From town to smaller town in Illinois, from St. Charles, Mo., to Paterson, N. J., and on to Springfield, Mass., and Hartford, Conn., Vice President George Bush has been campaigning as though the only Michael S. Dukakis who exists is the model that the vice president chooses to see.
In his tightly controlled campaign, Bush has been free to create for his audiences at political rallies three times a day an image of the Democratic presidential nominee that has been carefully focused on a handful of issues, without responding to the issues Dukakis has been raising.
No Notice of New Dukakis
Thus, for more than a week, Bush has virtually ignored the tougher-model Dukakis who emerged after the campaign debate nine days ago in Winston-Salem, N. C.--the Dukakis who has been on the attack on such issues as the Reagan Administration’s (and Bush’s) record on the environment and ethics.
So it has been that Bush, facing only one news conference in two weeks, directed the attention of his partisan audiences to the Dukakis who vetoed legislation in 1977 that would have required teachers to lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag; the Dukakis whose state of Massachusetts gave a furlough to prisoner Willie Horton, who then raped a woman in Maryland, the Dukakis who is a “card-carrying member” of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Dukakis whose approaches should be “stamped with that warning sign: ‘Caution. This policy is liberal.’ ”
Dukakis More Aggressive
Dukakis’ more aggressive approach emerged after a period in which, one of his senior advisers complained, he failed to press Bush “as much as he might have.” But one week after Dukakis started going after Bush with a new fervor, there was no sign that the Bush campaign was feeling the punch.
That’s just the way Bush’s advisers and assistants want it.
Despite Dukakis’ “very ardent attempts to draw our fire, it’s not going to work,” said Mark Goodin, one of the vice president’s spokesmen. “The minute he draws our fire, we’re debating on his terms and not ours, and we’re not going to do that.”
As a result, Bush has been able to keep his campaign on the offense. He has avoided being placed in a defensive posture and has been free to present his message without any distractions--simply by doing his best to ignore the Democrats’ charges.
Stresses Rival’s Liberalism
Each day last week, Bush hammered away at Dukakis, presenting him as a liberal out of step with the mainstream of America, as a governor unprepared for the tasks of Washington.
To several thousand students crammed into a grassy yard at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, on Tuesday, Bush said: “America doesn’t need a President who has to enroll in Foreign Policy 101 to understand the kind of world we’re living in.
“For most of the campaign, the man I call the stealth candidate has tried to hide where he stands. He’s tried to blur the distinctions of the race,” Bush said, in what was a performance reflecting the tenor of his campaign. He continued:
“When he ran in the primary, he was out in deep left field, and I am not going to let him try and preempt the mainstream in American politics. We are going to keep him where he is, where he’s always been in his political career, and we will not let him try to be something he is not in order to fool the American people.”
Bush’s effort to present as liberal an image as possible of Dukakis represents a tactic the Republican campaign has been following religiously, out of a belief that President Reagan’s trouncings of Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Walter F. Mondale in 1984 signal a continuing vulnerability for candidates viewed as liberal. However, the Bush campaign has been delivering the message with a new-found fervor in recent days.
And, adhering to the campaign’s policy of ignoring the Democrats’ charges has led to such situations as that on Thursday, when Dukakis, seeking to raise doubts about Bush’s commitment to ethical behavior, criticized “dozens and dozens” of Reagan Administration officials who he said broke the law and violated the public trust.
Bush, who happened to be covering much the same Midwestern territory that Dukakis had toured the day before, was talking to farmers about the need for school prayer and his own opposition to any grain embargoes, while picking apart segments of the Dukakis agenda that he felt would be unpopular with his audience. For all the attention Bush gave them, the Dukakis complaints received the same audience as the proverbial tree falling in a deserted forest.