Texas Gov. George W. Bush came here today to press his message of compassionate conservatism and to celebrate the publication of his new book, "A Charge to Keep."
"Government can hand out money, but it can't put hope in our lives or faith in our hearts," said Bush, surrounded by a multiracial group of children at the Davenport Boys and Girls Club this afternoon. Then, sitting with his legs crossed and peering down through bifocals, he read excerpts from the book about his life with his wife, twin daughters and pets, and his friendship with baseball great Nolan Ryan.
The idea that government should encourage charities and faith-based groups to play a more active role in helping the nation's needy is a centerpiece theme of Bush's campaign and he used the occasion of the book's publication to drive that point home today. Bush said the book's proceeds will be donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Girls Inc. (formerly Girls Clubs of America), the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America.
But Bush didn't just come here to read to children and applaud the concept of charity. There was politicking to be done in this crucial state. His campaign wants to avoid the kind of slippage here it has experienced in New Hampshire, where Arizona Sen. John McCain has cut into Bush's commanding lead.
Bush is viewed as being in a much stronger position here for the Jan. 24 Republican caucuses. One recent poll had him at just under 50 percent, with his next closest rival, Steve Forbes, at about 20 percent. But Forbes has been campaigning hard in Iowa and drew packed-house crowds of up to 700 at events here earlier in the month.
Because Iowa is a caucus state, polls are notoriously shaky gauges of the results. What matters most is who can get people out to participate. Bush's visit was meant to stir up the troops. He was accompanied everywhere he went by former governor Terry E. Branstad, who had supported Lamar Alexander until he left the race. "A lot of people who were with Lamar and [Elizabeth] Dole are now over here. He's been endorsed by all four of our Republican congressmen. His TV [ads] are up. He's doing well here," Branstad said in Muscatine.
Tailoring his message to the state, Bush urged the Clinton administration to move quickly on an $800 million program designed to send surplus farm commodities "to people who need it all across the world." That would be welcomed by farmers. A heavy harvest has left the country with a huge grain surplus and driven commodity prices to historic lows.
Also today, Bush was asked repeatedly about Jesse L. Jackson's protest at a Decatur, Ill., high school that had expelled a half-dozen students for instigating a brawl at a football game. He deflected the question, saying "local folks ought to be able to set their standards."
While Bush was campaigning and doing a little promotion of his book here, Laura Bush spent the day in Michigan signing copies of her husband's book. The governor also appeared tonight on ABC's "20/20" talking about the book.
"A Charge to Keep" is clearly intended to lay down a benchmark of personal facts and political reasoning as interest in Bush intensifies. Written in straightforward yet cautious language, the document touches on many significant aspects of Bush's life--the Vietnam War era, his much-heralded "irresponsible" youth, his faith, his death penalty decisions as governor--but it offers few new insights or revelations.
Bush told The Washington Post last summer that he had little recollection of any antiwar activity while a student at Yale. He indicates in the book, however, that he was aware of the turmoil but that he and his friends were more concerned about prospective military service than with the protests. "Some speakers came to campus to talk about the war, but my friends and I did not attend the speeches," he writes. "My inclination was to support the government and the war until proven wrong, and that only came later."
Bush remains steadfast in his commitment not to itemize his youthful indiscretions because "children are watching, including my own." In an aside, he writes, "Note to Jay Leno and other comedians who have had so much fun with the George-Bush-danced-naked-on-a-bar rumor. It's not true."
Although he was criticized for treating lightly in an interview the execution of killer Karla Faye Tucker, he writes that he felt like a "a huge piece of concrete was crushing" him in the minutes before her 1998 execution, which had attracted international attention.
The book was actually written by Bush's longtime spokesman Karen Hughes, after an arrangement with a professional writer unraveled last summer. Bush's name, however, is the only credit given on the cover.