On a chill day 42 years ago, two larger-than-life figures, Sir Winston Churchill and President Harry S. Truman, came to this small college town to describe a world poised perilously between “triumph and tragedy.”
Today, George Bush is in the midst of a presidential campaign that he has built around an optimistic view of the nation’s future. And he brought that tone here Tuesday--as he stood where Churchill had warned of an “Iron Curtain"--and talked of his own view of the world.
Bush quoted a Truman line Tuesday but seemed to call to mind only half of it. Truman had said: “We are either headed for complete destruction or we are facing the greatest age in history.”
The Republican vice presidential candidate said: “Like Harry Truman, I believe we are facing the greatest age in history.”
Emerging Into Sunlight
“My generation has lived in the shadows of war,” Bush told an audience of roughly 500 students at Westminster College. “Your generation has an opportunity to emerge from that shadow and, finally, to enjoy the sunlight without fear.”
The Iron Curtain, he said, is “rusting.”
But Bush, who at times has seemed to take a harder line toward the Soviet Union than President Reagan has, appeared Tuesday to reject both the view of Soviet motivation associated with his Democratic opponent, Michael S. Dukakis, and that advocated by many foreign policy hard-liners within the Reagan Administration.
The “new and more enlightened generation of Soviet leaders” faces the demands of people wanting to know “why they lack bread” and “why public services and consumer goods are so poor and in such short supply,” Bush said.
But, he warned, “It would be far too simple, even dangerous, to conclude . . . that Soviet foreign policy” and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s willingness to deal with the West are “driven exclusively by economic weakness.” Dukakis has come close on several occasions to making that claim.
“We must not be lulled into a naive complacency” about the Soviets, Bush warned. “The struggle, the rivalry, is not yet over.
“Yes, the Soviets are restrained by their own troubles, their own difficulties, but they are also restrained by our strength.”
Once ‘a Great Power’
At the same time, Bush implicitly rebutted the view advanced by some conservatives that Soviet behavior is a product of Leninist ideology. “Russia was a great power before the Revolution,” he said.
The view that the Soviet Union is, at root, a nation among nations with interests that can be subject to negotiation has, in the past, been denounced by conservatives within Bush’s party, who argue that all negotiations with the Soviets are ultimately doomed because communist ideology requires Soviet leaders to strive for world domination.
In seeking votes in a state that remains a major electoral battleground, Bush insisted again that his lead has not made him “overconfident.” And he mentioned the names of Churchill and Truman, the only Missouri native to become President, about 20 times in his 20-minute speech.
Although he did not soar to the heights of Churchill’s rhetoric, he did quote some of it.
Quotes Famous Lines
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent,” he read, quoting the most famous line from Churchill’s speech. And, he said, “the Iron Curtain still stretches from Stettin to Trieste.”
In fact, Trieste, which in 1946 was a city in dispute between Italy and communist Yugoslavia, has long since been confirmed as Italy’s territory. And Yugoslavia, under Soviet domination in 1946, has remained communist but has been largely free of Soviet control since the country’s late leader, Marshal Tito, broke with the Soviet Union in 1948.
And, although he urged heeding “Churchill’s advice of peace through strength,” he ignored two other parts of Churchill’s speech--his call to strengthen the United Nations and his counsel that “it is not our duty at this time when difficulties are so numerous to interfere forcibly in the internal affairs of countries we have not conquered in war.”
Bush frequently has attacked Dukakis for being willing to turn over some peacekeeping duties to the United Nations, and he has strongly advocated U.S. intervention to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
Discounts Favorable Polls
Later, Bush flew to Springfield, Mo., in the conservative southwestern part of the state, where he spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, cautioning them against paying too much heed to polls indicating that he has a substantial lead over Dukakis.
Bush aides, aware of their candidate’s penchant for getting into trouble when he is ahead, have been taking extraordinary pains to guard against overconfidence in the campaign. At the same time, their repeated declarations that they are not overconfident help reinforce in the minds of voters the fact that they are ahead, a fact that Dukakis aides fear will tend to discourage their marginal supporters.