VAN HORNE, IOWA -- Vice President Bush unveiled a new stump speech here last week featuring his life story, from captain of the college baseball team to war hero, businessman, politician, diplomat and loyal vice president to Ronald Reagan.
Bush appears to have set aside for a while the task of articulating his "vision" for the nation and instead is making an unabashedly personal sales pitch that his long and varied resume shows that he would make a good president.
"I think the American people are going to be looking for experience," he said in opening a series of "Ask George Bush" town-meeting style forums in Iowa last week.
"Everything I've done in my life has equated with leadership," he said, "whether it was starting way back in college as captain of our almost national-championship baseball team right up to being the only survivor left on the playing field when Ronald Reagan bowled us all over in 1980."
Bush said he has "experience that not one single candidate, Republican or Democrat, has ever had running for president over the last election, certainly this time, and I really mean it."
The vice president's political strategists have frequently said one of his strong suits is a "stature advantage" over other candidates, referring to his many jobs in government and politics.
The Iran-contra affair may have clouded this approach somewhat. While Bush has stressed his foreign policy experience, he appears to have acquiesced in one of Reagan's biggest foreign policy blunders, the Iran arms sales, and questions have been raised about the role of two of his aides in helping the secret resupply missions for the Nicaraguan rebels.
As with Reagan, the scandal has left lingering public doubts about whether Bush is telling the truth about the Iran story, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. Of those questioned in the June 25-29 telephone survey, 52 percent said Bush is not telling the truth, compared with 38 percent who said he is. In January, 43 percent said he is not and 45 percent said he is.
Bush described the Iran arms sales as a "big mistake that was wrong" when asked about it last week, and he insisted that he and Reagan did not know of the diversion of money to the contras.
Earlier this year, as his presidential campaigning began to intensify, Bush gingerly tried at a series of college commencement addresses to start defining his vision for the nation in the years after the Reagan presidency. Now, he says he will wait until after his formal announcement in the fall to offer a detailed program. Instead, he is advertising his resume.
"It starts with a war record," Bush said. "You don't have to have been in combat, as I was, shot down two months after my 20th birthday, but it helps. You have to make decisions about war and peace, committing somebody else's kids . . . to war perhaps, it helps if you've been there yourself, seen your friends die, and I have. I'll lay that out proudly as something that heightens my convictions about strong defense or Persian Gulf or whatever it is -- I know more about it than many that are out there because I've served my country."
As a businessman, Bush said, he learned about government regulation and "I'm head of the deregulation task force for the entire United States for the president. And we've done a good job, and I feel viscerally about doing it and doing a better job at it." Bush was appointed to lead a deregulation task force that largely finished its work in 1983.
As U.S. envoy to China, Bush said he and his wife, Barbara, "lived in a communist country." While other Republicans are talking about fighting communism, "we know a little bit more about it, because we lived there, we saw what it was like, to see a system just bereft of the freedoms that we used to take for granted every day of our lives."
"I think I know more about foreign affairs because I did that, because I was at the U.N., because I ran the CIA," he said. If Reagan gets an arms control agreement, he added, "I think I'd be best to build on it. Not just lecturing about it, but knowing what it is to negotiate with the Soviets, as I did at the U.N., or with the Chinese, when we welcomed them into the U.N., or in China itself."
Bush said some unidentified people have told him to "stay away" from his service as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, but "I don't duck that one -- I'm proud of it, very proud of it." He recalled that he ran the Republican National Committee "in a difficult time, Watergate days," and remembered his 1980 presidential campaign in terms of "beating off everybody else that was out there except for one," Reagan.
Bush said little about his role as Reagan's vice president, except to reiterate his view that "loyalty is not a character flaw," repeat some economic statistics of recent years and recall that he has traveled to 74 nations. In the past, Bush has refused to talk about the details of his advice to the president or the decisions he influenced.