RICHMOND, Va. — For President Bush, a firm believer in the use of the White House as a "bully pulpit," the search for groups worthy of a presidential salute never ends. On Wednesday, he turned the spotlight on a group of roving environmentalists from San Diego.
"A great group of rambling recyclers out there--the San Diego Can Crushers. Let's hear it for the San Diego Can Crushers," Bush declared, in his most presidential style. And when the applause was not to his satisfaction, he added: "Now we can do better than that."
Picking up where Ronald Reagan left off in his effort to promote voluntarism, Bush singled out just such efforts as those of groups recycling cans, in his call for the nation to "renew the environmental ethic in America."
With representatives of the 65,000-member Family Motor Coach Assn. arrayed before him--many of them on webbed lawn chairs--in the muddy fields of the Virginia State Fairgrounds, where they had gathered for a convention, Bush was part state fair pitchman and part gagman.
The speech preceded a visit to a fund-raiser for Republicans in Virginia, where former state GOP Atty. Gen. J. Marshall Coleman is running for governor against Democrat Douglas Wilder. Wilder, the state's lieutenant governor, would be the first black governor in the United States if he is elected in November.
In his address to the recreational vehicle owners, Bush urged Americans "to renew our commitments--both to nature and to our fellow man."
"The natural world that supports us--and the society that sustains us--both need our help," he said.
Restoring 'Natural Splendor'
"We must do more than simply limit the damage that we've already done," Bush declared. "We must work to preserve and restore the integrity and richness of this continent's natural splendor."
The San Diego Can Crushers are an informal part of the San Diego chapter of the Family Motor Coach Assn., White House spokesman Sean Walsh said after the speech. The group takes part in recycling and highway cleanup efforts.
The President also called for the restoration of "the fabric of the society, reweaving the threads of lives torn by poverty, despair and alienation."
"That means renewing our neighborhoods," he said, as he urged support for voluntary efforts to combat homelessness and illiteracy.
Support for voluntary action was an element in Bush's presidential campaign last year, and he has established within the White House an Office for National Service to spearhead opportunities for volunteers.
Reflecting the emphasis that he is placing this week on voluntarism, Bush told a group gathered earlier in the day on the White House South Lawn: "America needs your help."
Preview of Program
Raising the curtain on a program that he is scheduled to announce today in New York City, he called "Youth Engaged in Service to America," the President said: "It's a time of need for millions of Americans.
"Too many people are free-falling through society with no prospect of landing on their feet," he said. "No one--young, old, white, brown or black--should be permitted to go through life unclaimed."
Speaking to a group of youngsters already involved in volunteer groups, Bush said, with the fervor of an evangelist:
"You can find what you're looking for in helping others. If you walk this path with me, I can promise you a life full of meaning and adventure."
The President said that the program would not require an additional government bureaucracy. Rather, he said: "Youth Engaged in Service is a movement--a way of looking at life."
He said that the program is intended "to encourage volunteers of all ages, all backgrounds, all abilities."
"All of you have something to offer. Kids from tough neighborhoods, kids from broken homes, kids who have grown up on food stamps and hand-me-downs. Maybe you think you've got nothing anyone wants. You're wrong," he said.
"The gifts I'm talking about are more precious--your energy and experience, your time and talents--gifts that come right here from the heart. And if you've got the will to help, you really have all that you need."