George Bush hasn't gotten any calls from Ronald Reagan yet, but he was the clear favorite of a pack of journalists, calling themselves the "Mournful Pundits" who threw a mini-roast for him at the GOP convention in Detroit last night.
Bush, tanned, rested and far more relaxed than he was in the last days of his campaign, hugged women reporters and slapped men on the back, making no bones of the fact that he is an active and anxious vice-presidential candidate. bAs he circulated through the room at the Pontchartrain Hotel, he was asked if he had heard from Reagan. Bush shook his head. Did he have any statements? He grinned, shrugged and said, "There is nothing to say. I'm just sitting around waiting." That must be terrible, a friend murmured. Bush rolled his eyes, "Oh, it is!"
Standing with his wife Barbara and son Jeb, Bush roared at all the takeoffs on his preppie, "hey, you guys," gee-whiz optimism of yesterday's campaign.
Mike Kramer, of New York magazine, spoke of Bush's upbringing -- "a strong father, good mother, Greenwich Country Day School, Andover, Yale . . . your basic grassroots stuff." And Kramer, in a parody of Bush, promised not one but two decades of peace in the '80s.
Steve Delaney of NBC got the biggest applause for his clever biblical parody: "Now the eldest was the mighty prophet Ron, to whom it was given to see backward with great clarity and he was the chief disciple of the patriarch Barry the Orthodox. 'Follow me and I shall cause the right hand of the tax collector to wither and shrink.'" Also, "among them was Robert the Douthful, and Philip the Younger, also called the Clone. And John, the son of Lyndon, who forswore his inheritance and turned his coat. And Howard the Elf, who labored mightily the halls of Power -- and sold canals on the side."
Delaney got one of his biggest laughs with, "John, the son of Ander, and anomaly among prophets, for he sought not after righteousness, but after leftishness." And then there was Bush. "I am the Bush, burning brightly with a yearning for the right to lead you out of your sorrows and out from under the spell of the eldest."
But as time came to pass, everyone saw that that was not to be and David Broder of The Washington Post and Jerry the Horst of the Detroit News reminded everybody of that disastrous moment in Bush's campaign when he ended up looking like the bad guy: in Nashua, N.H., when he refused to let Dole, Phil Crane, Howard Baker and John Anderson join the debate with him and Reagan. The two sang off-key to the tune of "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho."
"Nashua was the battle that lost the war, lost the war, lost the war; Nashua was the battle that lost the war to Reagan and the Gang of Four."
A familiar theme was sounded from the last days of his campaign, when Bush hung on and kept using the phrase of Dick Motta, the Bullets' former basketball coach, "Just remember, the opera isn't over until the fat lady signs." On cue, a woman as wide as she was tall, in Brunnhilde helmete and carrying a spear, moved into the room and warbled, "Yo ho!" also off-key.
Nearby was a huge sign mimicking his campaign slogan: "George Bush -- a (vice) president you won't have to train." Bush, when he spoke to the crowd, made his own crack about being a second-place hopeful, and the plight of being an "also-ran." He said that "Reagan is in that big presidential suite," while he and his wife "were living with Bob Dole in a dormitory in this hotel" for a few nights.
At the end of all that, Bush wandered through the room, seemingly genuinely happy to be with the gang that had trailed him from Iowa to Michigan where he bowed out of the race. And then left early. He had to get up early the next morning, to talk to his delegates, media editorial boards, keeping up the old visibility -- and waiting.