Close to Power, Down to Earth
By Hugh Sidey
(TIME, August 16, 1982) -- His life is filled with pomp and ceremony, but George Bush still seeks pleasure and meaning in the little things. He remembers vividly a late snowstorm in Maine when newly arrived robins crowded one another for peanut-butter spred a shingle. He was just as fascinated last week when his cocker spaniel C. Fred treed a raccoon outside the Bush home on Observatory Hill in Washington.
Bush and his wife Barbara often stroll in the evenings around the stately old house that is now established as the Vice President's residence.. He has dropped in on a neighbor, Astronomer Varkey Killarakal, who helps man the Navy's 26-in. refracting telescope, and taken a long look at Saturn's rings.
The vice President recalls in chilling clarity the bare arm of Roy Benavidez, belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor last year for heroism in Viet Nam. In Texas last week the former sergeant told him the scar came from a Vietnamese bayonet thrust.
On his constant forays across the country, Bush is always gratified bythe diversity he sees and hears. Within a three-week span this spring, he celebrated with Greek Americans, attended a Ukrainian festival, and went on to meet with labor leaders and capitalists, Westerners and Easterners. He was in Pittsburgh not long ago, the same day the steel plants laid off more workers. He went with trepidation into a mill, only to be greeted by a big warm handshake from a smiling man in hard hat pasted with a U.S. flag decal, cracked and peeling but, like the man, still holding on.
Some of the most moving moments have come in the intimate talks that he has with President Reagan in the Oval Office. The two are by themselves. They feel history. They have talked of life and death, of philosophy and religion. Bush will say no more. It is too personal. He has become intrigued with Reagan's unfailing kindness and courtesy, which he believes lie at the heart of the President's continued popularity. Bush is reminded of his mother Dorothy, 81, the Bush clan's matriarch, who is also known for her generous nature. Reagan, insists Bush, understands better than most people in public life that a leader does not have to brutalize a person his views of history dignity to get a point across.
Bush has not changed his views of history because of his vantage point inside the White House. But some ideas have been enlarged. The Vice President has noticed a greater depth of feeling about Abraham Lincoln than he had sensed before. Seated beside a woman from India at a recent dinner in the White House, Bush was startled when she talked about the "the beauty" in the painting of Lincoln over the mantle and how Lincoln looked different in that picture at that moment than she had imagined all her life.
The love that Latin America still holds for John Kennedy is beyond Bush's original calculations. History may show that Kennedy did little for the region in his brief time in office. But his Alliance for Progress was a statement that the U.S. cared. Sometimes, believes Bush, that is all that we can do and all that is needed.
The images in Bush's mind that have piled up in more than 200,000 miles of jetting are dominated by children. More than ever he belives that they are why he is in government and that they are at the heart of what this nation craves: sound individual values, family solidity, strong neighborhoods, one nation under God. At the Air Force Academy graduation in May, he got a lump in his throat. The young people were going off with unrestrained joy to serve the nation. Their parents sent them with love and deep pride. This is no corny illusion in Bush's view. It is more of American than anything else.
George Bush has seen nothing in 18 months as Vice President to rival the beauty of the bluebonnets that cloak the Texas hills in June or the autumn colors in New England. These hot days ha yearns for the surge of the Maine surf, and now and then he takes a picture of his Maine home out of the top left drawer of his desk and looks at the rocky promontory and the blue ocean. His proximity to power has not taken the poetry out of his life. Perhaps that is why he has become something of a legend, a Vice President who likes his job.
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