Former president George Bush says son George was a "rambunctious" youngster who never gave his parents reason to believe he used drugs and is right not to answer further questions about the issue.

The elder Bush is not advising George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign--"I don't want to always be in the game anymore." He also hopes Americans elect someone who can live up to "the very high standards" for the White House that Bush said President Clinton has failed to meet.

The former president, defeated by Clinton in 1992, was interviewed by Fox News television for broadcast tonight.

"All this stuff about George's totally irresponsible past, we never saw it," the ex-president said. "Barbara and I never saw this. We knew he had some problems but--that he faced up to--but no different than most kids."

The younger Bush, the Republican governor of Texas, was "a rambunctious little guy" and his father recalled an episode when the youngster tried to hit him.

"I just held him at arm's length--he was about 9--just flailing away at me," Bush said. "He didn't like some decision I had made, a leadership decision, I'm sure."

The younger Bush has acknowledged that at one time he drank heavily and that he made "mistakes" in his youth. There is no evidence or credible allegation that he ever used cocaine or any other illegal drug. When pressed, he has said he had not used illegal drugs in the past 25 years.

His father said he is upset how reporters have questioned his son about rumors of cocaine use and believes it is right for him not to answer more questions on the subject.

"I do feel strongly about that, about 'gotcha' politics, about intrusiveness," Bush said. "And I think I'm very proud that he's with that position and let the voters decide."

The former president said he has not asked his son whether he ever used drugs. "I wouldn't even consider to do that," Bush said. "I think what he's doing is correct and he has my full support."

The former president said that while offering sympathy, he has tried to avoid giving political advice to his sons--even shying away from public comments on some topics lest his opinions cause them trouble. Another son, Jeb, is governor of Florida.

CAPTION: George Bush