THE TEAM PLAYER GEORGE BUSH
Washington — The logs crackling away in the vice-president's fireplace give off a warm orange glow, but there is a wintery smile on George Bush's face as he listens to those words. After 452,022 miles in flight to 48 states and 52 foreign countries , as well as $35.5 million worth of fund raising for the Republican Party, Vice-President Bush is not amused by Mr. Dooley's job description.
''Well, I think there is a rather satirical and sometimes cynical view of it, '' he says, noting that the vice-presidency has changed dramatically since Jimmy Carter gave unprecedented responsibilities and access to Walter Mondale. ''And then I think President Reagan has built on that. . . . I have, thanks to the President, total access to information and to the President himself.
''You go back and read the testimony of vice-presidents in the past, the isolation they felt, the frustration that Lyndon Johnson felt, the fact that Richard Nixon, when Eisenhower had his heart attack, was not really in the loop on the information.'' Bush says he is.
''I guess the criterion should be: Is Dooley correct, or do people want the job? And I know what people say, but I also know what they think. And I know there's an awful lot of people that would like to have this job. I hope they don't get it. Because I like it.''
He is slouched comfortably in a deep armchair in front of the fire. His tall, lanky frame is draped in a conservatively cut, navy-blue suit, white shirt with French cuffs, and delft-blue figured tie. If he is wearing one of his fabled 200 preppy watchbands, it doesn't show. What does show is a certain world-weariness mixed
with wry humor and idealism. George Bush, with his Jimmy Stewart brand of craggy handsomeness and candor, might be ''Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,'' staying on to become vice-president years later. When an aide gestures for him to straighten out his cowlick for the photographer, he kids, ''Aw, I think your hair looks all right,'' and refuses to fuss with his own slate-gray hair. His skin is freckled and faintly ruddy, as though he's just run the usual three miles a morning that keeps the Secret Service puffing. His eyes
are Yale blue (BA in economics) behind rimless aviator's glasses.
He turns a guileless gaze on the interviewer when asked if he is absolutely positively sure that President Reagan is going to announce his candidacy Sunday. ''I would probably be the most surprised person out there if he didn't,'' says Bush, who has said for a year now that President Reagan is running. Has George Bush considered the remote possibility that the mantle might instead be passed to him? ''Well, I don't think he'd do that. If the President decided not to run, he'd do just what other presidents do, just go on about his business.''
But does he feel ready to be president, after all the experience he's had? - second to the President; head of the CIA; ambassador to the United Nations; unofficial ambassador to Peking before diplomatic recognition of China; two-term congressman from Texas; chairman of the Republican National Committee.
After a reluctant pause he says dryly: ''I don't expect I've gone downhill in my own ego content in the last four years.'' When running for president in 1980, ''I obviously . . . felt ready then, so I don't quite see why I should change my view on it. So I guess my answer is yes. But I want to instantly say - with a semi-colon, nothing more separative - that I don't see that as a possibility. . . . I feel comfortable in what this assignment is. And it's not president, it's not making decisions. And I confess publicly there's a certain frustration to that. . . . Everybody likes to click off command decisions.''
If the vice-presidency is short on snappy salutes, it is also short on exposure, at least the way George Bush performs in office. If a Heisman Trophy were awarded for most loyal team player in politics, Bush would win it. During the interview he underlines his unswerving fealty to the President's positions and his loyalty to the administration stance even when it overrode his own earlier criticisms as presidential candidate. Bush, who as candidate accused Reagan of ''voodoo economics,'' has beaten the drum for Reagan's economic policies as vice-president.
As White House chief of staff James A. Baker III sees it, ''He has been an absolutely superb vice-president for this President. He has no agenda but the President's agenda. He has been very supportive, he has the President's confidence, and the President frequently solicits the vice-president's views on foreign policy and other matters. He's the perfect vice-president in the sense that he doesn't press a particular viewpoint or differ with him in a public meeting, contradict him in front of Cabinet officials. He gives his advice privately.''
Mr. Baker says Bush is as much a stand-in President under Reagan as Fritz Mondale was under President Carter. In his biography of Mondale, Finlay Lewis reports that then President Carter once said if he couldn't go to the Soviet Union for final negotiations for the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, Mondale was well enough briefed to stand in for him. Asked if he's that much of an alter ego to President Reagan, George Bush demurs: ''Well, you'd have to look at what I've been doing and let someone else reach a conclusion on that. I wouldn't try to represent myself as the President's alter ago.''
As we talk about access to the President, Bush reaches into his jacket, draws out a small schedule bound in maroon leather, and ticks off a list of five meetings that day with the President, including a private session with him and visiting Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang. Bush also has weekly private luncheons with the president and an office nearby, crucial for access: a large room decorated in cream, shrimp and green, filled with antiques, portraits of Thomas Jefferson and President Pierce, a shuttle model and flags of the United States, the UN, the vice-president and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
It's been quite a year for this peripatetic vice-president, who has told the Salvadorean government it must get rid of the death squads or lose American support; been stoned in Krefeld, West Germany, by NATO deployment protesters and booed by blacks for defending the administration's policies on civil rights; defended the Beach Boys against James Watt's wrath; jetted to Argentina to welcome in a democratic government; and has gone to Beirut in flack jacket and helmet after the Marine massacre.
Along the way he's picked up praise for his diplomatic and political performance, particularly on his February trip to eight European countries to rally support for President Reagan's arms control policies. ''Do you think we don't want peace? Do you think we care less than others about a nuclear war?'' he told London protesters during that trip, which did much to enhance the administration's position and deflect Soviet President Yuri Andropov's propaganda campaign on arms control. On the domestic side, he demonstrated the same quiet skill last year in successfully heading up the President's federal South Florida Task Force against drugs; in chairing the Task Group on Regulation of Financial Services; and the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief. He says the job he found most rewarding was chairing another presidential task force, ''trying to ease the trauma that Atlanta felt'' during a series of child murders that began in 1979.
''One of the best directors the CIA ever had,'' is the way a former Senate intelligence committee describes him.
But throughout his public career, George Bush has tried to keep a profile so low it is almost horizontal. If he receives high marks as a successful vice-president, he confides, ''some of it will be because I have not 'high profiled' or tried to be something I am not. Not only in terms of, oh, image (he uses the word scoffingly) and that kind of thing, but in terms of the job description.
He says he's taken former vice-president Nelson A. Rockefeller's advice not to get ''crosswise'' with the president's staff, and loyally defends the new attorney general-designate, Edwin Meese III, for his taped remarks on ''anecdotal'' hunger. He says he knows Mr. Meese to be a ''compassionate'' man whose remarks he believes were distorted. Bush declines to comment on the President's Hunger Task Force report, saying he hasn't read it. Does he think people are going hungry in America today? ''I think probably some are, and I think they are all over the world, regrettably. . . . And I would hope there would come a day when they wouldn't be.''
Even a political archrival, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the Democrat who whomped Bush in his run for the Senate in Texas, praises Bush's job performance. Senator Bentsen says loyalty to the president is the only test of a good vice-president: ''By that test, George Bush has done an excellent job. He's been absolutely loyal to his president.''
Whatever shots are taken at Bush now come from a ''friendly'' fire zone in his own party, the Conservative Digest. The voice of the Republican ultraright this month devotes its cover story, a 12-page diatribe, to the ''elitist Bush, to the premise that George Bush is not acceptable as heir apparent to Ronald Reagan.'' Bush responded to the vitriolic attack by saying that he ''did not feel the leadership of that magazine represented the kind of people who elected Ronald Reagan.'' Another credentialed conservative, Rep. Jack Kemp (R) of New York, notes that ''George Bush has not only been intensely loyal to the President, he's also been a hardworking spokesman for the administration's programs. He's been a positive benefit to President Reagan's success, in building popular support for his policies.''
The vice-president's wife, Barbara, in a rush of fierce loyalty, is somewhat more visceral about the Conservative Digest attack on her husband: ''No man has served his country or his president with more concern or wisdom than George Bush ,'' she says, stating that she refuses to read the Digest issue. Her hazel eyes blaze with indignation. ''I thought it was just outrageous.''
She is about to serve tea to several dozen women whose husbands are stationed at the National War College. They are visiting the Victorian, white-turreted, red-brick vice-president's mansion. A silver-haired woman, regal and lovely, she sits with the family's blonde cocker spaniel, C. Fred, (named for a friend) at her side. Mrs. Bush has edited ''his'' book, ''C. Fred: A Dog's Life,'' to be published by Doubleday this spring to benefit the literacy projects she backs. The candid Mrs. Bush looks around the sunny living room, decorated with cream, pink, and moss-green chintz and velvet, and says that she's decided that the presidency is ''the least enviable job in the United States of America, and I think it's very unenviable for the family.''
George Herbert Walker Bush told his bride at their wedding: ''Enjoy this dance, it may be your last,'' then waltzed her off to a new life in Texas. Born in Milton, Mass., educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, then at Yale University, he had grown up in a wealthy and powerful Eastern family as the son of Republican US Sen. Prescott Bush of Connecticut. The sole survivor of a torpedo bomber plane crash in World War II, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. Later he co-founded a pioneer Texas oil-rig firm, Zapata Offshore Company of Houston. Life there gave him his unique accent, a mix of patrician Yankee and Texas twang, and made him a multimillionaire with a weakness for country-and-western music. He also has a soft spot for speedboats, Chinese food, baseball, and bonefishing.
Those who know him invariably talk about his caring and compassion. Kenneth Bastian, deputy press secretary in Bush's campaign, remembers the day reporters staked out the Bush home, waiting for his announcement on dropping out of the race. It was a blistering 105-degrees in Houston, and he passed out lemonade, swim trunks, and towels and invited them to use the pool until news broke. David Bates, Bush's personal aide, remembers Bush's insistence on thanking the chefs in the kitchen after a campaign dinner.
Robert Mosbacher, Bush's longtime friend, partner, and campaign finance chairman, says Bush is tough at the core, a ''determined fighter when he thinks he's right.'' Does he still want to be president? ''I think so,'' Mr. Mosbacher says, ''but once he's made the decision to join and not fight, he's a total team player. You don't see his burning ambition, once he does. He's asked people who are enthusiastic about him in '88 not to go around making a lot of noise.''
Bush's critics have sometimes charged that he takes expedient political positions and has shallow convictions. But Mosbacher says that while Bush is a presidential team player, ''if there were basic philosophical differences about moral values, it would kill him'' to go against his principles.
Bush's younger brother, William (Bucky) Bush, president of Boatmen's National Bank in St. Louis, sees him as ''a man of very few obsessions . . . a very steady, even-keeled guy.''
Is there anything Bush regrets having said or done as veep - from telling Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in 1981, ''We love your adherence to Democratic principles and the democratic process,'' to casting the tie-breaking vote for nerve gas as chairman of the Senate?
Bush explains he was answering Mr. Marcos's toast to democratic principles after having just lifted martial law and promised new elections. ''Would I say that again today, given what's happened? No.'' He defends his nerve gas vote without regrets, pointing out that in Geneva he had proposed a treaty eliminating all nerve gas, but since the Soviets haven't agreed to it, ''you'd better not be at a disadvantage.''
As former head of the CIA, Bush drafted an executive order ensuring the civil rights of all US citizens. He is asked to comment on administration actions criticized by civil rights activists: secret taping by the head of the US Information Agency; curbing of press access and information on the Grenada invasion; and an executive order that could subject thousands of government employees to lie-detector tests and lifelong censorship.
''Basically I oppose censorship,'' Bush says. He approves of lie-detector use only in highly sensitive areas like the CIA; disapproves of a censorship oath by government employees outside the CIA; doesn't approve of taping without permission and doesn't do it himself. On the subject of the press, he says the media should weigh how the American people regard it, not just the administration. ''I think we have freedom of the press, and I think we should jealously protect that freedom.''
There is more to say, but the fireplace is now filled with banked coals, and some one is waiting for him. ''To show you my access to the President, I gotta be down there at 4 o'clock,'' he grins and shoots out of the room.