News note from the campaign trail as reported by Barbara Bush:
The campaign is dirty because it's based on fear of war and hate of minorities and "you bet, you bet," she says, Jimmy Carter is responsible.
Barbara Bush thought George Bush had to be kidding last May when he dropped out of the presidential primaries saying they were going to work their hearts out for the Republican ticket even though everybody knew it was going to be headed by Ronald Reagan.
"It'll work," Barbara Bush remembers thinking, still footsore from the two years she had spent on George Bush's campaign trail, "but not my heart out."
Politics being more like a soap opera than almost any other American pastime -- everybody else knows the actors will end in a clinch even if the actors don't -- Barbara Bush was having to purge those thoughts by late July. Back on the road an average of six out of seven days, this time it was for Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
She knew George Bush like "the back of my hand" but it was another story with Reagan, whose people during the primaries she thinks did terrible public relations for him. Her impression was of a man set in his ways, "sort of a big shot," surrounded by a pincer of people. Instead, she describes him as "really warm," something she says George Bush has found, too, or as she puts it in the preppie slang she punctuates her faint Down-East accent with, "a bunch."
It is a sunny autumn Saturday afternoon, a rare day off for her, and she is sitting in the garden of the Wesley Heights house she and George Bush are renting. Her silver hair, which has just been cut, is about the same gray as her flannel shirt, and her pretty face bearing traces of a lifetime of Maine summers without makeup. although she is three-mile-a-day jogger (she runs a 10-minute mile and Bush an eight-minute one, so they don't run together), her matronly figure nevertheless reflects the hazards of campaign eating. She is 55, two years younger than Nancy Reagan, and the first to suggest in a self-depractory way she has, that "it doesn't look that way but that's the way it is. I didn't know if she was younger or older than I was until I read it in the paper the other day."
For a year or so, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush were at Smith College at the same time ("She probably thinks I was there 10 years before she was," says Bush). Nancy Davis of Chicago's Gold Coast later graduated, but Barbara Pierce of affluent Rye, N.Y., dropped out to marry returning World War II veteran and childhood sweetheart George Bush; she was 19, he was 20. The two women did not know each other then and met 36 years later at the GOP convention. They hardly know each other now.
It is nothing that concerns Bush very much because "it takes about 20 minutes for me to know somebody. We're not going to be able to have hobbies together. I jog and she rides; she probably would rather die than jog and I put riding up to the top of my rather-die list. I'm not a competitive person and I think women like me because they don't think I'm competitive, just nice."
What impresions she had on Nancy Reagan before Detroit were gleaned from newspaper accounts. Now she knows firsthand that they agree on "principles" of family, loyalty and supporting their husbands. Also, she says she knows Nancy Reagan will never embarrass her ("though I might embarrass her") and she likes that because it shows her that Nancy Reagan is "a lady, that she's not going to attack somebody."
She suspects Nancy Reagan is probably shyer than she -- "in fact, I suspect i'm not shy at all" -- and believes that Nancy's warmth, like Ronald Reagan's, was an unknown quality to a lot of voters during the primaries. Barbara Bush says the Reagans were rarely apart from one another then (or now). Their job was not the same as the Bushes', who had to hit separate trails.
"Nobody knew who George Bush was so their [the Reagans'] job was not spreading the word about Ronald Reagan," she says. "I think there would have been an even bigger victory for him, though, if they had campaigned separately."
A Secret Service command post trailer is parked in the driveway and standing near the fence is an agent who quietly watches as neighbor children run in and out of the house next door. Fred, the Bushes' cocker spaniel, aimlessly sniffs out the terrain before disappearing around a corner. A familiar bark interrupts her campaign soliloquy and Barbara Bush groans, "It's Fred getting into another fight," she says. (Fred isn't fighting, he is getting acquaninted with a neighbor dog.)
She has just returned from a week on the hustings with her husband, the first campaign trip they have taken together in two years. "I think the schedulers thought they'd give me a vacation by putting me with George, but the truth was I felt restless," she says. "There are so many places that will never lay eyes on a candidate -- or a vice-presidential candidate."
She is learning to accommodate to the realization that George Bush is no longer "the candidate." It has required some adjusting. "You step back if you're the wife of the man running for vice president. You want to help as much as you can but it's a whole different role."
Jeb Bush, the only one of her five chldren campaigning full time, tried to stay in the background on a swing with the Reagans in Texas. That night everybody was at one of those big dinners in Houston filled with big Republican names, all of whose egos are what Barbara Bush calls "slightly enlarged, which is normal for a politician" -- people like John Connally, Anne Armstrong, Gerald Ford and George Bush.
"And out of all those people vying for Governor Reagan's attention," she says, "Reagan walked over to Jeb's wife Columba to tell her about the deal he and Jeb made earlier in the day whereby Jeb would teach Nancy to speak Spanish and Columba would teach him. Well, George and I thought that was pretty neat to pick Columba out of that crowd."
Another time, on a campaign outing in Maryland with Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush instinctively hung back to let congressional candidates bask in the Reagan glow. The next thing she knew Nancy Reagan was calling for her to join them. "When I saw her a couple of days later I sort of explained to her that it wasn't that I didn't want to be there. I wanted those congressional candidates to be next to her."
She says the campaign has been "a learning experience," providing facts and figures she never dreamed would fascinate her. To prove it, she may ask: "Did you know the Mississippi River needs to be dredged just nine feet to accommodate a barge carrying 15 railroad cars of grain or 60 truckloads?" Or, "Did you know that one cent out of every dollar spent in the supermarket is on a hot dog?" Or, "Did you know that the state of Texas spends $15,000 in San Antonio to give a mother with three dependent children $3,000 in welfare assistance?"
"That makes me mad," she says. "That mother ought to get the $15,000."
On a campaign swing through Texas -- the Bushes' permanent home is still Houston though in their 35 years of marriage they have lived in 17 cities and 28 homes -- she became interested in centers for displaced housewives, women "with hangups about their self-worth" with no visible means of support.
"I've got just enough arrogance to know I could walk down and get a job at Garfinckel's without George Bush's name, but these women don't have that kind of self-assurance," she says.
Campaigning has taught her to watch for innuendo, rumor and developing trends. Hearing "more than once" at a large New Orleans fund-raiser that Reagan was against Social Security, she says she immediately alerted the campaign staff. "We discovered it was an underground campaign going on by word of mouth, that you'd hear it every place you'd go. We heard it too much for it to be coincidence."
She speaks with the pride and prejudice of a vice-presidential candidate's wife. Ronald Reagan's remarks on China last summer, made at a press conference in Los Angeles just as the Bushes were flying to Peking on a visit, were "blown all out of possible reason," she says. "There was no question in our mind that the governor ever thought there were two Chinas."
Still, by the time the Bushes reached Japan, she thinks there had been "a little hanky-panky from the State Department because the issue was fanned tremendously by them by the time we got there." And U.S. Ambassador Leonard Woodcock, she says, after being so hospitable in Peking, called a press conference after they left to make "those very political statements. In the 15 years since we started being politically involved, I've never heard of an ambassador doing that."
She has yet to run into Rossalynn Carter (who must love Jimmy Carter "a bunch because I'd have been scared to death to go to a city where they had 40-percent unemployment and have to tell them things are getting better") or Joan Mondale ("I'm not going to try to copy or follow her. I'm interested in improving reading abilities across the country -- teaching Jane and John to read").
She has had to give up gardening these last couple of years but not her other love, needlepoint. In fact, she has nearly completed a 10-by-14-foot rug which she began when Bush was named ambassador to China. Handpainted for her by Eileen Crawford of Washington, the rug is a reminder of five milestone years in the life of the George Bush family.
A water lily scene with marshlands is filled with wildflowers, butterflies, birds and animals. She did the killdeer campaigning in Iowa, the sweet-faced chipmunk the day George Bush withdrew his candidacy, the bunny in 1976 during the Carter-Ford debate. She chose a bunny, she says, because it reminded her of Carter's lust-in-his-heart Playboy magazine interview that year.
She thought nobody would ever hear of Jimmy Carter again.