Bush on what it's like to be Reagan's vice-president
How is the President to work with? I'll tell you something, this man is a good fellow to work with -- and I think the country is seeing this pretty clearly but maybe not from the same vantage point I have.
For example, we've just come from a Cabinet meeting where they were discussing one of the Cabinet departments. And he is not opposed to listening to different ideas. Sometimes the Cabinet meetings [of the past] used to be show-and-tell. You know, "OK, Mr. Secretary, stand up and show your charts and do your number, and then file out."
When you say, "used to be," you mean during the previous Democratic administration?
No, others. I was in two Cabinets [Nixon and Ford]. Cabinets then were not decisionmaking or free-flowing give-and-take. Different presidents use the Cabinet for different kinds of government.
But the way President Reagan likes it is to get conflicting ideas or to encourage people to speak up even though he might not agree with them.
And the President operates the same way with his own staff, as well as with the Cabinet. And it's true as he works with the vice-president. Not that you have that many differences. Yet there is no inhibition that keeps us from speaking up.
So he really is a pleasure to work with.
But we don't seem to be hearing much from you yet.
I have taken a very low-profile approach. Because I think that the way you become an effective vice-president --dence of the President. And if you are always out there in the newspapers or in some news conference and talking about your close relationship with the President -- well, it just won't work.
It might work for a while. But the President's staff will look at you differently. I have a good relationship with the President's staff and my staff does, too.
Is the chemistry between you and the President good?
Well, i can report on half of it -- and I think so.
You had a little distance to go, too, didn't you?
Yes, we didn't know each other.
and there were a few things said in the campaign. . . .
Very few -- compared to most campaigns.
But it was more that there had been no personal contact between the two of us. I have known President Reagan for 16 years but never really knew him.
You took a dim view of his economic approach in those days. You had certain words you used in criticism. When did you become a believer in his economic program?
Well, I think that all of us have changed our views. And I was talking -- you will remmber back in 1978 -- and I said I did not believe that you cut taxes and didn't do anything about spending. And many Republicans agreed with me. But the program we now have I can enthusiastically endorse because it stimulates business, it cuts taxes, and it controls the growth of spending.
When you called the Reagan program "voodoo economics," what did you have in mind?
That's not worth discussing anymore. That just exacerbates. . . . The record of what I said is out there. Jimmy Carter tried to use that and with a lack of success. So there is no point in reliving that history. . . .
If I start pointing out even in a substantive way present differences (which there are none at this point) -- well that's not my concept of how you do something in my job --
But don't you have to say, though, that this economic program in which you are in a sense a partner with the President is at least in part, until it is tried, an experiment?
Perhaps that's true. When you have an economy that is in an unprecedented state, you have to say that any medicine is an experiment to some degree. But there is a record of tax cuts accompanied by spending restraints that was set in the 1960s -- and it worked. So it is not totally an experiment. But I will readily concede that there were some different economic ingredients then --rates of inflation, rates of unemployment, and a different economy.
Still, whenever you chart an economic course in troubled economic seas like these, there is a certain amount of inexactitude in the science of prediction.
But, having said that, I think that the need for acceptance of this program which is threefold -- spending constraints, tax relief, and regulatory relief -- is unarguable.
Now you can argue with where the tax cuts should go. Some congressmen will be arguing about it. But the reason I think the President has this popularity is because the people still perceive he is trying to do something about the economy -- and trying to take some drastic action.
As a former congressman, you would know it isn't too likely that you will get all of it. You will have to compromise on some of the taxes and spending cuts, won't you? Isn't that inevitable in the process?
Well, you might say there is a lot of history to back up that contention. Perhaps these times will be different. But who knows? You already hear special interests going after a lot of it. And so maybe that will prove to be correct.
But that's not the way we are approaching it. This Cabinet and spokesmen and people trying to get the thing done are staying together on it. So I hope this will be the exception.
I'm sure you are seeing a great deal of the President these days. How much of this is structured -- and how much impromptu?
I see him every day . . . in a national security briefing every morning. That kicks off the day. Then there have been endless meetings -- with the Cabinet and economic groups and calling visitors and, of course, the weekly private luncheon I have with the President.
That weekly lunch -- how long?
It's scheduled for an hour every time, but it will change if he has to leave town. There's give on it.
Do you discuss with him the whole range of subjects --both foreign and domestic?
Yes. A broad range. And no briefing papers. We just don't have papers for that lunch.
How is he with you? Very serious or. . .
Very, very relaxed.
Time for small talk?
Oh, sure. He came out to the house the other night, just the two of them. . . . And he was very comfortable to be around.
You don't feel nervous. There's an inescapable warmth there. The fellow is a very, very warm human being.
For example, I'm working on this Atlanta problem. I discuss that with him a lot. And he feels very deeply a concern about it. Now I'm not sure that that has always come through in the past about him. He really feels just heartbroken about this thing. This isn't something I might have known if we hadn't had this private talk.
Should you want to walk into his office, you can do that?
any time?You don't need to have an appointment?
Well, I wouldn't do that. . . . Maybe it's my reverence for the presidency and my respect for the President; so I wouldn't want to overdo that. You must find a balance. . . .
There is this growing perception of the President as being genial -- but do you see sparks fly from him at times?
Yes. There are.
I can't go into details. At a meeting someone will challenge something, and he will very firmly remind them of something. He has a very firm way that comes through clearly at times.
I don't think he quite "gets mad." Firmness is the way I see it.
are there any signs of fatigue on the President's part?
No. That's the amazing thing. I don't know how I look now. But I feel wiped out. I really do. Yet I stay in shape --run all the time. He just doesn't show fatigue. He takes care of himself.
I don't say he doesn't get tired. He's bound to. But he doesn't show it.He goes right on through the day. How do I know? Because I've been in where I can observe.
How would you describe your role? What are your areas of responsibility?
Well, working with Congress, working on some foreign-affairs matters, and, of course, on his regulatory task force -- these are general descriptions of what I will do. And, to some degree, I will be an outside person, making speeches, and so on. There will be some of that.
But your emphasis now is on keeping a low profile?
Yes. I really feel that stories are going to be written on whatever happened to George Bush. Where is he? Stories along that line.
That will not bother me. The way I see this relationship, that story almost has to be written.
But if I'm out there with a high profile, holding press conferences, putting my spin on whatever it is, I won't have this kind of a relationship with the President.
But didn't Walter Mondale have a similar relationship with President Carter?
Mondale had the best relationship with the President of any vice-president in history. I've done some reading on this. And Mondale disproved Arthur Schlesinger's thesis that the vice-presidency is useless and should be abolished.
Schlesinger wrote an erudite piece on this recently, and he is just wrong. Mondale set a pattern -- a mold --that I think is very good. It helped us start off -- President Reagan and me -- on what I hope will be for him a constructive way to do. Clearly it is constructive for me.
Mondale persevered. The geeneral feeling is that he was a useful vice-president.
You feel you have the same opportunity Mondale had?
If I don't blow it. Because the President is giving me every opportunity.
You will be doing some traveling abroad. Do you know yet where you will be going? Is Latin America a possibility?
Well, you could say there is a possibility of anywhere in the world, I guess, when you see what my predecessors have done in terms of travel.I'm very interested in Latin America.
Do you think the President will go to China before the four years are up?
I can't speculate on that.
Are you going to work on the Hill -- with your old friends there -- to get the Reagan programs through?
Yes. But I'm not going to be lobbyist. I'll be talking to members of Congress from time to time and on a selective basis.
Can you provide any insights into what the administration is going to do now in El Salvador?
No. But I was unimpressed by Mr. Long's hearing. I thought that was predictably show business. What they were trying to do was to resurrect the Vietnam syndrome and resurrect a whole lost decade, and I don't think the country's mood is that today.
The American people are concerned about Castro's quest for hegemony in this hemispere, and I frankly think they are glad they see a crowd in here that wants to do something about it, in conjunction with our friends in this hemisphere.
And I believe Reagan will have more friends [among nations] when he leaves office than he has today -- and I mean fast friends. Our policy will be designed to do that -- and not to be naive in the face of Castro's quest for hegemony.
There are some critics who feel the President just might pull us into war.
Those critics were heard loud and clear in the fall and they did not prevail. There may be a residue of people who sincerely feel that way. But when you talk to foreign leaders --as I have been doing -- any notion of that abroad, in my view, has been rather handsomely dispelled.
How do these leaders view the President? What do they tell you?
Well, I think they, particularly our allies, see in Reagan the kind of president they can identify with and whose intentions they can understand. Now that is not true of every country. But I believe it is generally true.
And that's what is going to happen. We are going to have a more predictable foreign policy and a policy with a direction.
How about reports that foreign leaders are concerned about the President's foreign policy?
If this is true, I haven't detected it from reading cables or seeing quite a few people.
The Vice president was interviewed on Feb. 26.m