IN a series of college graduation addresses, George Bush touched on "three precious legacies" that a political scientist expects to become themes of the president's reelection campaign.
The speeches were tailored for their respective audiences, noted the political scientist, Robin Marra of Southern Methodist University. Saturday at SMU, a prosperous private institution, President Bush dwelt on the country's economic future. "America's best days lie before us," he told 2,400 graduates, their family members, and faculty.
Bush, who opposes abortion, mentioned to the SMU audience that he would talk yesterday at Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic university, on strengthening the American family. And he said he would speak May 27 at the US Naval Academy about war and world peace.
The president told the SMU audience that he disagreed with "declinists" who portray the United States as "overrun by economic predators abroad and crippled by the insurmountable problems at home."
Bush described "a strong nation, getting stronger." For instance, he called it a myth that the US worker is unproductive.
Rather, he said, Americans are the most productive people in the industrialized world - 30 percent more so than their Japanese counterparts. With 5 percent of the world's population, the US produces 25 percent of its gross domestic product.
But Professor Marra contradicts the president's "selective presentation of statistics." He notes that Japan has half as many people as the US but produces more than half as much GDP, indicating higher per capita productivity. Besides, much of the productivity gains in the US come from mechanization, Marra says.
Bush said the country is on the verge of concluding a North America Free Trade Agreement, "which will create a $6 trillion free-trade area from the Yukon to the Yucatan." He said he was optimistic about the country's ability to compete, noting that the US is the world's leading exporter.
Bush did not mention, however, that imports are even greater, giving the country a persistent trade deficit.
Another topic Bush isn't talking about is Ross Perot, the billionaire businessman who is contemplating entering the campaign as an independent candidate.
The president declined to comment about a new national poll taken by Time magazine and Cable News Network showing Mr. Perot winning a three-way race for the White House with 33 percent, followed by Bush with 28 percent and Democrat Bill Clinton with 24 percent.
That's a big drop for the president.
The surge in Perot's popularity had already manifested itself in Texas, where last month the true Texan was preferred in by 35 percent of the state's voters to 30 percent for transplant Bush and 20 percent for Governor Clinton of neighboring Arkansas, a poll showed. "It's a bad sign" for Bush, says Daniel Ward, a professor of American national politics at Rice University. "People are looking for a way to move away from the President."
HUS, if Perot enters the race, as he seems bound to do, Texas is not a sure thing for Bush and will require more visits. "There's only a fixed number of days in a campaign," says Marra.
Texas has Democrats, Republicans, and independents in almost equal numbers. Bush carried the state last time with 55 percent of the popular vote. In addition to Republicans, Bush got 10-12 percent of the Democratic vote and 60 percent of the independents.
Says Rice University political science Prof. Robert Stein: "Bush is losing the independent vote and the crossover Democratic vote," the so-called Reagan Democrats. "Those votes are going to Perot."
In a three-way race, the candidate who gets at least a plurality of the popular vote statewide will win all the Texas electoral votes.