Politics & Policy

Drugs, Lies, & Governor Bush


The other day in Vancouver, British Columbia, my travelling companion and I walked past a charming little café called the Hemporium. I casually suggested to my friend that we might stop in to sample their fare, taking a page from two American leaders, one great.

Both Bill Clinton and William F. Buckley Jr., by their own accounts, never violated U.S. drug laws even though they gave pot a whirl. The similarities end there. Buckley parlayed that event into a lifelong streak of law-abidingness. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, spent the rest of his life jumping back and forth over the legal line, like a girl playing hopscotch. Bill Buckley induced reefer madness in a controlled environment in international waters. Clinton was in England when he tried pot, but he didn’t go there for that reason. Instead he was trying to maintain his “viability” in the American political system while staring at a lava lamp and heatedly arguing with friends about whether the U.S. military was vile or simply evil.

Clinton’s purported inability to inhale ganja probably has more to do with the fact that he can recognize the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” more easily than he can spot the truth. Besides, he reputedly favored eating pot brownies like a starving man at a hot dog-eating contest (“look at all those steaming weenies” — what’s that from?) (No, the answer isn’t what one guy said to another upon seeing the Gore campaign in a hot tub).

Anyway, my companion declined to visit the Hemporium – no doubt because the patrons would yell “Jessica!” like the gang at Cheers yells “Norm!” — and I certainly didn’t press the point since I haven’t dated Mary Jane in years.

Actually the real reason she declined sidling up to the bar for a frothy glass of hemp juice — other than the usual reasons: “it’s wrong,” “it’s stupid,” “it’s illegal,” yada yada yada — is that she still would like to work in a Republican administration someday (I would too, I guess, but I think that ship has sailed).

You know who else would like to work in a Republican administration? George W. Bush. He has a slightly different problem. Rumors that he used to lace up Nose Nikes are legion.

He says that he would and could answer “no” to the FBI question asked of all government employees: “Have you used drugs in the last seven years?” This begs the question, Well, when was the last time you used Bolivian marching powder? Eight years ago? When your dad was president? Were you watching the Gulf War poolside at Jimmy Caan’s house with Grand Master Flash blasting over the Bose speakers? How about when pops was vice president? Governor Bush, do you now or have you ever used bathroom stalls for reasons other than number 1 or number 2?

Reporters are hounding the guy on the question. He says he won’t “play that game” of answering to rumors put out by other campaigns. The Richard Cohens and Maureen Dowds are having great fun pointing out that the man has revealed some very personal things about his personal life — his fidelity to his wife for example — but won’t point out others. This smacks of hypocrisy, and just because Dowd and Cohen make the point doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Everyone agrees that it is fair game for a reporter to ask, “Governor, did you ever steal a television set?” or “Mr. Bush, have you ever embezzled money?” These things are crimes and it is perfectly fair to ask someone running for the chief law-enforcement job in the land if he ever broke the law, especially when he put people in the slammer for doing the same thing.

But at the same time, there is something different about drug use. Asking a friend if he ever smoked dope or signed up for the all coca starve-and-carve diet feels more personal than asking him if he ever robbed a bank. Somehow drugs have effortlessly segued into the realm of “lifestyle.”

This is a very difficult issue for me. I am against legalizing drugs (though I might decriminalize pot). I’ve seen a lot of drug tragedies up close. But at the same time one must concede that reality has changed. It is more embarrassing in many circles to admit you smoke cigarettes made from tobacco than from pot. I am sure that at the premiere party for Talk magazine, or some similar elite media fête, more heads would turn if you said you used to vote Republican in the 1980s than if you said you used to receive your mail in the bathroom at Studio 54.

Right now I am inclined to endorse some good old-fashioned conservative hypocrisy. Drug use is the sort of crime you need to get caught doing to be punished for it. We can have a big argument about that another time. When I was young and reckless, to paraphrase the governor of Texas, I did young and reckless things. Well, I’m still young and I’m still reckless but I don’t do some of the things that I used to do (if you know what I mean) — and I am a better man for it. I would be very upset to have someone hold those things against me now.

Still, the trick is learning the lesson. That was the compromise the nation came to about Bill Clinton. For years he behaved like a man who mistook that bowl of Viagra for jellybeans. He “caused pain” in his marriage. But he was done with all that according to his interview on 60 Minutes in 1992. It turns out he was liar and his pants were still really on fire. He chose to break the deal he made with the American people at the snap of a thong. He then compounded the lies by using the legal and political system for his own cover-up squad. That’s an important distinction.

Whether or not he ever used white bag, Bush seems to have legitimately learned some lessons. He gave up drinking (perhaps that was his gateway drug?) and he sincerely describes himself as born again. He doesn’t seem to be lying now; in fact his silly word games smack of a desire not to lie. We are all products of the lessons we’ve learned. And his supporters seem to believe that Bush has learned the right lessons. Personally, I’d like to hear him explain those lessons rather than shrug off inquiries as “just another game.”


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