Bush tells voters not to take risk in terrorist era

November 01, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Staff Writer

OSHKOSH, Wis. -- On a gray, blustery Halloween, President Bush whistle-stopped through Wisconsin yesterday warning voters that Gov. Bill Clinton was using scare tactics -- while telling them that Mr. Clinton's "pattern of indecisiveness" made his election too great a risk in an era of potential nuclear terrorism.

Mr. Bush also charged that "Governor Clinton has become panicked" on the final weekend of the campaign. He said the Arkansas governor had "begun a series of personal attacks on my character, and he has basically called me a liar" regarding whether he knew and supported the Iran arms-for-hostages swap, as recently indicated in a 1986 memo by President Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense, Caspar W. Weinberger.

Mr. Bush again denied the report, calling it part of a "Democratic witch hunt."

But he said he welcomed having the issue of trust raised as the critical issue in the campaign, saying that "being attacked on character by Mr. Clinton is like being called ugly by a frog. Don't worry about it."

At a flag-bedecked depot in Burlington, "Chocolate City U.S.A.," on the Wisconsin Central Railroad freight line, the president specifically asked the crowd to imagine the specter of "some unforeseen upheaval, some terrorist getting hold of a nuclear weapon, and how you would react to that."

Character is critical in a president, he said, "because of the crises that you never possibly can foresee." While acknowledging that "yes, the world is much safer today," Mr. Bush quoted Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, asking: "Who knows where the next crisis will come? The Soviet bear is dead, but there are a lot of wolves out there in the woods."

Mr. Bush invited the crowd to "close your eyes, imagine in that dangerous situation an American leader without any experience, completely untested, a leader about whom literally we know very, very little. And what we do know is this troubling pattern that I mentioned, this pattern of being on one side, this pattern of indecisiveness.

"And so, I don't believe that we can take this kind of risk, not now, not in this incredibly uncertain time, and not when our children's security is at stake."

At the same time, Mr. Bush spoke of his "major accomplishment" in making it possible with the end of the Cold War for American children to "go to bed at night without the same fear of nuclear war that their mothers and dads had."

Before conjuring up the picture of nuclear terrorism under a President Clinton, Mr. Bush told the Burlington crowd: "Today is Halloween, our opponents' favorite holiday. They're literally trying to scare America" by trying to convince voters that the United States is "a nation in decline." He cited the latest government quarterly report of a 2.7 percent increase in the gross domestic product as evidence that "our economy, thank God, is moving forward."

After criticizing the Arkansas governor's record in his own state, the president warned that under a President Clinton, "Every day is going to be Halloween. Fright and terror!" And later, in Oskhosh, the president, grinning, repeated: "Fright and terror! Witches and devils everywhere!"

On this Halloween, however, the hobgoblin of the Iran-contra affair literally flew over the Bush campaign train at Burlington. A single-propeller plane hauled a sign that read: "Iran-contra haunts you."

At Oshkosh, the president said that Mr. Clinton in picking up on the Weinberger memo was acting "in a desperate attempt to stop his free-fall in the polls, and I'm not going to let him do that." The president again said that "these silly little charges, accusations" about his actions as vice president were not new and that he had answered them many times under oath.

As the Bush campaign train called "The Spirit of America!" rolled north and west at a moderate pace for 279 miles through the browning autumn countryside, Bush political aides were asked why the president was spending the full last Saturday of the campaign on a train in Wisconsin, a state with only 11 electoral votes.

Ronald Kaufman, a White House political adviser, said the state was "competitive" -- Mr. Bush was 3 percentage points behind in the most recent Milwaukee Journal poll -- and besides, "The pictures are great." Voters in Michigan and other larger states who turn on their television sets, he said, will see "a really pretty picture of rural America, and the message is right. That's all that matters."

Mr. Kaufman reported that the president during the train trip was conducting as many as 30 interviews with radio and television reporters aboard his private car, "The Baltimore," owned by the CSX freight line. The car brought up the rear of a collection of 19 passenger cars taken from the stock of several rail lines, all pulled by an engine from Wisconsin Central.

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