His words brimming with idealism and a subtle scolding of the affluent, Vice President George Bush called on young Americans Tuesday to embrace a voluntary program of public service that would attempt to meet the wants of the poor and the elderly.
In doing so, Bush characterized past Democratic efforts to help the needy with government programs as serving bureaucracy more than people.
Called “YES to America"--or Youth Engaged in Service to America--Bush’s program would match $100 million in federal grants with a like amount in private money to create and supplement service programs for young Americans.
The Republican presidential candidate compared the program to California’s Conservation Corps and acknowledged that it was made necessary by the “incomplete triumph” of the Reagan Administration’s economic programs.
“We have prosperity, and we have peace, but we also have unfinished business,” Bush declared.
“In this wonderful, bountiful, growing and generous country . . . there are still children who are living lives of utter desolation in the poorest neighborhoods in the cities in our country--and we have yet to find a way to help them,” he added.
The speech to the Comstock Club here, a continuation of Bush’s Republican convention pledge that he would seek a “kinder, gentler nation,” was meant to address criticisms that the Reagan Administration recovery has been ragged or downright absent in some pockets of the nation.
It was also an attempt to convince some Democratic voters in California and elsewhere of Bush’s dedication to the downtrodden, aides said, and eclipse his patrician image. Bush’s comments were repeated in abbreviated form in later rallies in Riverside, Albuquerque and Denver.
Bush’s Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, has focused his campaign on what he calls the economic “squeeze” on the middle class and the poor.
Echoes Kennedy’s Tone
The vice president deliberately echoed the tone of John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps creation--and at the conclusion of his remarks Bush noted, “That is what I ask of you,” a play on Kennedy’s “Ask what you can do for your country.”
And the speech also underscored the well-tuned, emphasize-the-positive cadence of Bush’s campaign this week. Aided by a TelePrompTer, whose rare use signaled the importance the campaign attached to the address, Bush’s delivery was firm and deliberate; his speech, if shy on details, melded volunteerism and sympathy for the poor with the major issues of Bush’s campaign--drugs and crime.
“Drugs and crime are partners in a dance of death,” he said, “and the poor pay the piper.”
The Republican nominee, who has castigated Democrats in general and Dukakis in specific as a big-spending liberal prone to handing out government money, took pains to distance his proposals from costly anti-poverty programs.
‘More Like a Movement’
“The way I see it, Yes to America is going to be more like a movement than a program,” he said.
Indeed, Bush did not mention the financial cost in his remarks. But a fact sheet handed out by his campaign set the federal government’s donation at $100 million, to be matched by private offerings.
The style and amount of voluntary work would be determined community by community. And although the plan is targeted for the young, Bush domestic policy adviser Deborah Steelman said older volunteers would be welcomed.
Bush likened the proposal to California’s Conservation Corps, the organization in which young Californians are paid minimal wages, given housing, and put to work in forestry and related fields. Under Bush’s plan, no money would be given volunteers, although the vice president did raise the possibility that school credits could be arranged.
Special attention would be given, Bush said, to linking the young with the old, and the affluent with the poor.
Echoing criticisms that have been made of Bush himself, the vice president spoke of a “sense of unease” that the affluent have about their children’s recognition of American poverty.
“Do they realize that perhaps they ought to be thinking of giving something back? Or are they almost cut off by their affluence, removed from the cares and concerns of others?” he asked.