Bush takes to airwaves, hoping for campaign lift

October 08, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Bush attacked Bill Clinton last night for allegedly taking part in anti-war protests in England as a student and said he was "concerned" about Mr. Clinton's trip to Moscow during that period two decades ago.

"I cannot for the life of me understand . . . demonstrating against your own country -- no matter how strongly you feel -- when you are in a foreign country," Mr. Bush said in an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Referring to reports that the Democratic nominee participated in protests against the Vietnam War while he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, the president said he found that much more offensive than students holding protests marches in this country.

Mr. Bush, in his first appearance on the call-in talk show circuit, also seemed to give credence to questions being raised about a trip to Moscow that Mr. Clinton made during a break from Oxford in winter 1969.

"I don't want to tell you what I really think because I don't have all the facts," he said. But he noted that Mr. Clinton's visit, which the Clinton campaign has called a vacation trip, took place one year after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to put down a democratic movement.

"I'm just concerned about it," said Mr. Bush, whose campaign has been trying to fan these reports into a major controversy. "I think the answer is [for Mr. Clinton] to level with the American people."

Appearing before a hand-picked -- and, thus, very friendly -- studio audience, Mr. Bush chatted his way through an hour and a dozen calls, many of which were not friendly.

He was asked by a disappointed supporter to defend his record. Others asked him to explain a "divisive campaign" as well as the apparent lack of action to stop the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A gay reservist from Baltimore raised the issue of gays in the military. The caller noted that gays were being discharged from the military and asked Mr. Bush to justify the policy.

"I think it ought to be looked at on a case-by-case basis," the president said, adding that "if the military comes to me with a change recommendation, I'll consider it."

But he stressed that he intended to abide by the recommendations of "commanders who have struggled with the problem."

"It's a very different view than some have. . . . That doesn't make me discriminatory [by] backing what we need for military discipline."

He even got a question about charges that he has evaded paying income taxes in Maine by declaring Texas his home state. At Mr. King's urging, the president dug out his up-to-date Texas driver's license with a smiling photograph that was shown to the television audience.

The president remained unusually relaxed and jovial, even telling one vociferous critic that he would put him down as "doubtful."

He joked abut not watching the Democratic National Convention in July because he still had the voice of Texas Gov. Ann W. Richards "ringing in my ears."

" 'Where's George?' " he said, imitating her refrain and drawing a big laugh from the studio audience.

He sat with Mr. King along the river walk in San Antonio, Texas, where the president attended a ceremony yesterday marking the signing of the free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Mr. King said it was the first time a president has taken calls on television since Jimmy Carter did so in 1977.

Mr. Bush made his first appearance on the King show Sunday night but refused to take calls at the White House, saying that to do so would be undignified. He agreed to appear again yesterday and to take calls, because he was speaking from the campaign trail in San Antonio.

It was unclear how much of an audience Mr. Bush drew. He was up against stiff competition on each of the major networks, including the first game of the American League baseball playoffs.

Asked by Mr. King about the importance of the looming series of president debates, Mr. Bush said they would have "some" impact but "we don't think that it's be all, end all. It's a chance to stand up there and say what I'm for."

"I'm not nervous," he added, "but I'm not particularly excited about it."

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