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Is Bush ready for the White House?

By Bernard Shaw/CNN

August 18, 1999
Web posted at: 5:46 p.m. EDT (2146 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Critics say Texas Gov. George W. Bush may have had it too easy: easy in life, easy in business, easy -- so far -- in his bid to capture the White House.

When the carping about Bush came from Democrats, it was easily answered as sour grapes. But just before the recent Iowa GOP straw poll, several noted Republicans began to suggest that George W. Bush can act -- at times -- like an adolescent.

Bush
Gov. George W. Bush took top honors at last Saturday's Iowa Republican straw poll  

As he prepared to deliver one of the most important speeches of the summer, George W. Bush couldn't resist a joke, pretending to jump his cue to walk up on stage at the Ames, Iowa, straw poll. In his campaign tent that night, the man who would be president shook his hips in a celebratory dance.

Bush also likes to ham it up with the press corps and he jokes about his reliance on his staff for policy specifics.

"I'll have a plan -- won't we, Taylor, Coogan and Boskin," Bush said during his Iowa straw poll speech, referring to some advisers to his campaign on issues.

These are small moments to his supporters, an indication of Bush's charm and ease. But critics believe Bush's casualness may come across as a lack of gravitas, as evidence that he's not ready for prime time.

The image of Bush as an amiable frat-boy originated in rumors of Bush's colorful past. But it persists because of his seemingly casual attitude toward running for president.

"And if it doesn't work out, me and the old boy will spend a lot of time fishing together," Bush said during an appearance with his father, former President George Bush.

In the inaugural edition of "Talk" magazine, Bush was profane and came across as a show-off. Conservative columnist George Will took a dim view of the Bush described in the article in his column in The Washington Post.

"Bush is taking a political party along for the ride," Will wrote. "He and it will care if, on November 7, 2000, people think of (Al) Gore or (Bill) Bradley as an unexciting but serious professor and of him as an amiable fraternity boy, but a boy." Vice President Gore and Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey, are running for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination.

Some of Bush's rivals also have alluded to a lack of seriousness. Former Vice President Dan Quayle, who served under Bush's father, has said that he is proud of his accomplishments before the age of 40, a pointed reference to Bush's so-called wilder years.

Before he dropped out, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander worried Bush may be ill-prepared to go up against a politician as serious as Al Gore in a presidential debate. Does Bush think he's ready to assume the mantle of the presidency right now, or that he will be if elected?

Asked if he was ready to be president at a press conference, Bush smiled and said: "I'm ready when I swear in. "

Bush's looseness, his ability to connect with people, has been counted among his strengths to this point. But as questions persist about whether he's taking the presidency too lightly, that attitude is increasingly being counted as a flaw.


CAMPAIGN 2000

New Hampshire sets February 1 primary date (9-28-99)

Arizona governor endorses Bush over McCain (9-28-99)

Bradley unveils $65 billion plan for universal health care (9-28-99)

Gore receives endorsements of Shaquille O'Neal and Bill Cosby (9-28-99)

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Wednesday, August 18, 1999

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