George Bush arrived in North Conway Monday afternoon riding a tide of rising popularity, and his recent surge in the polls was underlined by the overflow crowd of close to 500 that greeted him at the Red Jacket Motor Inn. It was also apparent that those in attendance, including the venerable Sherman Adams, hadn't turned out just to eye another presidential hopeful. They were there to meet George Bush, to question and support him.
Though a little late for his four o'clock appointment, Bush was greeted by a healthy round of applause, and quickly launched the afternoon's gathering with a few one liners, like "Isn't it surprising what a lack of snow can do for a political turnout?" After that he got right down to politics, however, calling for "a return to the fundamental values that many Americans have taken for granted," and generally outlining his views on domestic and foreign policy.
Bush's primary target was President Carter. "Carter promised to do something about inflation if elected, and he did," the former CIA chief quipped. "The rate of inflation has tripled during his term." Bush then outlined his own remedy, based on holding the growth of federal spending. "The President has to use the veto if necessary to cut out programs we can't afford," he asserted. Coping with problems at a local level rather than looking to the government for legislative answers was also offered as a solution to burgeoning bureaucracy.
Bush has asserted from the beginning of his campaign that economic issues will be instrumental in shaping the coming election, and one of his chief gripes is the cost of regulation in the U.S. "We don't want to kill growth through excessive regulation," he remarked. "Federal regulation alone costs this country 202 billion dollars a year." Bush also advocated stimulating the economy through tax cuts, especially for businesses.
Bush asserts too, that the popular concept of rising oil cost as the sole cause of inflation is false. "Energy contributes 3.3% to our inflation," he said. "Japan imports all of its oil, and only has an inflation rate of 5.5% compared to ours." Bush does favor the development of nuclear power and the increased use of domestic coal to help the U.S. wean itself from dependency on imported oil, as well as the development of synthetic fuels, solar energy and other alternatives "so that we won't be dependent on nuclear power forever, either."
"Jimmy Carter is an honorable man with good intentions, but you can't view the world in terms of what you wish it would be," was Bush's introduction to foreign policy. He termed the nation's current policy "naive" stating, "We need a more realistic view of the world, and a stronger intelligence community. With communism, we're dealing with a closed society." But the U.S. can't pass judgement on other societies in terms of human rights, according to Bush. "We are not going to remake the world in our own image," he said. "There is imperfection. We are not choosing between good and evil as Jimmy Carter thinks. We have to come to terms with the world as it is."
Fundamental to a strong foreign policy, Bush says, is our credibility in the world community. "You don't build a sense of credibility by pulling the rug out from underneath your allies, or by breaking your word of honor," he said. "If your promise is not your bond, you don't build anything. People in the world community today aren't sure if we're going to keep our word or not," he continued. "They see President Carter say, 'I'm going to pull our troops out of Korea,' and anyone who is familiar with the Pacific, including the Japanese and our other Asian allies, realize that to do that risks a destabilization of the Korean Peninsula. With this sort of action we send out the wrong signals - breaking solemn vows and commitments. Make commitments you mean and keep them."
By being consistent and rebuilding the country's strength, Bush feels it is possible to turn America's foreign policy around. "One of America's greatest allies, former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, has observed that the current presidency is the weakest in his lifetime," Bush noted. "This is a serious indictment for the U.S. And when you consider nuclear capabilities in the world, the prospects are devastating, But we have got to get to the 1990s by understanding Soviet intentions. It is no longer parity - it is superiority. We don't have to threaten, beg or bully, we have to be strong."
Turning back to the domestic scene, Bush encouraged the gathering to view him as the native New England candidate, the one familiar with the region's problems. Though a resident of Texas for 30 years, Bush was born in Massachusetts and had a strictly Ivy League upbringing, via Phillips Academy and Yale. After a stint as a Navy pilot during World War II, he finished school and moved to Texas, pioneering in the oil business. The enterprise thrived, and Bush described himself as the "only self-made businessman running for president." His first taste in politics was as a freshman congressman from Texas in 1966, after which he served as the Ambassador to the U.N., Republican Party Chairman, head of the U.S. Liaison Office in Peking, and as head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Bush's experience in foreign affairs has proved invaluable in building a base of support which he hopes will carry him into the White House.
At the conclusion of this 30-minute oration on Monday, Bush fielded questions ranging from his feelings about racism to his opinion on the draft. As to the latter issue, Bush made it quite clear that he favors registration, but that he regrets its reemergence in terms of the Persian Gulf situation. "It's warmongering," he stated. "But the U.S. has fallen behind in its ability to muster a fighting force. The call up time is too great, and that comes from a man who was an original sponsor of the volunteer army. The numbers are discouraging, though. We need registration." Bush also is in favor of drafting women, since as a supporter of the ERA, he believes in the concept of equal service.
In the weeks until the New Hampshire primary on February 26th, Bush will continue to barnstorm the Granite State, and to bolster the grassroots organization that has been instrumental in his rise from obscurity.
Bush's success is no fluke. His strategy to win the GOP nomination is a carbon copy of Jimmy Carter's in 1976. Bush started early, deciding several years ago that his aim was the White House, and in 1978 he traveled 96,000 miles in 42 states to lay the groundwork for his campaign. The goal was local contact, meeting county chairmen, achieving name recognition, and it has paid off.
The results of a Gallop Poll conducted last week prove that George Bush's early win in Iowa has been converted into a rise in popularity nationally. In the three weeks since, he has enjoyed a dramatic reversal in a 45-46% preferential edge for Reagan among registered Republicans around the country. By last week, he trailed by only 6 percentage points, 33-27, and is gaining. In addition, those same Republicans judged him better able to beat a democrat in November, 38-36%. With New Hampshire just s little more than two weeks away, Bush seems to be moving into the passing lane.