George W. Bush -- Did he or didn't he?

Cocaine use: GOP contender cannot pace himself with qualified denials on the campaign trail.

August 25, 1999

NOTHING can be hidden from public view during a presidential campaign. That's a lesson Texas Gov. George W. Bush should have learned by now, but apparently hasn't.

Mr. Bush, 53, can't put to rest questions about possible drug use when he was much younger. But that's his own fault; the leading Republican candidate for president refuses to give complete answers. You can't do that in a political fishbowl.

First, he refused to say whether he once used cocaine. Then he stated he could have passed the standard used in background checks by the White House in 1989, when his father was president. Then he stretched his drug-free statement to the past 25 years.

But what about Mr. Bush's escapades in his 20s, when he acknowledges he liked to carouse? He's gone as far as admitting that "I've made mistakes years ago, and I've learned from those mistakes."

The worst thing Governor Bush can do is continue to drag out his equivocations. Sooner or later, the facts will come out.

Mr. Bush has been dancing around this issue since he became governor of Texas. In 1994, he kept the controversy alive by stating, "Maybe I did; maybe I didn't."

Americans in the post-Clinton era want presidential candidates to be honest about their past personal conduct. Illicit drug use is wrong, and dangerous. An older, wiser Mr. Bush knows that. He has already acknowledged he swore off alcohol because he realized it was ruining his life. He's admired for taking that stand. So why not clear up fully the drug-use question?

His answer may not please purists in the Republican Party, but no presidential candidate is perfect. Mr. Bush also may have to respond to charges of hypocrisy if he admits earlier drug use: As governor, he pushed for tough laws against drug violators.

Still, it is time to get all the facts out in the open. If Mr. Bush wants to set an example for youth, and for other presidential candidates, he must act presidential and tell the truth, the whole truth.

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