Vice President Bush said yesterday that he has "some differences with the people and approaches" of the Reagan administration but that he would not publicize them just to satisfy those who question his independence and integrity as a political figure.
"I know the insatiable desire to know where I differ with President Reagan," he said in an interview with The Washington Post, but he added that he would not follow the 1980 example of former vice president Walter F. Mondale in specifying his differences with the president under whom he served.
If he seeks the 1988 Republican nomination as expected, Bush said he will say: "Here's what we've done. Here's what's worked, and here's what hasn't. We're moving into a new decade, and here's what I think ought to be done."
Bush insisted that he has "never felt more comfortable with what I am and who I am" but readily acknowledged that he is bothered by the public perception that he is subservient to Reagan or supplicant to conservative groups -- or perhaps lacking "the fire in the belly" for a nomination fight.
"I don't have to prove that to anybody," he said with some heat. "Has anybody gone to more places, done more, hung in there against the odds more than I have? . . . I've worked hard. I'm much better informed than I've been in my life. I've seen the presidency in operation close up every single day. I think I've earned the respect of leaders abroad."
And then, as if catching himself, Bush added: "That may sound a little egotistical. My mother bawled me out the other day: 'George, I understand you've been talking about your war record . . . . Remember how I feel about braggadocio.' And Barbara Bush's wife got on the other phone and said, 'He isn't. He isn't,' defending me, you know."
At another point in the White House interview, Bush said he may have made a mistake in speaking to several conservative audiences in the span of a few weeks but insisted that he would speak to those groups again, if invited.
Bush received heavy criticism for "pandering" from several columnists, including conservative George F. Will, after he appeared this winter at conservative dinners here and in New York, at a luncheon sponsored by the Rev. Jerry L. Falwell and at a tribute to the late William F. Loeb, publisher of a right-wing New Hampshire newspaper that attacked him during the 1980 primary.
"One of the mistakes we had was talking about a strategy in terms of scheduling these events," Bush said. "I had spoken to most of them previously, and it was just a coincidence that they came up all at once . . . . That drew much more heightened attention, too much focus from my point of view, and I took a lot of flak for being what I am not . . . and any time that happens, you wonder if you made a mistake."
But, Bush said, "I wouldn't shy away at all" from return visits to the groups in 1987: "I'll continue to go to all different sides of the party and different people who believe in our cause . . . . You may not see four of them in one week . . . . "
Bush acknowledged that there are strains between those he called "economic conservatives" and "social conservatives" in the GOP, but said: "I don't think there's any fundamental incompatibility . . . . What the president has done is to somehow help the party contain all kinds of differences without . . . people walking out or sitting on their hands in elections."
He credited what he called a high degree of Republican unity to Reagan's ability to show "tolerance of other people's view without having people question what his view is."
Asked if he could emulate Reagan's performance, Bush said, "If I decide to run for president, I better learn how to do it . . . . "