Bush Targets Carter Legacy : Criticizes Ex-President in Attack on Liberalism

Times Political Writer

It worked for Ronald Reagan. Might it work for George Bush?

That is, can Republicans win the White House yet again by raising the ghost of Democrat Jimmy Carter?

“People ask, am I running against Jimmy Carter?” Bush volunteers. “No. But we have to have a point of departure. . . . I’m not running against Jimmy Carter, but I’m trying to put into perspective where the liberal Democrats are.”

At nearly every stop as he campaigns in Indiana and Ohio, which hold primaries on Tuesday, the vice president recalls the end of the Carter four-year presidency in 1981, beset with its double-digit inflation and 21 1/2% interest rates.


‘Reminder of Failure’

“Carter hangs over the Democrats like a shadow, an unwanted reminder of the failure of their policies the last time they were in power. Now . . . Mike Dukakis and Jesse Jackson are trying to sell that same old bill of goods: more taxes, more spending, more government control over your lives,” Bush said at a weekend rally in Cleveland.

While Massachusetts Gov. Dukakis and civil rights leader Jackson continue their struggle through the remaining five weeks of the primary election season, Bush as the GOP nominee-in-waiting is trying to get a head start on the coming general election race, defining the campaign in terms of his choosing.

“Elections are about change,” Bush acknowledges. If the vice president has his way, however, the choice will be defined as improvements on the status quo, as Bush portrays his position, versus a return to the days of “pure old-fashioned liberalism--talking compassion and delivering misery.”


Dukakis, who appears positioned as the probable Democratic nominee, has campaigned extensively against the Reagan Administration and has tried--although some still disparage his performance--to offer an alternative set of hopes and visions for the country’s future. Conversely, the Bush strategy is to make little of Dukakis’ dreams, at least for now, and ask voters to compare the present Administration with the worst memories of the previous Democratic Administration.

“We gambled back in the ‘70s on an unknown governor, and I don’t think it was the most successful period in our history,” Bush said.

Some See Risk

In some GOP political circles, the idea of parroting election themes of 1980 and 1984 in 1988 carries risk. For one thing, in seeking a debate over the past, Bush could find himself bypassed if Democrats are successful in capturing the interest of the nation about proposals for the future.


On the other hand, Bush has shown great caution in developing a platform of domestic policy. So, for as long as he can keep the presidential debate on his terms of now vs. then, he will buy himself time before having to stake his candidacy on specific goals.

So far, Bush has tried out his remember-the-liberals strategy on several fronts:

Crime, as defined by Bush, becomes an issue of law-and-order judges--just as it has in GOP races for more than a decade. “The debate hasn’t even begun yet on what kind of judges you want on the Supreme Court, what kind of judges on the federal bench. Frankly I want some who are going to be a little tougher on criminals and a little more compassionate on the victims,” Bush told supporters in Ft. Wayne, Ind.

Sounds Familiar Issue


Improving domestic programs becomes that familiar issue of Democrats and taxes. “No matter what question they are asked--they want to do more, spend more . . . I think the Democrats are going to have to go for a tax increase,” he told interviewers in Indianapolis.

Stopping drug traffic becomes a matter of that most well-worn conservative issue of all, the death penalty. “I’m for the death penalty for these ‘Narco Trafficanters,’ ” he told crowds in Indiana and Ohio, apparently coining the phrase, ". . . these drug kingpins. . . . If Mike Dukakis and Jesse Jackson are serious about this, let’s see where they stand on throwing the book at those who are poisoning our youth,” he told crowds in Indiana and Cleveland.

The trade bill becomes a matter of Democratic pessimism vs. GOP optimism. At issue is President Reagan’s promised veto of the recently passed bipartisan national trade bill because of a provision requiring notification of employees 60 days in advance of a factory shutdown. “Dukakis is talking pink slips. I’m talking creating jobs,” Bush said, belittling the advance notice provision because “all that does is guarantee misery.”