Bush must come clean on history of drug use . . .

August 24, 1999|By David Finkle

JUST AS long as he doesn't say something like "But I didn't inhale through my nose" . . .

The "he," of course, is George W. Bush -- W. standing for, it's beginning to seem, "wriggling." He appears to be doing that in his attempt not to give a direct answer to the question about cocaine use.

It's also beginning to appear that the Texas governor has been reading his trusty Ralph Waldo Emerson, especially the comment that goes, "Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."

That could explain why he'll answer some questions -- the marital fidelity query -- but says, "I refuse to play the game" in response to the substance-abuse one.

At first, Mr. Bush said, "I could pass the federal test for not using drugs in the past seven years." Then he added he would have met "the most stringent conditions" in place during his father's administration.

Those stipulated a no-drug-use declaration for a 15-year period preceding 1989, which would mean that he has not used drugs since 1974, when he was 28.

The implication -- strengthened by his now-famous declaration, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible," -- is that before 1974, Mr. Bush used drugs, in particular cocaine.

Rampant rumors

But implication is not confirmation, and, as has been reiterated throughout accounts of this issue, no facts have so far been turned up to substantiate what, in his less forthcoming frame of mind, Mr. Bush maintains are planted rumors.

The candidate, of course, is on the record as having belonged to Delta Kappa Epsilon while a Yale University undergraduate, and in those middle-to-late '60s, Dekes and Dekehood were not synonymous with abstinence and politesse. But Mr. Bush is the only one who can set the record straight on his own personal history. So why doesn't he put an end to what has become, and threatens to remain, a feeding frenzy? Why isn't he putting a definitive stop to what he has to know the press won't let up about anytime soon?

During his current Texas administration, Mr. Bush has been tough on drugs. So he may be worried that if it comes out that he has used drugs, he opens himself up to charges of hypocrisy.

Born again defense

But does he? A good candidate could always claim to have turned over a new leaf, to fight against drugs from experience. And Mr. Bush indeed has spoken out strongly against drug usage, often in schools to children.

The argument could be made -- and Mr. Bush makes it -- that no matter how much he rails against drugs, were he to acknowledge his having used them, he would give young people the temptation to emulate him. There may be something to such a contention, because a certain perverse glamour is imparted when prominent figures admit to participating in a forbidden activity.

Also, it's not unusual for youths to do exactly what they've been told not to do.

Of course, this is putting the best face on Mr. Bush's demural. A worse face would be a fear of losing his comfortable lead and his credibility in the presidential race.

Actually, there may be an even worse face: As long as Mr. Bush refuses to squelch the drug question, he postpones even more pertinent questions about, say, his controversial stands on abortion and gun control.

What's called for is honesty. Which could go a long way in the post-Clinton-obfuscation age toward endearing a candidate to the public despite past indiscretions.

David Finkle, a New York free-lance writer, wrote this for Knight-Ridder News Service.

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