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Did the Young Bush Have Fun? You Betcha, and Most Voters Forgive Him

Hate him if you will, but not for the gossip about pot and coke.

September 15, 2004|Lee Aitken | Lee Aitken is a writer and editor in Paris.

Like a cloud of pot smoke, allegations of past drug use have hung over George W. Bush for years. In Kitty Kelley's new book on the Bush family, they are even extended to the saintly Laura, who is reported to have sold a few dime bags in her college days. Odds are there is some fire where there is so much smoke, yet the issue has never gotten any traction with voters, and I think I know why.

Anyone old enough to have misbehaved in the 1960s and '70s is also old enough to remember that President Nixon went to China in 1972. The conventional wisdom about that trip was that only a Republican who had trained under Sen. Joe McCarthy could make such a historic gesture without being branded as "soft on communism."

A similar analysis, I fear, applies to recreational drug use. Only a Republican with a headlock on the religious right could admit what people already know: that most college-educated baby boomers tried drugs and maybe even enjoyed them.

George W. has not confessed this in so many words. But no less a paragon of family values than Barbara Bush told an interviewer in 1999: "Do I think he had a lot of fun at college? You betcha he did. You should work very hard at everything you do, but you also ought to have fun in life. He had a lot of fun, I imagine." (And if Barbara has any trouble imagining exactly what went on in Yale fraternities in the '60s, I'm sure many people would be glad to enlighten her.)

A Democrat would never dare to use that word -- fun -- in those circumstances. When pressed about past drug use, Democratic politicians clutch at the handy euphemism "I experimented" with this or that -- the implication being that the experiment failed, was never repeated and is now deeply regretted. Bill Clinton was ridiculed for adding that he "didn't inhale" (though my guess is that he didn't -- not everyone liked marijuana). But give the guy a break. Most Democrats have offered some version of the same defense: Yes, I tried drugs, but, trust me, I didn't have any fun. To admit anything more risks being saddled with all the baggage of the culture wars: liberalism, free love, feminism, you name it.

I don't want to argue that drugs are harmless. They have filled our prisons, corrupted our allies and ruined lives. But I'm not sorry to see youthful drug use by someone who has clearly moved on in life lose its juice as a campaign issue.

Those of us who did inhale in those years know that neither indulging nor abstaining was a very good measure of character, intelligence or any other trait pertinent to the presidency.

George W. Bush is a liar, a hypocrite and a global menace, but not because he allegedly smoked some dope at Yale or tooted some coke at Camp David.

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