New George Bush biography: a few answers, a lot of questions; George Bush: A Biography, by Nicholas King. New York: Dodd Mead. $17.95
If one has qualms about voting for Ronald Reagan -- either that he is too conservative or is past his prime -- think about the man running with him and ready to take his place, George Bush.
This is the unmistakable thesis of Nicholas King's rushed-into-print biography of the Republica vice-presidential nominee. An objective or even balanced assessment of the Bush career it is not. Author King's good jounalistic credentials (he was an editorial writer for the New York Herald Tribune and a foreign correspondent for United Press International) must be measured against the fact that he is also an unabashed Bush supporter. He has been a Bush press aide since the candidate was US ambassador to the United Nations.
What Mr. King does fairly well is to trace Bush's career from his early New England schooling to the present. What he doesn't do, at least not to the extent that this reader might like, is to flesh out the candidate's character and inner thoughts. We learn that Bush was a rich man's son who grew up to become even richer; that he has shown a loyalty to conscience in the political arena; that he has held lots of jobs, including the top ones at the Central Intelligence Agency and on the US mission to Communist China, for brief periods; and that he is a very "likeable" fellow.
Mr. King's argument that Bush offers an ideological balance to the GOP ticket is also worth weighing. He substantiates it by tracing the candidate's brief career in the House of Representatives as a moderate conservative who supported the Civil Rights Act of 1968 despite the cost in his home district in Texas. Bush also backed open housing and voted to abolish the draft and to expand birth-control programs, and he supported the Peace Corps and the proposal to extend the vote to 18-year-olds. "All who watched him," says author King, "agreed that for him it was a clear case of duty of conscience balanced against personal political interest."
If it was indeed conscience that prodded Bush on these issues, it certainly was not the conscience of a "conservative." And Mr. King never really explains how this Bush is able fully to support the rock-ribbed conservatism of Ronald Reagan -- which he challenged during the GOP primaries. He simply reiterates that his candidate accepted the vice-presidential bid because Reagan asked him and, apparantly, because it was there. He also suggests the whole thing may have something to do with party loyalty. After all, it was loyalty that propelled Bush into the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee during the fury of watergate. Admittedly, Mr. King says, it was "the most disagreeable job of his career, a sacrifice on the altar of loyalty and team spirit."
The argument that Bush would be a good backup for an aging Reagan, who might not be able to fulfill his White House duties or to run for a second term, is a bit disconcerting. Up to now, there is little evidence that American voters choose presidents simply because of their running mates. George Bush, to his credit, has not suggested this even indirectly during the campaign.
Obviously, if the Nov. 4 ballot results give Bush the vice-presidency, we'll want to know a lot more about him. And even if the Republican ticket is not successful, it is likely that Poppy Bush (as he was known in his preppie days at Andover) may be around for another try at the White House; like Dickens's Barkis , Bush is evidently "willing." But the King book offers only a tiny bit of the information most readers might want.