Monday, February 21, 2005

Unsurprising Revelations

According to a book that I read many years ago, President William McKinley customarily put away his cigars when photographers entered the Oval Office at the White House. The children of America, he reckoned, must not see their President smoking. More than a century ago, then, smoking was already seen as a bad influence. In recent years, another President William (Clinton), with the aid of a young female White House intern, demonstrated why children should really not be exposed to the influence of smokers.

George W. Bush, as Presidential Candidate in 2000, made comments in phone conversations with advisor Doug Wead that seems to be a pretty obvious admission of past marijuana use. The key word here is past.

The President suffered a major setback on the eve of the 2000 election when knowledge of an old DUI charge became public. Polls indicated that this had a negative influence on voters who might have voted for Bush, and quite possibly turned a clear victory over Al Gore into a nearly two-month court battle over electoral college votes. When asked why he kept the DUI secret for over twenty years, Bush responded that he did not want his children to try and copy his past behavior. This makes absolute sense. Children are very impressionable, especially when it comes to their parents, and you really do not want them to know about anything bad that you have done. Parents are (ideally) the biggest influence in their children's lives; children will try to copy their parents to try to please their parents, to show that they have something in common. Would the Bush twins have had problems with underage drinking if they had never known about their father's youthful actions? Perhaps they would have done anyway. But as a father, I understand George Bush wanting to keep the incident secret.

In one surreptitiously recorded phone call, GWB explained his refusal to answer questions about past drug use thusly: "Do you want your little kid to say 'Hey daddy, President Bush tried marijuana, I think I will'?" He was thinking about a way in which he could negatively influence American children, just as if they were his own children. He has kept this bit of personal information quiet, just as he did the DUI charge, as long as possible. It falls right in line with his character. He was a drunk, but he knew that drinking to excess was bad so he took responsibility and stopped consuming alcoholic beverages. His comments indicate that he was not a habitual marijuana user, but that he tried it. He probably even inhaled. But he did not continue with it -- because he knew it was bad.

I sometimes use the expression "young in the '70s" to refer to an entire generation of Americans who must have been unable to get through college without smoking pot. It is a joke, of course, and one that could apply to the '60s or more recent decades. When I was in college in the 1980s, I drank a lot (underage of course) at parties. People occasionally offered me marijuana. I always turned it down. Why? Because I knew it was bad; yes, as drunk as I may have been at the time, I still had some of my wits about me. In fact, I have never in my life smoked anything, which results from trying not to be like my parents. Some children recognize something that is bad and avoid it, but most do not. I have more respect for President Bush because I now know how well he cleaned up his life and changed his ways in order to be a more responsible adult role model.

I am more concerned with the character of the person running for office and serving than in who they were twenty-five years ago.

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