Washington — A number of vice-presidents have left memorable quotes expressing how little they thought of what they were doing. Now comes George Bush who, incidentally, thinks he has a ''great job,'' with these comments about how he views his assignment.
''It's a funny job,'' he said reflectively when interviewed a few days ago in his office in the White House. ''You gotta know what it is. And you gotta know what it's not. You gotta know what you can do; and you gotta know what you ought not try to do. And you gotta get those dimensions at least clear in your own mind and in a way that is compatible with whoever the president happens to be.''
One of these self-imposed disciplines, he soon made clear, was to make certain that he talked to reporters only on an on-the-record basis. ''I started this early on,'' he said, ''and it just seems to have worked. Some think it brings about less than frank and full discussions and all that. We forsake that. And we give up some intimate relations with the press.''
''But,'' he continued, ''that's the negative side. The positive side is that you keep your skirts clean. No one can suspect, if you assiduously stay by the policy, that you feel one way but are saying something else. Or that you are trying to get up on the side of Jones against Smith. Or that you are trying to get one-up on some other power player. And so we have been able to stay out of a lot of that stuff that intrigues a lot of reporters.''
Here the vice-president conceded that, like most politicians, he was interested in ''political gossip.''
''However,'' he added, ''I'm interested, but not in terms of having it impact on my job.''
''Frankly,'' he said, referring to how some other administration officials had conducted themselves, ''I think we've done a very bad job in terms of leaks (of information). But leaks about battling (I don't know that it's worse than it was under other administrations) is unseemly -- battling, that is, among individuals, all of whom are supposed to be working for the same man.''
Q: Even with your low-keyed approach, you still have your critics -- those, for example, who say there is some kind of a Bush-led conspiracy to sway the President away from his conservatism. How do you explain that?
A: It's historic. Did you see the news letter that just came in? It's from one of those rightwing organizations, taking a poll on who do you want for the next president. It's interesting. I'm totally excluded. Six other names, and I'm not even on there.
But this is the kind of thing which should not concern me. And if you start saying, ''Hey, wait a minute, we ought to be on it,'' then you start getting sucked into your own political thing which really has no place in doing this job. You surrender that when you agree to be vice-president.
Q: There is talk among some of my colleagues that your job will turn out to be as it has with most vice-presidents, pretty much a nothing job. Are there days when you feel that the job isn't worth much?
A: I've never been able to understand that assessment of the job. Why is it then everyone seems to want to have the job? I mean, a lot do.
Q: Because they are interested in becoming president?
A: (Laughter) Well, perhaps there's a lot there. (Pause)
So my view is to define the perameters and don't try to make it any more than it is. And do everything you can.
I have more access to information in this job than anyone in the United States except for one, the President. And that of itself is a luxury. That of itself makes you better able to do what the Constitution provides - take over if you have to.
And I have access to the President - which I don't talk about publicly a lot. But which is there. And that's one of the reasons I stay out of all of this inside (information) stuff.
But I just don't understand the cynics who say it's a nothing job. It was in the old days, when you sat up there in the Senate and couldn't vote and had no connection with the executive branch whatsoever.
Indeed, the job has evolved just in the last 10 years. But the real key to it is the relationship between the vice-president and the president.
Q: Do you like your job?
A: I love it. And I find it very challenging. And there is plenty to undertake. But you have to understand some things. One is that you are not president.
I wouldn't like this job if I were in splendid isolation, pathetically trailing after the President, asking for a little ray of sunshine to come into my window. That would be bad. And there have been presidents who treated their vice-presidents that way - with a high humiliation factor.
But that's not President Reagan. That's not the way he operates. He's unfailingly thoughtful and courteous to the Bushes. And you note that I use the Bushes in the plural.
Q: Do you ever discuss 1984 and whether he will run or whether you will be on the ticket with him again?
A: Never. Never privately or in any group I have been in.
Q: If the President is willing, you would be willing?
A: To (do) what? (Laughter)
Q: Thank you, Mr. Vice-President.