PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK

PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK

What kind of president would George Bush make?

As Sen. Bob Dole likes to point out (perhaps mistakenly), Mr. Bush has an impressive resume: decorated wartime pilot, oil millionaire, congressman, U.N. ambassador, CIA director and Republican national chairman, to name the highlights.He's a Phi Beta Kappa from Yale who disclaims any intellectual tendencies.

On paper his qualifications would appear to be superb. In the flesh, he comes across as a decent, honest person who believes in and practices old- fashioned virtues such as loyalty, politeness and respect.

However, some perceive him as prissy, or in modern parlance, a bit of a wimp. Clashes with Dan Rather and Sen. Dole may have helped shore up his image on that score, but he'll never be the John Wayne type.

Assuming Mr. Bush wins the Republican nomination, he could face a tough election in November. The reason is that so far the vice president has not yet projected a clear picture of what kind of president he'd make.

Ideologically, it is hard to know where the vice president stands because of his loyalty to President Reagan.

His critics like to point out that when Mr. Bush was seeking the presidency in 1980, he accused Mr. Reagan of advocating voodoo economics. As vice president, of course, Mr. Bush quickly got on the team as Vice President Voodoo. But was there an alternative?

Wherever Mr. Bush has been, he's blended in nicely with the environment, though always in a leadership role. What that may suggest is a lack of strong personal convictions such as those which characterized Mr. Reagan's public life.

However, I'm not sure history reveals many presidents who campaigned with the sort of ideological revolution Mr. Reagan had in mind when he sought the White House. Not even Franklin Roosevelt.

Harry Truman, one of our strongest leaders, and in retrospect a good president, is an example for those who contend the office makes the man, provided, of course, he has the right stuff.

I was only 11 when Mr. Truman became president on the death of Mr. Roosevelt in 1945. but I well remember thinking how weak and unskilled he seemed as a speaker, a sad comparison with the confident and eloquent Mr. Roosevelt, or even Wendell Wilkie and Tom Dewey, the Republican stalwarts of the time.

The moral may be never to underestimate a good poker player, which Mr. Truman was. He grew dramatically during his seven years in office, though I wish his strength of later years would have surfaced earlier. The Soviet Union might never have gained its stranglehold on Eastern Europe.

There is an old saying that you are what you are going to be. Character, once formed, seldom changes. Even St. Paul, who was transformed from Christianity's most feared enemy into its most ardent and successful advocate, was throughout his life a zealous proponent of causes.

If George Bush seems to lack ideological vision or video charisma, he is not without considerable strengths and appeal.

Man and boy, he's succeeded at most he set out to do, a notable exception being two unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate. Mr. Reagan defeated Mr. Bush for the Republican nomination in 1980 but thought enough of him to make him his vice president. And now Mr. Bush seems certain to be the nominee this year.

George Bush grew up in Greenwich, Conn., where I now reside. He demonstrated early on the ambition and competitiveness that were to shape his life at the preppy and affluent Greenwich Country Day School. He is remembered for being a natural leader, popular and a good athlete. He did everything better than anyone else, one classmate remembers.

At Andover, one of the oldest and largest Eastern prep schools, young George finished at the top of his class. He was also class president, president of the inter-fraternity council and captain of the baseball and soccer teams. Hardly the record of a wimp!

To be sure, George Bush has lived a privileged life. His father, Prescott, was a successful businessman and a U.S. senator. George went to all the right schools and was blessed with an easy intelligence and good family environment that contributed to making the character of the 63-year-old man he is today.

To his credit, he's never flaunted his gifts, though he has clearly used them.

What kind of president would George Bush make?

The record suggests he'd probably be a good one. But I'm not making up my mind yet. It is hoped the unfolding campaign will tell us how he might differ

from President Reagan and what his priorities will be.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have two attractive emerging candidates in Michael Dukakis and Albert Gore. It could be an interesting election.