"He’s pretty much screaming that he did cocaine at one point," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "You wonder why he didn’t just say that before –- the whole story could have been squelched so easily." Did he really think he could win? "This is an object lesson in how difficult it is to fend off this media hunger for investigation into private lives," says Branegan. "[Former Clinton press secretary] Mike McCurry called it 'telling the truth slowly,' but I don’t think it’s done Bush any good, dragging it out like this." It’s the lesson every politician swears by –- full, early disclosure is the only smart play anymore –- until it happens to them. Bush’s Pandora’s box is mostly open, and he’s caught in the worst of worlds. He’s essentially admitted to it –- "Over 20 years ago, I did some things... I made some mistakes and I learned from those," Bush said Thursday –- and now he has to hope, as Branegan says, that "the public has a statute of limitations on this sort of illegal activity." But the worst part is how Bush ended the confession: "That's all I intend to talk about." Stay down, George. Stay down.
This is all starting to sound depressingly familiar. Once again the Sunday talk shows are crammed with senators and pundits calling for full disclosure. After all, said Orrin Hatch on "Meet the Press," the American people are a forgiving bunch, so if George W. Bush has anything to tell us about past cocaine use he should "just answer the darn question and get rid of it." Gary Bauer, Dan Quayle and Tom Daschle also dutifully hit the shows to push for a tell-all. One exception: James Carville, who argues in TIME this week that once you start answering these questions there's no way to get out of it alive: "Because once you start answering, you're never going to be able to stop. Cocaine? How many times did you do it? Where? Who was your source?" (That person might still be at large!) "It's like an elevator that has no down button. It just gets higher and higher."