George Bush needs at least one good night of sleep.

Pleading jet lag three days after returning to Washington from China, Bush spoke early at last night's dinner in honor of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) or, as Bush put it, "before the fruitcake -- the fruit cup.

"Nobody need take offense there, senator," Bush rushed to say.

This came after several vice presidential stumbles and his comment that "Sounds like I came here to give his eulogy, and he isn't even dead yet."

At the dinner thrown by the Heritage Foundation for the senator, who will not seek reelection next year, admirers sporting "Goldwater for President" buttons from the '64 Republican convention mixed with admirers who spent 1964 wearing diapers, and more than one speaker referred with a smile to Goldwater's campaign slogan, "In your heart, you know he's right."

Twenty-one years after his presidential defeat by Lyndon Johnson, Goldwater was described in tones of gratitude, awe and respect usually reserved for prophets or patriarchs. Ronald Reagan, via letter, called him "one of the founding fathers" of the American conservative movement to applause from people like Attorney General Edwin Meese, former ambassador Clare Boothe Luce, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director Kenneth Adelman and former senator S.I. Hayakawa.

"I think conservative ideas are ruling the world," said Edwin Feulner, Heritage Foundation president, before the dinner, "and a lot of it started at the political level with Barry Goldwater."

There were some in attendance who in their hearts may not always have been sure he was right.

Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), offering what must surely rank as a classic politician's compliment ("He's furthered dialogue"), went on to say, "I think it's important to honor people who say what they believe and aren't constantly holding their finger to the wind and asking, 'What do the latest polls show?' "

If the country seems to have largely come around to him, Goldwater described phe last two decades in metaphoric language befitting a prophet: "American politics go around in a circle, and if at the bottom of the circle are liberals, we are now in the ascendancy. When we reach the top, which will be in maybe 15 years, we will start down again."

Or, as he said later to the audience, "We'll run out of people and we'll run out of ideas, and the Democrats -- I don't know where the hell they'll get 'em -- but they'll come up with something."

He then recited a poem he said his mother read to him in his youth. It began, "If you think you're beaten, you are . . . " and ended, "Sooner or later, the man who wins, is the man who thinks he can."

And that got Barry Goldwater a standing ovation from the people who always knew he could.