Bush hopes history will be kinder than voters

November 05, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau Staff Writer Karen Hosler contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Bush gratefully accepted cheers from thousands of well-wishers at the White House yesterday and expressed the wistful hope that "maybe history will record" a strong contribution by him and his team.

Returning from Texas and a resounding defeat, Mr. Bush walked across a damp South Lawn from his motorcade as glum staffers, senior aides, congressional leaders and supporters turned suddenly buoyant and raucous to welcome him.

"Maybe you didn't read the election returns. It didn't work out quite the way we wanted," he joked.

In brief remarks, he showed genuine comfort in their presence.

"A great Cabinet, great top officials and then everyone else helping out there," he said as a sea of little flags and red-white-and-blue pom-poms jiggled below him in the light drizzle. "And now we will go inside, start readjusting, but you have given us a marvelous lift."

Turning to his vice president and Marilyn Quayle, who had accompanied him, Mr. Bush added:

"And let me just say about the guy standing next to me, we are so grateful to Dan Quayle for everything he did. And so -- hey, the guy -- he almost killed himself out there. Hard work, day in and day out. And what he wasn't doing Marilyn was, and so was Barbara Bush. So I think we owe all of them a great vote."

A current of recrimination rippled through the Bush camp yesterday, with officials recounting strategic errors of his presidency and even Mr. Quayle bluntly telling a television interviewer: "Bill Clinton certainly ran a much better campaign."

Campaign chairman Robert Teeter blamed the time-consuming primary challenge by Pat Buchanan, the strong independent candidacy of Ross Perot and the late, damaging publicity surrounding the Iran-contra indictment of former Defense Secretary Casper W. Weinberger.

"It seemed every time we got rolling something came along to knock us back," he said.

But bitterness was kept well removed from yesterday's ceremony.

Staffers moved a sign out of camera range that said: "Time will prove you're right."

Mr. Bush, spent from prolonged attack, sounded determined to make his final weeks a tribute to the office he holds.

"I can think of nothing better to say than . . . let's finish this job with style. Let's get the job done, cooperate fully with the new administration. The government goes on, as well it should, and we will support the new president and give him every chance to lead this country into greater heights."

The coming weeks at the White House will be absorbed with the transition and dealing with regulatory issues and the quasi-merger between USAir and British Airways.

There are also a plateful of burning foreign policy issues that will occupy a president whose attention to world affairs helped cost him the election.

These include a bitter winter of fighting in former Yugoslavia that could kill, freeze or starve hundreds of thousands, a backlash against painful economic reforms in Russia, civil warfare in Liberia and Angola, the threatened collapse of Cambodia's U.N.-orchestrated truce and stalled negotiations on easing world trade barriers.

Above all, with the election over, the administration seems determined to achieve as much progress as possible in the Middle East peace process, which resumes in talks here next week.

Top White House aide Dennis Ross will be deeply involved, and he may enlist Chief of Staff James A. Baker III to resume his role as forceful catalyst.

There also has been speculation that Mr. Baker might return to the State Department as acting secretary, although the legal aspects of such a move may be complex.

An official acknowledged that prospects for a major breakthrough were difficult to gauge, given "the dynamics of lame-duck diplomacy."

Yesterday, Mr. Baker stayed behind for a brief post-election vacation in Texas as the president made a fleeting stab at defining his own legacy:

"It's been a wonderful four years, and nobody can take that away from any of us. It's been good and strong, and I think we've really contributed something to the country. And maybe history will record it that way," Mr. Bush said.

Then he climbed the steps of the White House rear portico.

He lingered on the balcony briefly and, in an uncharacteristic show of public affection, put an arm gently around Barbara Bush's neck. With the other, he gave a final wave, and the couple went inside.

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