Examining the political shifts of Bush


If politics is the art of compromise, President George Bush comes off as a consummate politician in the final hour of CNN's election-year "Democracy in America" series.

"The Public Mind of George Bush" airs at 10 p.m. tomorrow with correspondent Ken Bode summing up the portrait by not-so-subtly suggesting voters must weigh "the ever flexible public mind of George Bush."

Just as last week's examination of Democratic challenger Gov. Bill Clinton showed an evolving political pragmatism, the Bush portrait reveals a much longer public career of changing stances "to swing with the political winds."

"When George Bush says he will do anything to be elected, I think he will," says Roger Wilkins, a professor of history at George Mason University who sharply criticizes the president's record on civil rights.

And David Keene, political director for Mr. Bush during the 1980 campaign for vice president, notes some people run for office to do things and others run "because they want to be something," suggesting the office itself has been the Bush goal.

The program focuses on four areas: Mr. Bush's oil business background and its relationship to Iraq; his history on civil rights; his shaping of America's policies toward Communist China; and his sharp switch from a pro-abortion to pro-life position. All these add up at close to an examination of his leadership.

The first segment on oil seems to make the case that U.S. policy, particularly during the Bush vice presidency and into his first term as chief executive, was aimed at supporting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the name of our national interest in oil supplies and fair pricing.

"In August 1990, when Saddam invaded Kuwait, all the bills came due for George Bush," says Mr. Bode. But the report doesn't detail much of the so-called "Iran-gate" controversy.

On race, however, the program paints a picture of a politician who has struggled with "politics vs. the right thing" -- from his 1964 congressional campaign in Texas to his years as President Reagan's loyal lieutenant. On the question of race, the program suggests Mr. Bush most often has come down on the side of winning white conservative votes.

We see clips of Mr. Bush bringing up the Willie Horton case himself in 1988 campaign appearances, and see him campaigning decades earlier for Barry Goldwater.

Last year's appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court comes across as a bald racial appeal, and the program suggests the president signed civil rights legislation in 1991 only after former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke ran for office in Louisiana "using themes that sounded very much like George Bush's own words."

Regarding China, where Mr. Bush served as President Ford's liaison in 1974, the program relies heavily on the views of Winston Lord, a former aide to Henry Kissinger and China ambassador from 1985 to 1989.

Mr. Lord contends the president has clearly allied himself with the hard-line forces of Deng Xiaoping, and U.S. policy during the student uprising early in his term gave no support to the democracy movement.

And on abortion, we see a 1970 clip of Bush running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and saying "women should have the freedom to chose or not choose abortion." The show suggests conversion to Mr. Reagan's anti-abortion stance was one cost of his inclusion on Mr. Reagan's 1980 presidential ticket.

However, we also see the president acknowledging, "there has been, I have to make a confession, an evolution in my position."

As with the Clinton portrait, the Bush segment does not include any direct response from the president. Instead, foes and friends make comment in conclusion.

Both Mr. Kissinger and Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa contend if Mr. Bush wins, he will be free of political considerations. Yet others, such as Mr. Keene, assert "the George Bush of the second term will be the George Bush of the first term."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad