Bush Speech Revives 1988 Crime Themes : Politics: He interrupts his vacation to appear before a Fraternal Order of Police convention in what may be a preview of next year’s campaign.
Yogi Berra, for whom George Bush has a special fondness, is credited with a phrase to describe the scene: “ Deja vu all over again.”
Standing beneath an enlarged and elaborate gold, black and white shield of the Fraternal Order of Police, President Bush Wednesday sounded every bit the once and future candidate, turning out one by one the successful buzzwords of his 1988 campaign and signaling the reprise he is likely to produce in next year’s presidential race.
Bush interrupted his summer vacation in Maine for the occasion--a speech to the 50th biennial convention of the 222,000-member police organization--and was rewarded with repeated applause, cheers and--when he had finished--chants of “Four more years.”
As though suggesting that others might not, Bush declared: “Our entire Administration opposes chaos and lawlessness and stands shoulder to shoulder with those who strive for law and order.”
Three years ago, then-candidate Bush built much of his presidential campaign around the issue of crime and, in particular, the case of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer in Massachusetts, where Bush’s Democratic opponent, Michael S. Dukakis, was governor. When on a furlough from a Massachusetts prison, Horton raped a woman in Maryland.
Bush returned to the furlough theme Wednesday, declaring that “we’ve acted to curb potential furlough abuse.”
“We’ve tightened the furlough review process for inmates, further restricting the already limited furlough opportunities for federal prisoners,” he said.
With its heavy emphasis on crime, a sensitive domestic issue, the trip marked more than a break in the President’s four-week vacation at his seaside home in Kennebunkport, Me., to which he returned immediately after his speech. It marked also the start of what is likely to be a new emphasis on domestic affairs in the wake of sharp criticism among Democrats that the attention he has paid to foreign policy has come at the expense of domestic matters.
In appearances around the country, potential Democratic presidential candidates are accusing Bush of turning his back on the economy and other close-to-home matters, reflecting a growing belief that there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among voters.
The President, who has shown irritation in recent weeks at the increased criticism, told his audience Wednesday, “I am proud of our domestic agenda.” He singled out “strong initiatives” in the areas of child care, air pollution, home ownership and transportation.
In September, Bush is likely to begin a period of intensive travel around the country, including a visit to Southern California, as he aggressively moves into a presidential campaign mode. He has yet to formally declare his candidacy for reelection but he has said that only poor health would keep him from running.
In Pittsburgh, he received a warm show of support from Dewey Stokes, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, who said of Bush: “This is a man who has been accessible to the concerns of law enforcement.”
Bush responded that, although education, employment and career counseling may sometimes help “turn prisoners into productive citizens,” the nation “must remember that the first obligation of a penal system is to punish those who break our laws.”
In reviewing steps to “help free America from the fear of crime and drugs,” Bush brought the police officers to their feet when he said:
“Let’s give our law officers the respect they deserve, in part by imposing the death penalty on those who kill a law enforcement officer.”
The use of the death penalty in such instances has been a central element in the anti-crime bill Bush has advocated. The crime legislation has been approved by the Senate and is pending in the House.
That--and advocacy of the death penalty for “drug kingpins"--were elements of the Bush 1988 campaign.
Bush used the speech, as he has most public appearances in recent weeks, to press for Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas, his nominee for the Supreme Court. “He has the brains and the background--the character--to promote fidelity to the Constitution and to uphold our commitment to equal opportunity.”