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Jewish World Review August 31, 1999 /19 Elul, 5759

Thomas Sowell

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Power to the assassins? -- IN ITSELF, the political fate of Texas Governor George W. Bush is important only to Governor Bush. But what happens to the political process in America is important to a quarter of a billion Americans today and to their posterity.

Is what George W. Bush did or didn't do decades ago more important than whether anonymous accusers, without a speck of evidence, acquire the power to determine the course of American political history through character assassination?

It is amazing how many people who ought to understand that either don't or don't care. In the worst days of McCarthyism, accusers stood up and made their own accusations at their own risk. Now even the supposedly respectable media become megaphones for whoever is lurking in the shadows making unsubstantiated charges.

Of all the incredible things that are being said about the anonymous rumors being floated about George W. Bush having taken drugs, the most stupid -- or cynical -- is that he should just answer anyway "in order to get this behind us." Does anyone whose IQ is not in single digits seriously believe that answering one question will stop the media from asking more -- and more or more?

Already it is being said that because Bush answered some apparently innocuous questions about his past, that he is now obligated to answer more. The only way to stop this is to stop it. And that can be done only by telling the media that it is none of their business what he did or didn't do as a young man who was a private citizen.

The old media shibboleth about "the public's right to know" is completely phony. Doesn't the public also have a right not to know if they don't want to? Polls show that most Americans are already tired of hearing about it. Doesn't the fact that Bush refuses to deny the rumors mean that he must be guilty? No. It might mean that he is ready to draw a line in the sand and "just say no" to the kinds of character assassinations that have become all too routine in our political life.

Whether that is his reason or not, this will be a better country if he sticks by his refusal to bow to the media frenzy than it will be if he does not. And, again, the process by which we select our leaders in this country is far more important that Governor Bush or any other candidate.

What we ought to be hearing about is how George W. Bush's political program differs from that of Steve Forbes and other Republican candidates -- or from the programs of Al Gore or Bill Bradley. If he wants to stonewall on that, then we have a right to complain.

If the TV talking heads are not up to handling serious issues about public policy, then they ought to go to work for the supermarket tabloids, not bring the standards of the tabloids to what claims to be serious journalism. Anonymous character assassination is not just a problem for those who are the targets. We need the best leadership we can get, not just whoever happens to be left over after we lose all those who are not prepared to let themselves and their families be dragged through the mud in order to hold elective office.

Power is inherently a dangerous thing, as those who wrote the Constitution of the United States knew all too well. That is why there are so many safeguards there and so many ways to remove officials who overstep the bounds.

The last person who should have power is someone who is prepared to put up with anything -- including invasions of personal privacy and family humiliation -- in order to lay hands on the levers of power.

It is not a question whether George W. Bush "knew what he was getting into" when he entered politics. This is not about Bush. It is about the kind of political process that benefits or harms the country as a whole. It is about the kinds of people who will or will not run for public office in the poisonous atmosphere that too many people are helping to create.

Media people who cannot see beyond the horse race aspects of the political process are nothing more than Beltway gossip columnists. The public is already far ahead of them in understanding what is and is not important.

This is the kind of game that is long overdue to be brought to a halt.

Whoever does it or for whatever reasons is far less important than that it be stopped.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate