Putting His Best Face Forward

POLITICS

WHEN GEORGE Bush goes to bed at night, does he close his eyes and think, "Thank God I lost in the primaries and let a man as great as Ronald Reagan become President"? Or, smiling impishly into his blanket, does he say to himself, "Good, George. You've played your cards right. Lay low for a few more years and you've got the nomination all locked up."

With all the hoopla and commentary in the press about Reagan's alleged "personal mandate," it's easy to forget that the landslide GOP victory also reaffirmed George Bush. But the George Bush of 1984--the fervent Reaganitc who's fond of Texas boots and football expressions--is hardly the preppy Andover moderate of 1980.

Presidential candidate Bush opposed an amendment to outlaw abortion, favored the ERA, and tagged the Reagan tax and spending plans "voodoo economics." But in his debate last month with Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-N.Y.), Vice President Bush, now repentant, supported a pro-life amendment, citing "an evolution in my position." Moreover, a flag-waving, Mom-loving Bush cheered, "This President's turned [the country] around, and I've been at his side every step of the way."

RONALD REAGAN picked Bush in 1980 to balance his grass-roots Western conservatism with some Eastern Establishment moderatism. Selecting a vice president a vice president to balance the ticket is hardly new: the party nominee almost always chooses the potential second-in-command more for ideological or geographical appeal than for talent or expertise. This year's prematurely gleeful Democrats all too readily dissected their female candidate into the politically relevant pieces: woman, mother of three, Roman Catholic, Italian, liberal Democrat, and New Yorker.

But George Bush differs in one critical aspect--the vice president now enthusiastically preaches the conservative agenda he so bitterly attacked four years earlier. Walter F. Mondale worked as vice president in the Carter Administration to promote a particular vision and ideology, and four years later ran a Presidential campaign championing essentially the same themes.

Perhaps Bush is merely fulfilling his duty to support his boss and secretly harbors sharp personal and ideological disagreements with the President. With a few notable exceptions, vice presidents have mouthed their bosses' rhetoric; rising politicians viewed the office as a political victory into obscurity.

But modern Vice Presidents do more than serve as professional mourners. They chair important interagency committees, participate in overseas diplomatic missions, act as senior White House advisors--and nine of them have moved into the Oval Office. The blind loyalty traditionally demanded of the Vice President is appropriate when he is little more than an errand boy. Today, though such unquestioned loyalty is unfitting and dangerous as the vice presidency increasingly becomes more of an assistant presidency.

During Reagan's second term, Bush might carve out his own niche to establish himself as a presidential contender. It will be interesting to see if Bush continues to toe the conservative line as a Reagan clone, or if he fore sakes his apparent conversion for a more moderate agenda.

Bush might win. And he might even become a great president, which would present a quandary to the sculptors of Mt. Rush more--there just isn't enough room left for his many faces.