Vice President Bush today called for "civility" instead of "dogma" in public debate, citing two issues on which the Reagan administration has been severely criticized recently -- Social Security benefit cuts and human rights.
Speaking before a crowd of 3,800 new graduates and thousands of their family members at University of Virginia commencement ceremonies, Bush invoked the spirit of university founder Thomas Jefferson, who asked Americans in his first presidential inaugural address to "restore to social intercourse the harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are dreary things."
Concluding that "basic civility tends to disappear whenever dogma enter public debate," Bush, whose son Marvin was among the graduates, went on to defend Reagan's positions on human rights and Social Security benefits.
He was interrupted at least 10 times by thunderous applause and received three standing ovations. Fewer than a dozen protesters were scattered about, one of them carrying a sign that demanded: "Get Us Out of El Salvador, By George. No More Bush League Wars."
"Over the past half-decade," Bush said in his address at this conservative bastion, "few American foreign policy issues have been treated to as much rhetorical heat without commensurate light as has the human rights issue . . .
"Our administration is pledged to human rights," Bush said, responding to public criticism of Reagan's "softness" on the subject, then going to to contrast Reagan's style with former President Carter's:
"Some feel we must shout from the roof tops and beat our breasts and humiliate countries in order to effect change. We don't think that.But the debate is not enhanced by name calling or moralizing or questioning our motives . . . Results are what count, not rhetorical confrontation."
Bush turned to Social Security, an issue on which Reagan was soundly defeated last week when the Republican-controlled Senate went on record 96-0 against reducing benefits of early retirees or cutting benefits more than necessary to maintain the solvency of Social Security. Reagan had proposed cutting nearly twice that much.
"Everyone involved in that debate . . . agrees that if the Social Security system continues along its present path, it will self-destruct in a matter of a few years," Bush said. "Something has to be done . . .
"The charge was made that President Reagan lacked compassion in dealing with the problems facing our country's Social Security recipients . . . That charge is baseless . . . He is in fact faced with a crisis largely brought on by the actions over the years of many of the very critics now attacking him.
"Is the question of how we can best salvage Social Security debatable?" Bush asked. "Certainly. And to his credit, the president has from the first indicated an open mind on this issue."