Bush Campaign Program Lacks A Growth Agenda

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

SIGN of the times: President Bush now starts his official day at 8 a.m. with a "domestic update" in the Oval Office. His traditional national-security and intelligence briefings, which center on foreign affairs, must wait.

The domestic scene has not yet provided much good news for the president.

Without the economy in Mr. Bush's favor, Republicans agree that for him to be reelected, he must offer a compelling domestic agenda to convince voters his second term would be different than his first.

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Bush has been moving increasingly into a campaign mode in the weeks since the Democratic convention. Through the next couple weeks, he will be traveling around the country two or three days a week on campaign trips.

From today through Sunday, for example, he will be in Texas, southern California, and Illinois. He visited Michigan and Wisconsin earlier in the week.

But the Bush campaign program has not yet emerged.

A common view among Republicans is that the Bush-Quayle team can wait until the Republican convention to make a major case for how it can set the economy on course - but no longer.

The convention, says William Schneider, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, "is when most people will be watching and asking, `What is he going to do?' "

It now appears that Secretary of State James Baker III may be moving over to the White House staff close to the time the convention begins. His deputy, Lawrence Eagleburger, denied last weekend that the shift would take place in the coming week or two. And the Associated Press reported Tuesday that Mr. Baker would make the jump after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visits Kenne-bunkport Aug. 10 and 11. The GOP convention begins Aug. 17.

One Bush campaign message emerged with some sharper outlines this week as the flow of daily events turned to the campaign advantage of the president. The news turned to foreign policy, and the Bush message was trust. On Tuesday, the normally wide-ranging White House briefing for reporters was entirely about tensions with Iraq.

The old Gulf-war unity even reappeared in Washington as congressional leaders indicated support for the president in enforcing the UN resolutions in Iraq. A Bush strength

When public attention turns to foreign affairs, it plays to Bush's greatest strength. He used the opportunity this week to emphasize his experience, maturity, and stature as an international statesman and commander in chief.

When the White House telephone rings with news of trouble abroad, Bush told an audience Monday, "The American people need to know that the man who answers that phone has the experience, the seasoning, the guts to do the right thing."

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called Bill Clinton's position on Yugoslavia "reckless" and said Clinton and his running mate are "a long way from being qualified to lead the country."

A major point that Republicans hope to make in this campaign is that Mr. Clinton is weak on credibility and consistency. The latest Bush speeches are chockablock with the word "trust."

But Republicans and independent observers alike are widely convinced that to win reelection, Bush has to do much more than that.

He has to produce a persuasive economic growth agenda, show that he is committed to it, and explain how it can pass into law even under what will almost certainly be a Democratic Congress.

Because of the poor performance of the economy during his tenure, the campaign must look forward with an agenda and not back at the record. "He has to convince voters that his second term would be significantly different than the first," says Jeffrey Bell, a conservative political strategist and author. Don't blame Congress

Bush needs to do more than release again the growth package that he unveiled in his State-of-the-Union address and that stalled out against resistance in Congress, says Mr. Bell. And he needs to do more than blame Congress for not passing his agenda.

"I just don't think people believe that the only reason these things didn't pass was Congress," he says, since Bush himself has not applied much visible energy to promoting his growth package.

The mood of the electorate is so hungry for action, says Tom Griscom, former White House communications director under Ronald Reagan and now a vice president at RJ Reynolds, that they might be ready to accept politically bolder measures - such as cuts in entitlement programs - than even five years ago.

The trouble with Bush's already proposed growth plan, says Schneider, is that "people don't think it adds up to anything." In particular, he adds, it needs to translate directly into jobs.

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