When George Bush won the presidency four years ago, he was heralded as the first incumbent vice president to capture the White House since Martin Van Buren pulled off this feat in 1836. Is he now to suffer Van Buren's fate: a defeat after just one term, with mocking opponents chanting "Van, Van, the used-up man"?
Mr. Bush's task as Republicans gather in Houston tonight for the opening of their 35th national convention is to demonstrate convincingly that he is anything but a "used-up man." It will not be easy. At 68, he would be the second-oldest president ever elected, second only to Ronald Reagan. His health is not the best. Close observers note a weariness and frustration with the whole political process, an increasingly frenetic pattern of behavior and a passivity that drives battle-eager Republicans to distraction. Like the Van Buren platform, the Bush re-election platform is of the small tent, not the big tent, variety.
Yet this president is also a proven fighter who has vowed he will do whatever is necessary to defeat Bill Clinton just as he did in Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. Despite their doubts about their candidate, Republicans in Houston should not doubt him on this score. An air strike at Iraq during or after the convention could galvanize a stalled and stymied campaign, whatever its foreign policy justifications.