Bush, Clinton each claim to be Truman's heir President admits not voting for him

September 08, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

WAUKESHA, Wisconsin -- Clearly attempting to upstage his opponent, President Bush reasserted yesterday his claim to the legacy of Harry S. Truman, saying that Democrat Bill Clinton wasn't worthy of the honor.

Speaking an hour before Mr. Clinton's Labor Day kick-off in Independence, Mo., Mr. Bush told a Republican picnic crowd here that the Democratic nominee can't measure up to Mr. Truman's standard for candor, decisiveness, skill at foreign policy or willingness to serve his country in the armed forces.

It was a case of a good offense being the best defense for a Republican president whose use of Mr. Truman's legacy has drawn criticism from Democrats, including Mr. Truman's daughter, Margaret.

The Democratic critics argue that Mr. Bush should not compare himself to Mr. Truman, whose "bigger government" policies were the antithesis of what Mr. Bush advocates.

In fact, Mr. Bush acknowledged he didn't even vote for Mr. Truman in 1948 when the Democrat was waging his 'Give 'em hell" campaign against a "Do-nothing Congress."

"I admit it, Harry and I don't have everything in common," Mr. Bush said. "But still there are some similarities."

He found those in Mr. Truman's personal qualities, which Mr. Bush said offered a pointed contrast with what he hopes voters will see as Mr. Clinton's shortcomings of character.

"Harry Truman never engaged in double-speak," the president said. "He told people the truth, not merely what they they wanted to hear."

"Harry Truman never flinched from the tough decision," he added, urging his audience to contrast that "with Governor Clinton's waffling and wavering about whether he would have followed my lead and stood up to [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein."

"Harry Truman believed Americans could not turn their back on the rest of the world, even despite the challenges at home," the president continued.

"Governor Clinton virtually ignores foreign policy and flirts with the dangerous idea of sticking America's head in the protectionist sands."

"Harry Truman wanted to join the military and fight for his country and so did I, and I did it," Mr. Bush said. He didn't bother to add, and didn't need to in this highly partisan crowd, that Mr. Clinton is facing continuing questions about how he happened to miss military service when he came of draft age during the Vietnam War.

"If the buck stops there," Mr. Bush said, borrowing the slogan from a sign on Mr. Truman's Oval Office desk, "Governor Clinton is offering devalued currency."

With 57 days to go in his uphill re-election campaign, Mr. Bush was hitting hard on his central theme: that even for those who want change, Mr. Clinton is too risky an alternative.

The president didn't talk much yesterday about the persistently sluggish economy, which is the major source of his political woes, especially in the key industrial states.

Some hostility toward the president was evident in the politically mixed audience of nearly 100,000 attending the Polish Festival parade in the economically weakened community of Hamtramck, Mich.

The president, who refuses to eat broccoli, was pelted with a handful of broccoli florets as he walked down the parade route, and he was confronted with signs reading, "The Great MIS-leader," and, "Who Do I Trust -- not Bush."

His post-parade address, in which the president emphasized his role in encouraging and supporting the democratic movements in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, also drew occasional boos from what seemed like an organized section of Clinton-Gore supporters.

Mr. Bush has been trying to counter that sort of opposition during his Labor Day weekend swing by charging his Democratic opponent is running on "a message of fear."

"At a time of uncertainty, a time of wrenching global challenge, Governor Clinton wants to scare American workers so that he can slip into office -- with failed tax-and-spend policies of the past," said the president in Wisconsin.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush charged off on the last eight weeks of his re-election campaign by leading about 60,000 exercise enthusiasts on a five-mile walk over northern Michigan's Mackinac Bridge.

His sweaty, 57-minute finish was a demonstration of fitness calculated to set the spirited and aggressive tone Mr. Bush is promising to bring to the final furious weeks of his uphill contest.

'We're going to set a great pace . . . all the way to November," he promised at the start to a cheering crowd of bipartisan bridge walkers who had been specially outfitted moments earlier with Bush-Quayle hats, T-shirts and signs. "Now let's go."

The endeavor was also intended to give silent testimony to the 68-year-old chief executive's health.

Originally, the plan had been for him to stop, then leave with the explanation that he didn't want to further disrupt the 35th annual bridge walk.

But Mr. Bush apparently thought better of being driven off the bridge in a limousine when he's running against a 46-year-old opponent who keeps talking about the need for a new generation of leadership.

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