WITH the Gary Hart incident still a vivid backdrop to this burgeoning campaign, I asked Vice-President George Bush to provide his views on what is generally referred to as ``family values.'' ``I have a wife of 42 years,'' he said. ``All my children are happily married. I happen to think that's a strength. I think people like that. But how can you talk about that without flaunting that and sounding intolerant of those who haven't been so fortunate in their family life?'' He paused, then continued:
``But if I were president, I think people would say, `Hey, we have a pretty normal, nice family here. One that's loyal to one another. One that shows that a family that prays together stays together' - all those kinds of traditional-value things.
``My concern, though, is that I don't talk like I am better than the next guy. But we in our family know where our strength comes from - family and faith. And we would like it to shine through - without all of us beating our breasts about it.''
The very tall vice-president was slouching in his White House office chair. He yawned, said he was tired. He talked about being here, there, and everywhere.
``I'm one day here,'' he said, ``and I leave tomorrow for, for...'' Here, unable to fill in the name of the place where he would be going next, he plunged ahead, saying he would be there on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. ``And then back for one day,'' he went on. ``And then all next week away somewhere. Yep, it's wearing me down.''
The interviewer was curious why Mr. Bush was willing to go through this wearying campaign for a prize that might not be all that golden. Hadn't the vice-president noticed the battered presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter, and how it wasn't all sweetness and light for President Reagan? Why go for it?
``Just because I think I would be good at it,'' he said. ``I think I've had a breadth of public service that very few people have had. And I look at it and I'm confident that even though I'd probably make mistakes, I could do the job better than anyone else. The presidency is so essential, so important, to the freedoms that we value.'' He paused again and then went on:
``There is another life out there that looks pretty attractive at times. But I don't view this [running for president] as any sacrifice. I view it as a privilege and, perhaps, an honor to be this close to being the next president. I don't even think of this in terms of alternatives. I know this is what I should be doing.
``And as to the personal risks involved in being president: I never think about that.''
On his positions and objectives Bush had this to say:
``Our prime target now is to get this cut in intermediate nuclear arms. We must be sure it is verified. Then we should sign it and then move briskly to seeking an agreement on cutting back on conventional forces. I'm pretty much alone among the Republican candidates in fully supporting this pact. I'm getting a lot of flak, much of it from Republicans who were for the reduction concept when Reagan proposed it several years ago.''
``I also feel strongly about the elimination of chemical weapons. Again, you have some very big verification problems. But banning chemical weapons would be a great moral achievement. I would love to be the president who accomplished that.''
Bush noted a poll which indicated that the voters wanted an experienced Washington ``insider'' as a president in 1988 - ``someone like myself.'' But if elected, he said, he would go ``outside the Beltway'' for appointees in key positions in his administration. ``There would be big changes,'' he said.
He said that his domestic goal would be ``the furtherance of education.'' ``I'm setting a goal,'' he said. ``Let's have by the mid-'90s this nation be a literate nation. To eliminate illiteracy isn't a matter of lavishing federal money; it's a matter of bully-pulpit leadership.''
Bush said he would not ``rule out'' the possibility of having a woman as a running mate. Further, he emphasized that he would not seek geographical balance. ``Instead,'' he said, ``my concern is that I have someone as vice-president who would be competent to take over, if necessary.''
He conceded that while the so-called ``gender gap'' did not turn out to be too large in 1988, the Republicans would be helped by making a special appeal to women - and that a woman in the No. 2 spot would help the ticket. He noted that there were ``several'' outstanding women who might be tapped for this opportunity.
On the question of his style as a president, Bush said he would be a ``hands on'' chief executive who would also be delegating ``when necessary.'' ``I would be somewhere between Reagan and Carter in my management style,'' he said. He said that he had gained a considerable amount of management experience in the oil business before he entered politics. ``And running the Central Intelligence Agency was a management job,'' he added.
As the interview neared its end, the conversation turned to the recent Republican debate in which the consensus of the political critics was that the vice-president had done himself proud. He had looked to be at ease. ``I'm learning how to be myself on television,'' Bush said. ``People are saying that I'm less tense. I don't know what I'm doing differently. Actually, I've never been tense about going on TV. But I guess I'm doing something right.''
Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.