For more than 40 years, as newspaper editor and syndicated columnist, I have been promoting a conservative view of public affairs. Out of that background, with those credentials, I want to cry at the top of my lungs: Stick with George! Stand by the president! This campaign has just begun.
Certain guidelines govern the expression of editorial opinion. Within those guidelines I expect to support George Bush not begrudgingly, or reluctantly, or indifferently, but with a whole heart.
In the liberal view, Bill Clinton surely is the better choice, for he is a liberal's liberal. The notion that Mr. Clinton is some sort of ''moderate'' is a notion that honest campaigning will dispel.
In the conservative view, George Bush is the obvious choice. On the political right, the alternative to the president of the United States is not the governor of Arkansas. The alternatives are to stay home or to cast what is feebly called a ''protest vote.'' Those who stay home are summer soldiers. Those who waste their votes on Ross Perot are political babies. Behold their little tantrums.
Lately the papers have been full of the case against George Bush. Columnist George Will, who despises the president, wants him to quit. Paul Gigot, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says Mr. Bush is certain to lose. Fred Barnes, writing in The New Republic, asserts that Mr. Bush has ''lost control.'' Around the country, various editors are joining the trendy lynch mob.
Let me make a case for George. I have known the president since he served in the House 25 years ago. I know him to be a good man -- good in every sense of the word. His instincts are sound. His character is solid. These are intangibles, but they bear the weight of granite.
Neither President Bush nor Governor Clinton qualifies as a man of political principle. Philosophy is not their forte. This is not unusual. As a reporter, based in Washington, I have known hundreds of men at the highest levels of political life. Political philosophy mattered deeply to a few. The names of Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan and Pat Moynihan spring to mind. I cannot recall many others.
Let me express the exasperation of countless conservatives who are fed up -- to the teeth -- with the incessant grousing and grumbling of the political right.
Let me name names: the Heritage Foundation and Human Events, for two. National Review has waxed from cool to tepid. Selective criticism of Mr. Bush is one thing -- heaven knows I have jumped on the gentleman often enough -- but this unceasing drumbeat of negativism cannot be justified in the name of objectivity.
I am even more fed up with the liberal bias of the national media. Let me tell you, out of a lifetime in the news business, that Eugene McCarthy was right. He said the top people in both print journalism and TV are birds on a wire. When one flies, they all fly.
For more than a year, the opinion makers have been flying in one direction. It is said that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Ugliness lies beside it.
A reporter for the New York Times describes Mr. Bush's speech last Friday in California as ''tepid.'' That makes it tepid. The reporter, deadpan, inserts a descriptive note: Mr. Bush's 1,000 listeners at a Rotary Club breakfast were ''overwhelmingly white.'' Does any knowledgeable person suppose that little spin would have been added to a piece about Mr. Clinton?
When the country reads, day after day, over and over and over, that President Bush is a loser, that he has no program, that his campaign is in disarray, that his approval ratings are sliding, you can bet that his approval ratings will slide. Under this wet blanket of ''analysis,'' the most vigorous candidacy is certain to be smothered.
Mr. Bush repeatedly has submitted attractive programs to Congress. The Congress has killed them. In March and April he sought to eliminate scores of pork-barrel appropriations. Democratic leaders massacred his request. Mr. Bush has urged innovations in education. Congress has spurned them. Through effective use of his veto, Mr. Bush has kept a bad legislative record from getting worse.
A dilemma is the unavoidable choice between two equally undesirable alternatives. By that definition, conservatives face no dilemma at all.
George Bush is not going to withdraw. He is going to stay in the race. If his old supporters will cheer him on, he can win it yet.
James J. Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.