The Last Thing America Needs Is a President with Vision. with 'Gush and Bore' There's No Danger of That; OUR DISTINGUISHED CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT GOES ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL WITH GEORGE W. BUSH
Byline: ANN LESLIE
WELL, I'm no Republican, but don't you think he looks really cute?
Any truth in the rumour that there's a photograph going round showing him when he was a wild young man dancing on a bar in the nude?
No? Pity! That's something I'd really like to see!' The thirtysomething woman and I, bored to tears, had sneaked out of the school in Portland, Maine, where George W. Bush was orating (if that's not too exciting a word), and were now sharing surreptitious cigarettes in the 88-degree heat.
But would the alleged 'cuteness' of 'Little Georgie' (his formidable mother Barbara's name for him) win the thirtysomething's vote? 'No. I think he seems a nice, genuine guy, but I don't think he's smart enough to run the free world.' Everyone who knows him talks about 'Little Georgie's' charm and affability, his love of back- slapping and jokes (and, as I discovered, his gleefully unspiteful enjoyment of gossip. 'Have you met Camilla Parker Bowles?
What's she like?' he asked me as I sat next to him in his campaign plane flying over the Mid-West).
I told him I'd once interviewed his father, former President George Bush, on Air Force Two. 'He was very charming,' I said by way of small talk.
'Yes, very charming - just like his eldest son!' George W. twinkled merrily, pointing at himself, before sprawling happily beside me, laughing at my - and his - funny stories.
HE EVEN thought it was funny when I told him that, on foreign policy, he's suspected - especially overseas - of being 'two sandwiches short of a picnic' because he muddles up Slovakia and Slovenia, calls the Greeks 'Grecians', and didn't know the name of the leader of Pakistan, the world's latest nuclear power.
He liked the picnic joke, said he wasn't 'bothered in the least' by the jibes, has top foreign policy advisers - 'and the world will learn that I am a strong leader. I'm not taking part in some spelling bee'.
I found it hard to imagine that this amiable fellow (who is not, I'm told, quite as nice as he looks) was once a heavy drinker (now teetotal) who earned the nickname the 'Bombastic Bushkin'; he was never the brightest of the Bush siblings, and failed at most of his business ventures - except the purchase of a baseball team.
In short, he was an archetypal spoiled rich-kid born with a 'silver foot in his mouth' and, perhaps, with 'a silver spoon up his nose'. (Rumours of youthful cocaine-taking abound, which he refuses to confirm or deny.) And now he intends to become the leader of the last superpower on Earth. To some, like the thirtysomething smoker outside the Portland school, his allegedly low-wattage brainpower disqualifies him.
But who says you have to be a pointy-headed intellectual (although he has got a degree from Yale) to be an effective leader? In fact, Roosevelt, one of the most successful leaders in American history, was once described as 'having a second-class mind, but a first- class temperament'. (A description which was recently applied to Tony Blair by Lord Jenkins.) And George W.'s temperament is so sunny that it strikes me as almost abnormal in itself.
I have never met an ambitious politician who is so comfortable in his skin, who does not seem driven by a longing for adulation from the crowds (and from silly women with big hair) as Clinton is, nor is he driven by an almost feral obsession with power, as Nixon was.
PERHAPS what drives him are the demands of the Bush dynasty, a feeling that there's unfinished business, a 'grudge' match to be played against Clinton and Gore who, in 1992, so humiliatingly drove his father, George 'The Wimp' Bush, out of the White House.
His brother, Jeb, is governor of Florida; he himself governs Texas, a vast state of 18 million people (more populous than many European nations) and, as the Bush clan matriarch observed triumphantly not long ago: 'Already one in eight Americans is governed by a Bush! …