One of the endearing charms of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey is the poet's use of recurrent adjectives to describe his heroes. Through hundreds of pages, the same adjectives are applied to particular characters time and again, and the reader grows accustomed to "Hector of the shining helmet," "Ulysses of the many woes," "Athena of the gray eyes."
If George Bush, the Republican presidential hopeful, were a Homeric hero, there is little doubt what his characteristic epithet would be: "George of the long resume." For Bush, who boasts a career of prominent jobs in and out of government, has built his entire presidential campaign around his multifaceted experience as a manager.
Yesterday, accordingly, when Bush appeared at a luncheon here to set forth his views of the personal attributes needed in a president, the virtue he emphasized most was experience.
"Our nation in the 1980s will enter the most dangerous decade in the past 40 years", he said, "facing a confluence of problems of the economy; energy, and international affairs." President Carter is incapable of dealing with those problems, Bush said, "because, first, he and the people he chooses to surround himself with have proven to be too inexperienced and too insulated to run our federal government.
"Jimmy Carter's problem . . . isn't that he's a decent man. He is that . . . [but] Jimmy Carter simply coupled his lack of perception of how Washington worked with no experience at all in foreign affairs."
Although Carter was the only other 1980 candidate Bush mentioned by name, he also took potshots at other would-be presidents in a series of comments of the type known as "thinly-veiled references".
In a reference to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Bush argued that "charisma" is not a valuable quality in a president. The concern for "charisma," Bush said, reflects a "Camelot syndrome" in presidential politics.
He said that memories of the presidency of John F. Kennedy have "little or no relevance" to the nation today, and that "no one is going to be able to ride a wave of nostalgia and old politics to the White House."
In a reference to a Republican competitor, John Connally, a tough-talking Texan who reminds many people of the late Lyndon Johnson, Bush said that Johnson's mode of leadership was "to forge a consensus through pushing, through bluster. I don't think the country wants to go through another experience like that -- either overseas or here at home."
Instead of these types, Bush, said, the occupant of the White House should be experienced in dealing with Congress, managing far-flung organizations, and recognizing the complexity of international affairs.
In short, the portrait of a president Bush painted bore a striking resemblance to Bush himself, a former congressman who has also been head of the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and U.S. envoy to China.
"I know I'm going to win this nomination -- you just watch," he said. He passed with cheery optimism over public opinion polls that find only a minuscule portion of the electorate even knowing who he is, despite more than a year of intense campaigning.
"I used to get quite offended when I would go to some courthouse in New Hampshire and see four people waiting for me," the lanky, studious candidate said. "But now I can see the support growing. It's quite visible."