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Jewish World Review June 7, 2001 / 17 Sivan, 5761

Clarence Page

Clarence Page
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Consumer Reports

Getting tough with the Bush Twins -- MAJOR media have been giving a lot of attention to the question of whether major media should give so much attention to President Bush's 19-year-old twins and their recent attempts to buy alcohol.

Many of my media colleagues agonize over questions like this, partly because we, too, are not perfect. Ours, after all, is not a profession that has long been associated with sobriety.

Major media tend to observe a hands-off policy toward politicians' children. You have to feel sorry for the kids. In most cases, the children didn't ask for life in a fishbowl. They didn't get to pick their parents.

The Bush girls begged their dad not to run for president, according to family friends. It's easy to see why. They can't even say "yes" to a date with a cute guy without wondering whether the bozo will blab about it later to the National Enquirer.

Besides, under-aged purchases of beer, while illegal, have long been a national sport among college-age youths. A study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, for example, finds that about half of college freshmen admit to drinking beer, down from about 75 percent 20 years ago. Let those who have never flashed a fake ID cast the first stone.

Now that I've gotten all of those niceties out of the way, here are some reasons why we in the media should cover the Bush twins' adventures in beverages.

First, these young women appear to be repeat offenders. Now that they are prime-time celebrities, it shows a serious lack of good judgment.

(Pardon me, ladies, but you don't go flashing fake IDs when everybody in town knows who you are. As an old saying goes, people who live in glass houses shouldn't take their clothes off.)

Second, their father embodies modern get-tough, "zero-tolerance" approaches to youthful indiscretions. But his family now shows that it takes more than a stern "Just say no" to keep your kids on the straight and narrow.

As Texas governor, George W. Bush signed a get-tough law in 1997 that increased the penalties for underaged drinkers. Now his daughter Jenna has been cited for her second alcohol-related bust, coming only two weeks after pleading no contest to a similar offense.

It is also significant that, according to the Houston Chronicle, she apparently had an additional offense in December 1997 while she was still a juvenile, just months after her father signed the new law.

Plus, MSNBC reports that twin sister Barbara was caught trying to use a fake ID last October to enter a dance club in New Haven, Conn., where she is attending Yale. Her ID was confiscated and she was kept out of the club, according to reports.

I don't want to be too hard on the Bush twins. That's their parents' job. But, like it or not, we have to wonder if the president's adventures in parenting will cause him to reassess his self-righteous hard-line "zero tolerance" approach to law enforcement. It is disingenuous for politicians to urge government into America's family life, then try to hide their own family's legal run-ins from public scrutiny.

When Bush was asked before Election Day why he had not disclosed a 1976 DWI offense, he played the kid card. "I made the decision that as a dad I didn't want my girls doing the kinds things I did," he told reporters. "I'm not trying to get away with anything. I didn't want to talk about this in front of my daughters. I'm a dad trying to teach my children right from wrong. The girls did not know until tonight."

Bush is hardly alone among politicians who cite their children to underscore their concern for good family values. But they can't have it both ways. They can't push their kids into the limelight when the news about them is useful, then hide them behind "a family matter" when the news is not.

Bush's opponent, Al Gore, found that out during last year's presidential campaign. That was when his son Albert Gore III, then 18, pleaded guilty to speeding 97 mph in a 55 mph zone in North Carolina.

The auto angle was ironic. Young Albert almost died in an auto accident years earlier. His father put his son and that terrible episode in the spotlight during a 1992 National Democratic Convention speech, as the elder Gore explained how his son's brush with death had changed the father's life. The irony of young Albert turning into a speed demon years later was too tantalizing for media to pass up.

No, it is not enough to complain about media intrusions into the private lives of the children of politicians. We should complain about politicians exploiting the lives of their children, too.

Everybody talks about how kids sometimes embarrass their famous parents. More should be said about the ways famous parents embarrass their kids.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


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