Times Endoresement

GOV. George W. Bush is the clear choice for president of the United States.

How Bush became the candidate of this editorial page that endorsed Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton and, as recently as last year, the fledgling campaign of Sen. Bill Bradley, is a tale of this political year and of the words and actions the two major-party candidates have chosen in their run for office.

On two large themes, Bush has emerged as the superior candidate. Much about him is unknown and much about him remains untested in national office. But in the end, this was not a decision based on offices held or promises made, it was about the qualities Americans need and deserve in those who hold public trust. This endorsement is founded on two bedrock differences between Bush and Vice President Al Gore:

Integrity and civility

The thread that binds last year's early endorsement of Bill Bradley for president to today's endorsement of George W. Bush is ethical behavior, as a candidate and as an opponent. Gore's attacks on Bradley during the primary debates were a glimpse of his hunger to win at any cost. While Bush must still earn our trust for his own ethical behavior in the White House, Gore has already lost it.

Bush promises to bring a sense of bipartisanship to the White House and has shown that ability with Democrats in the Texas statehouse. Gore shares the blame for one of the most divisive and partisan periods in recent federal history. If the Repub-licans in Congress get public contempt for narrow, stingy, partisan bickering, they have danced with an equal partner in the Clinton-Gore White House, a place of contrivance and delay when faced with legitimate public inquiry.

Bush was elected twice in a large, multicultural state with aspects that mirror much of America. The Texas governorship is sometimes a muted office, but what emerges about Bush in public forums is his natural embrace of diversity and education. He is not an artificial man. His most intense and free-flowing talk arrives when the topic is classrooms. During the debates, his passion for education for all students overwhelmed Gore's bureaucratic approach to education reform.

Taxes and trade

While the economy under the Clinton-Gore administration has been spectacular, it is not a certainty that Gore's policies would allow the lighter hand of government that stimulates economic growth. On a wide range of issues, Gore shows an instinctive reach to government for nearly all solutions. Yet, the past eight years have shown it is a combination of personalities and events, from a budget-conscious Congress to the tough love of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, that have sparked the country's remarkable boom. In policies and words, Gore has abandoned the "Third Way" of Democratic politics that was supposed to diminish the federal role traditional to his party.

Bush understands, possibly better than Gore can ever know, the dynamics of taxes, regulations and enterprise that form a successful business. On singular issues such as the Northwest's dependence on trade and global commerce, Bush is certain and straightforward, Gore is hesitant. He favors trade but is quick to accommodate anti-trade forces with rationales for more studies and reviews. He equivocates on nearly everything. One simple example is the issue of removal of Northwest dams. Gore could not give a straight answer and was finally saved when President Clinton delayed a federal decision for another decade.

No endorsement of a modern presidency can dodge the question of abortion. On this issue, we have a profound disagreement with Bush's record and the Republican Party platform he represents. On abortion and the wider, comprehensive spectrum of issues that deal with women's health and family planning, there is a sharp difference between this editorial page and Gov. Bush. The question is whether reproductive rights create an unreachable divide between pro-rights advocates and the Texas governor. We conclude they do not.

This time and under these circumstances, we believe the overpowering need for integrity and civility in office, for a realistic balance between government and commerce, for a new, bipartisan era to confront the needs of the nation all point to the election of George W. Bush.