Taking the Low Road With Bush

GEORGE F. WILL

August 28, 1992|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- When George Bush's campaign slithered through Georgia, Rep. Newt Gingrich rose to the challenge of lowering still further the tone of it. Mr. Gingrich's high rank in the Republican leadership is the only good reason for hoping that Democratic control of the House continues.

He told a Bush rally that Woody Allen is ''a perfect model of Bill Clinton Democratic values'' and that ''Woody Allen having non-incest with a non-daughter to whom he was a non-father because they were a non-family fits the Democratic platform perfectly.''

That would cost Mr. Gingrich his reputation for seriousness if he still had one, and it illustrates how cynicism at the top of the Republican ticket pervades the entire party.

Mr. Gingrich did not, in any meaningful sense, mean what he said. He was just emitting the sort of noise that characterizes what Bush calls his campaign about ''trust.''

Mr. Gingrich's synthetic sincerity was further displayed as he hyperventilated about Mr. Clinton's joking remark, months ago, that maybe he should have inhaled that marijuana (thereby escaping the ridicule of ''I didn't inhale,'').

Mr. Gingrich calls Mr. Clinton's remark ''the single most destructive action by a politician in my lifetime.'' His lifetime began in 1943. Make your own list of the evils he considers less significant.

After Mr. Gingrich regaled the crowd with his Woody Allen japes, a Bush aide said, ''The president does not want to make Woody Allen an issue.'' There they go again, dancing the Bush Two-Step. The campaign always disassociates itself from the stream of dishonesty.

Nothing new here. In 1988, when Mr. Bush's Iowa campaign smeared Elizabeth Dole, Robert Dole asked Mr. Bush, on the Senate floor, if Mr. Bush had authorized it. Said Mr. Bush: Maybe I did and maybe I didn't.

That is how Mr. Bush's various campaigns have talked to the nation: down. Read my curled lip.

On television, Robert Teeter, Bush campaign co-chair, was asked about the constant attacks on Hillary Clinton at the Republican convention. Mr. Teeter, two-stepping, said, ''I personally don't think Hillary Clinton is much of -- part of an issue of this campaign and I've said that a number of times.'' And no doubt will have occasions to say it, piously, an additional number of times before November.

Can't the Bush people be honest about anything? Mrs. Clinton is an issue and should be. She is an experienced, outspoken advocate about various causes and she probably would influence the tone and direction of a Clinton administration.

The problem is not that the Bush campaign obviously thinks she is an issue, but that the campaign is so mendacious when portraying what she has written. (A bulletin: She does not think 12-year-olds should be able to sue parents if asked to take out the garbage.)

Peter Hart, the Democratic consultant, calls this Republican strategy: Instead of running Bush-Quayle against Clinton-Gore, Republicans want to eclipse their least popular and the Democrats' most popular candidate, running George and Barbara against Bill and Hillary.

Mrs. Clinton is being ''borked.'' The verb ''to bork'' means to lie about the writings of a public figure. There is rough justice in what she is undergoing. Lots of her friends participated in the borking of Robert Bork, and she no doubt enjoyed it. Still, Bush campaigners are lying about her record.

Soon Bill Clinton will have to say to Mr. Bush what Senator Dole publicly said to Mr. Bush in 1988: ''Stop lying about my record.'' Mr. Bush says Governor Clinton has raised taxes 128 times.

He says this even though columnist Michael Kinsley has demonstrated that the list of ''tax increases'' is a tissue of falsehoods. (Some taxes are counted several times; components a tax are counted as separate taxes; minor fees, such as the $1 court cost imposed on convicted criminals, are counted as taxes.)

By the tendentious criteria used by the Bush campaign, Mr. Bush has raised taxes more often in four years than Clinton has in 12.

So, what does Mr. Teeter say of the 128 number? ''We're not going to quit saying it about Mr. Clinton.''

Bush operatives constantly whine about the media but Mr. Bush is benefiting from the mock sophistication of journalists who, striking a world-weary stance, say of his campaign dishonesty, ''It was ever thus in American politics.'' Even if that were true, it would be no excuse, and it isn't true. This is extraordinary.

Today, honorable conservatives feel the sort of fury felt by honorable conservatives 40 years ago when Joe McCarthy was giving anti-communism a bad name.

There is a strong case to be made against Governor Clinton concerning school choice, term limits, protectionism, automobile fuel efficiency standards, his ties to trial lawyers, his running mate's environmental hysteria and much more.

But serious people flinch from being associated with the intellectual slum that is the Bush campaign, with its riffraff of liars and aspiring ayatollahs.

Mr. Bush calls his campaign ''a crusade to bring back values.'' His campaign is powerful evidence of the need for such a crusade.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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