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George Bush And His Son, Neil

THE Democrats have been looking everywhere for an issue with which they could whack the highly popular president. They think they have found it in the role of Mr. Bush's youngest son in the collapse of the Silverado Savings and Loan institution in Denver. The most serious charge against young Bush is that he, as a Silverado board member, improperly voted to approve loans to two of his business associates. Bush says his hands are clean. And the president, while carefully asserting that the legal process of examining his son should continue, has emotionally expressed his confidence in his son's ``honor and integrity.''

I've just come back from a couple of weeks in the Midwest where I've talked politics to a lot of people. Invariably, I was greeted with these opinions, from Democrats as well as Republicans:

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(1) They were incensed over this S&L scandal and (2) they still found George Bush (and, in particular, Barbara Bush) very much to their liking.

Didn't they blame the president for the S&L scandal?, I would ask. ``Well, yes,'' they would say. But they would add that while presidential inattention had been involved, there were also those Democrats in Congress who had benefited from S&L improprieties.

So the political reality seemed clear: These voters see bipartisan sin in an S&L scandal that is going to cost each taxpayer thousands of dollars. They wish Bush and Reagan before him had acted to prevent this disaster - and they blame them for not doing so. But they still cling to their love affair with the Bushes - even though their ardor is somewhat dimmed.

Bush's popularity dipped in the polls, and the Democrats are hailing this as a sign that the president, finally, is headed toward public displeasure. Anger over the S&Ls accounted for some of this downturn. Also black support ebbed a bit.

But the July 26 poll of the Washington Post showed the president with 65 per cent public approval. That's still quite high for a chief executive who has been this long in office and who has had to deal with so many controversial issues where (like his recent Supreme Court appointment) no matter how he decides he inevitably irritates a large number of Americans.

Bush hasn't been the education president or the environmental president many Americans thought he might be - or, at least, had thought he had promised he would be. Of late, they have been quite vocal about their unhappiness with the president. That may be reflected in the polls, too, although I suspect that most of these people never voted for Bush in the first place - in the 1988 election or, later, when the pollsters tapped their opinions.

Thus, the fact is this: President Bush still is riding high. It's no overstatement to say that after a year and a half in office his honeymoon continues. His critics have yet to nick him badly.

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What administration politicians refer to as ``the Neil Bush problem'' could, of course, become the president's political Achilles heel. Democrats gleefully and hopefully mention that ``little break-in at Watergate'' that, in time, became probably the worst scandal in the nation's history and one that knocked a president out of office.

The worst-case scenario for Neil Bush doesn't contain potential political disaster for this president. But if the son is proved to have been involved seriously in intentional wrong-doing, he could hurt his father a great deal. Voters do hold presidents politically liable for the indiscretions of their close relatives.

But on looking back on my conversations in the Midwest, I am left with this firm conclusion:

The Democrats have yet to find an issue that might dislodge this president at the end of his term. He's being credited with playing a skillful role in responding to the immense global changes. And the economy remains just good enough for a general contentment to still prevail.

Again and again you hear: ``Bush is such a nice guy'' and ``Barbara is great.'' The Bush honeymoon with the voters does, indeed, still continue.

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