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George Bush, the Energizer President

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WE must often resort to certain axioms in decisionmaking, in public as in personal life.

When pressed to respond immediately with a decision, for example, it can be useful to answer, "If it has to be now, it's no." Urgency in such cases should not intrude on the substance of the issue itself. Many decisions should have no time limit put on them. The answers need to evolve out of improved thinking. Arbitrariness, which substitutes personal will for analysis, or a fear of appearing indecisive only admits errors into the basic thought structure that will eventually have to be removed. Invoking the axiom "If it has to be now, it's no" usually avoids being pushed around by time.

A corollary, "If it isn't yes, it's no," applies when much thought has been given to a question but no resolution has been reached.

This was the case, for example, with New York Gov. Mario Cuomo's decision on whether to run for president this year. He had set certain criteria, including having reached a budget pact by the New Hampshire primary filing deadline. Was it a mistake to adopt a condition that could be vetoed by the simple obstinacy of the state legislature? Not if, to him, executive branch leadership of a legislature was a prerequisite for higher office. It could be argued that the state government budget-decision track he was on, and the presidency-decision track, did not exist on the same plane, and not even the powerful intellect of Mr. Cuomo could get them to coincide. If he could not make it to yes, he had to accept that, for the sake of others who had to get on with their elections and their lives, it had to be no. This is not the no of a finished thought process; it is the no of default.

Now, there is no evidence that George Bush ever went through any thought process at all to decide whether he would run for reelection this year.

It was apparently assumed that he would run. But should it have been assumed that he should run?

Ronald Reagan ran again in 1984. Irangate followed, a confused administration. President Reagan's achievements, it turns out, had been made during his first term. A fairer matchup for 1984 would have been between Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter's vice president, and Mr. Bush, Reagan's. Assuming Bush would have won, he would now be finishing his second term. This would mean 12 White House years as vice president and president - quite a run. The Republican contenders for next fall would include Secretary of S tate James Baker, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, Vice President Dan Quayle, and Patrick Buchanan - a strong field. Plus perhaps Gen. Colin Powell and Sen. Phil Gramm.


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