How George W.'s Drug Dilemma Could Prove Positive

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Voters be aware: George W. Bush did coke. Or, to be more precise, didnít not do some serious drugs at some point between his birth in July 1946 and 15 years before his fatherís graduation to the presidency in January 1989 (at which point the younger Bush was 27). "Over 20 years ago, I did some things," Bush finally said Thursday. "I made some mistakes and I learned from those. That's all I intend to talk about." Why such a roundabout confession? Bush says he doesnít want an overt admission to encourage the kiddies (yours, not his); "I DID COKE" is also the kind of headline that burns holes in the front pages of Bible Belt dailies. But make no mistake: He did, and now you know. What are you gonna do about it?

Call him a hypocrite? Bush has presided over some very tough cocaine laws in his stint as head of the tough-guy state of Texas; less than a gram gets you put in jail for a very long time ó if you get caught. Bush didnít; one imagines that that rich, oil-patch twenty-somethings who were sons of vice presidents didnít have to worry a whole lot about that if they werenít completely stupid. Is he allowed to be tough on drugs as governor, two decades down the straight and narrow? Certainly thatís preferable to the alternative. Hypocrisy? Soís the idea that one man could tell 250 million others what to do based entirely on his own experience. Thatís what leadership is all about: inspiring people to do what they should do, for their own good and for the good of the country, even if you havenít always done it yourself.

Get into a moral lather? Sorry. Drugs ó alcohol and tobacco are drugs ó arenít sinful, unless youíre a Mormon or similar. Adultery, of which Bush joyfully declared himself innocent at the tiniest prompting, is sinful but not illegal, which is why our presidentís last name is still Clinton. Use of illegal drugs is no more sinful than coffee, smoking or boozing, the last of which Bush actually added to his no-more list 13 years back. The "bad" drugs are illegal because they are deemed to have an adverse effect on society, which (arguably) outweighs the twin costs of policing their use and attempting to wring demand for the drugs out of the public breast. (See Prohibition.) Any moral distinctions people try to come up with are cynical ó theyíre merely a low-cost deterrent that helps the government keep demand low.

Applaud him for standing up to the yelping hounds of the modern press? If you like ó but the hounds canít help it. The news media today is too diverse, too competitive and too hooked on personal scandal to ever lay off a public figure the way it did with JFK or FDR. Bush made what some might consider a quixotic effort to resist the so-called "politics of personal destruction." Others might call it hubristic. The best way to sate the beast on a particular story is to feed it, and feed it right away ó before it develops a real appetite. Bush admitted to drinking too much until he quit 13 years ago; admitting some hard-drug use ("once or twice" tends to work well) 25 years ago might have put all the rumors ó and all the questions ó to bed long before anybody cared. On Thursday, Bush said (with a characteristic lack of specifics), "I'm going to tell people that I made mistakes and that I've learned from those mistakes. And if they like it, I hope they give me a chance, and if they don't like it, they can find somebody else to vote for." That was an even better answer three months ago.

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