Texas Governor George W. Bush says he never dreamed of being president - not when he was 14 years old, not when he was 21, and not even now, when so many are urging him to run. That may be why he refuses to articulate his vision for the country. "If I choose to run, IÂ'll let you know" is his stock answer.
ThereÂ's something a bit scary about the idea that someone is thinking about running, not because he burns to shape the nation, but because he seems to be in the right place, at the right time with the right name and the right friends. His cousin, the Boston Globe columnist John Ellis, says "thereÂ's sort of a river out there, and itÂ's made up of . . . Republicans and Bush people and Bush appointees from the PresidentÂ's administration . . . and they all want him to run, you know, cause they all want to get back in the game, and have all the fun they had in '88 and '92." Well, wow, letÂ's us kids get together and put on a campaign!
Bush himself is coy and flirtatious about the whole thing. He is refusing to do interviews with national network television reporters (including this one), because he says he wants to keep the focus on Texas. At the same time heÂ's talking to the national print press . . . and sending out "IÂ'm going for it" signals.
Posing for an Annie Liebovitz photo layout in Vogue complete with an adorable picture of him planting a playful kiss on the cheek of his lovely wife, Laura, has to be read as a deliberate attempt to court the women voters who were turned off by Bush Senior. And those pictures also stand in direct contradiction to BushÂ's announced reason for possibly not running, that he and his wife worry about their familyÂ's privacy being violated.
Nevertheless, after spending a few days following George W. Bush around Texas, this reporter admits to being somewhat charmed. Even if he wonÂ't sit down for a formal interview, he makes it a point to chat and joke. He is comfortable in his own skin, cocky and confident. As Ft. Worth Star Telegram columnist Molly Ivins says, "HeÂ's a very affable guy." And, given what the country is going through right now, you have to hope that heÂ's telling the truth when he says that thereÂ's no terrible secret buried in his past, even though he has acknowledged he made "mistakes" and did "irresponsible" things in his youth.
The most impressive thing that "Dub-ya," as the locals like to call him, seems to have done is bring bipartisanship to the Texas government. At a time when national politics is angry and fragmented, he is inclusive, non-confrontational, anyes, moderate. He calls himself a "compassionate conservative." ThatÂ's making some far-right Republicans mad, and inspiring announced candidates to attack him for being too much like dear old lost-to-Bill-Clinton Dad. To his credit, George W. Bush isnÂ't perturbed by any of this. He seems to have the style thing down just right. The question that remains is whether he has the substance to go with it.
By Rita Braver©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed