both sides can raise the funds, man the computers, and appeal to voters in an even match-up. Have the Democrats stolen President Reagan's lines about optimism and growth? Well, the Republicans have tried to counter with a Jack Kennedy generational appeal in their choice of Dan Quayle.

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Of course, the race could suddenly break open for one side or the other. But competition improves performance. And heightens interest.

The impression in New Orleans is that you were trying too hard to please the right. Your campaign, and a Bush administration you hope will result from it, needs a broad base of support and input.

Looking beyond the Quayle matter, the larger task is to offer a Republican vision of leadership for the 1990s.

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