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Jewish World Review August 24, 1999 /12 Elul, 5759

Cal Thomas

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George W's real problem --
GEORGE W. BUSH'S real problem is not the cocaine he may or may not have tried somewhere in the distant past. His problem is that he doesn't have the kind of people around him to handle his equivalent of "bimbo eruptions.'' He needs a cadre of ethically challenged minions such as President Clinton had and has, who follow their leader and lie to anyone about anything in order to get their guy elected and keep him in office.

This president has so lowered the moral, ethical and legal bar that it is hard to see how anyone can get under it. The national press -- many of whom experimented with drugs in their "youth'' -- refused to hold the Clinton administration accountable when many of its staffers failed to qualify for security clearances. The buzz was that they probably would have had to to admit drug use in their very recent past. Instead of telling the truth, they got around it by accepting "temporary passes,'' allowing them access to government secrets when they had not passed the mandatory FBI background checks.

According to the Media Research Center, at least two networks -- NBC and ABC -- lagged far behind other news outlets when Juanita Broaddrick first charged that Bill Clinton raped her when he was Arkansas attorney general. But they are all over the Bush cocaine story, even though no one has made any charge of drug abuse by the governor. Why should Bush's credibility be called into question when he lectures young people about the evils of drug abuse and President Clinton's credibility is not questioned when he advises teenage girls not to have premarital sex?

"The questions just won't go away,'' say the various coiffed anchors. That's because they keep asking them.

When you run for president, you should expect to keep no secrets. Whoever knows what you did wrong in the past will be found by a tabloid, or a reporter, or a political operative working for your opponents. That's why it is important to issue a press release or write a book in which you include every known sin you've committed before you announce your candidacy. The lure for the press is what you haven't told them and what they can find out to advance their careers. If you tell them up front, your wrongdoing loses power and is less useful in their eyes.

Unlike Bill Clinton, George W. Bush testifies to having had a life-changing experience. This resonates with many people who have similar testimonies. I recall a black preacher once saying about a white preacher who used to preach segregation but long ago repented: "I'm not so much interested in where a man was 25 years ago as where he is today.'' That's a good standard to apply in the case of Bush. If he were a hypocrite and currently leading a secret life, that would be one thing. But none of his challengers for the nomination or Democrats are accusing him of an ongoing, reckless lifestyle.

What should Bush do now? The temptation is to stonewall and not say another word about it. That won't work without a lying staff, an enabling wife and a fawning press. But let him own up in church or before a group of recovering addicts, not at a press conference, where confession is not good for the political soul. There, he can say what he did with drugs and why it was wrong and that he asked for and received forgiveness from God and his family. He should then say that he agrees with President Clinton who said (but apparently didn't mean it) that the politics of personal destruction should end. Bush should say that he wants to talk about the future, not his past or anyone else's past. His past isn't going to help or harm anyone's future. But his ideas about the future could impact the nation.

That approach might not fully silence the press on personal issues, but it probably would satisfy the public. Since surveys reveal the press usually votes for Democrats, the public is the only constituency Bush must please.

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