A Toast to Jenna

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DAVID J. PHILLIP/AP

President George W. Bush's twin daughters Barbara and Jenna

Despite its romantic allure to the aging among us, being nineteen really isnít all that great. Youíre awkward, youíre trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, youíre experimenting with potentially disastrous hairstyles. Not the best moment to have the lens of national press mashed up against you.

Witness what celebrity hath wrought on the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara. Well, just Jenna, really. The University of Texas freshman has been cited twice in the past two months for alcohol-related incidents, most recently Tuesday night, when the manager of a Mexican restaurant called Austin police after the 19-year-old tried to order a beer using someone elseís ID. Barbara, as the tabloids breathlessly reported Thursday morning, "sat by and watched" as her twin was apprehended.

Hey, who doesn't do this kind of thing?

Local authorities are investigating the matter and refuse to say whether charges will be filed. I hope they wonít — this whole thing seems more than a bit overblown to me. What college freshman hasnít downed a few beers? Yes, Mom and Dad, itís true. While my angst-ridden first-born personality kept me in check while I was in high school, once I left for college, I engaged in a few games of quarters. And I spent one woeful Sunday morning outside my freshman dorm communing with the roots of a magnolia tree. Without delving into any of the grisly specifics, letís just say that poor tree saw me at my very worst.

Every kid deserves a chance to make a few stupid mistakes. And while I understand local law enforcementís eagerness to make an example of the Presidentís daughters, I very much doubt that ticketing Jenna for having a couple of drinks is going to do much to curb the scourge of underage drinking in America.

If you can carry a gun for your country, you can hoist a beer

Perhaps some good will come out of all this. Maybe Jenna, despite her apparent distaste for the press, will become a sort of symbol of the idiocy of our drinking laws. Ostensibly Jenna could join ROTC — okay, it would probably be the National Guard — and then be shipped off to fight a UN-sponsored war. When sheís finished fighting for the day, can she have a beer? Sure, if sheís overseas. But not on U.S. soil. Itís an old argument, but it still resonates, once you get over the deep unlikelihood of the idea of Jenna Bush joining the military.

This is not a story of self-promoting celebrities. The Bush twins never had a choice about submitting themselves to the national rumor mill. I very much doubt their father would have curbed his political aspirations just because his daughters werenít particularly comfortable having their pictures taken and hearing that their inauguration outfits were a little dowdy.

Is that Chelsea with a Cosmopolitan in her hand?

We never heard about Chelsea Clinton drinking. Chelsea may never have touched a drink until she was 21, although on a campus with as active a social life as Stanfordís, that seems highly unlikely. Whatís more likely is that Chelsea had a few years to learn the ways of the press before embarking on her own. The press more or less left her alone while Chelsea was in high school — and more surprisingly, they extended their hands-off policy when she left for school in California. Had she worked out some kind of agreement with the press? Was her Secret Service detail more sympathetic than Jennaís?

Yes, the Bush girls have had plenty of time in the spotlight, both as daughters of the governor and as members of the Bush clan. But none of the local pressís gentle pawing could have prepared them for the savagery of the national feeding frenzy.

And while Jenna seems rather foolishly intent on making the same mistake again and again, itís not exactly a national disaster. Sheís not doing anything dangerous, or even anything particularly embarrassing. Sheís simply engaging in a time-honored ritual: thumbing her nose at the authority figures in her life. Unfortunately for Jenna, her authority figures happen to live in the White House.