HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A cool, understated Vice President George Bush charged back out on the campaign trail Thursday, set-jawed sure that he had shown his presidential rivals and Republican voters some choice glimpses of aplomb under fire.
"I'm satisfied, but not gloating or anything." That is how Bush described himself after Wednesday's two-hour debate with his five GOP presidential rivals.
His advisers said they felt Bush's showing at the nationally televised debate was strong enough so that gloating would be superfluous.
Said Bush: "I felt all right about it. I was very satisfied. But that's my business, it's my job. There are a lot of these events, and I've got a long-range view. I'm not all caught up in winners and losers."
For all his gentlemanly reserve as he savored his performance, Bush allowed himself a hint of delight for having disproved rivals who had thought he would be easy to rattle in this, the first of the Republican campaign's face-to-face encounters.
'Make a Few Points'
"It gave me an opportunity to make a few points I wanted to make about leadership" is how Bush put it to supporters in Houston immediately after the debate.
Then, aboard Air Force Two Thursday morning, the vice president went on to say he expected more rough and tumble ahead.
"I've learned that, when you've been declared the front-runner, you take your shots. . . . I'm going to defend myself, say what I believe, and I'm going to take a lot more shots before this is over. But, if they get too cheap, they're going to get it right back."
It was the people around Bush who were the most telling with their reactions to the debate. Wife Barbara Bush, often stoical and thin-smiled in public, wore an ear-to-ear grin at a post-debate reception Wednesday night.
Campaign director Lee Atwater edged toward being downright smug. "The reaction back at headquarters is nothing short of overwhelming, so there is no point in talking about it. The debate speaks for itself," Atwater said.
Space Policy Address
Also, during his day-after campaign trip to Alabama, Bush delivered a major address on space policy to an audience at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Space Flight Center here. He said that, in addition to the space shuttle, the United States would be justified in building a new "heavy-lift" rocket "designed for minimum cost."
Such a rocket is needed for large payloads, Bush said, particularly for the controversial space-based Strategic Defense Initiative.
But, departing from standard space and technology speech-making fare, Bush turned philosophical and dwelt on global environmental concerns.
The fragility of the Earth has been highlighted by space exploration, Bush said. He cited the "self-destructive" effects of civilization as seen in both the ominous hole in the Antarctic ozone layer and the global warming, or "greenhouse effect," due to burning of fossil fuels.
"I recall the old fisherman's prayer: 'The sea is so large, Lord, and my boat is so small . . . .' We face the prospect of being trapped on a boat we have irreparably damaged, not by the cataclysm of war but by the slow neglect of a vessel we believed to be impervious to our abuse."
Nearly a quarter of his 20-minute address in a NASA hangar was consumed by such prose, delivered with an occasional dramatic pause.
"Let us remember, as we chase our dreams into the stars, that our first responsibility is to our Earth, to our children, to ourselves," Bush said. "Yes, let us dream, and let us pursue those dreams, but let us first preserve the fragile and precious world we inhabit."