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Jewish World Review August 27, 1999 /15 Elul, 5759

Thomas Sowell

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Blood in the water -- THE SMART MONEY in Washington is telling Texas Governor George W. Bush that he needs to "come clean" and "get this behind him" when it comes to rumors that he used cocaine. However, the smart money has been wrong too often for Governor Bush to let them stampede him into saying anything about unsubstantiated charges from anonymous sources.

He is not only right to refuse to open the floodgates on things that are nobody's business, if he did otherwise he would be making politics even more unattractive than it already is for people who are willing to serve their country but are unwilling to become targets of character assassins.

There was a time when self-respecting members of the press refused to become conduits or mouthpieces for people too cowardly to come right out and make charges. Ironically, it was liberal Democrat Chris Matthews who stuck to this tradition on his television program "Hardball," when conservative Republican Arianna Huffington referred to "allegations" that Governor Bush had used cocaine.

"What allegations?" he demanded. "Who has alleged this?"

Nobody has had the guts to allege anything -- and if nobody has alleged, then there are no allegations. Instead, there are people who refer to "rumors" that are "out there."

A recent poll has shown that the public is already tired of hearing about this. Even during the Iowa straw vote, it was the Beltway journalists who kept asking Bush about drugs, while the Iowa journalists were questioning him about substantive issues of public policy.

There is no reason to assume that Bush ever touched cocaine. But that is still no reason for him to deny the charges. Whether he did or did not, shedding a little blood in the water is not going to calm the sharks. Just the opposite.

There is no stopping point in issuing denials of things for which nobody has produced a speck of evidence. Should the target of charges be asked to deny them or should whoever made the charges be asked to put up or shut up?

Republicans have not covered themselves with glory during these media attacks on Governor Bush. Instead, they have engaged in their favorite exercise, running for the hills. Some Republican presidential candidates who don't have one chance in a zillion of winning the nomination, much less the White House, are joining the jackals in attacking the man who has the greatest chance of restoring their party to power.

Even some conservative newspapers have joined in the cry for Bush to open the floodgates by backing away from his pledge to refuse to cooperate with the politics of personal destruction. How can they fail to see the damage done to the political process -- and ultimately to American society -- when character assassins are given the power to strike without even having to show their faces in public?

The time is long overdue for someone of stature to stand up in public and say that the only answer to some questions is: "It is none of your business."

If anyone wants to make this or any other charge, force him at least to come out into the light of day and make it -- and risk being exposed as a liar and a slime. But, across the political spectrum, journalists are shielding character assassins by acting as their representatives in spreading rumors from the shadows.

If the public is already getting tired of hearing about this now, imagine how much more tired of it they are going to be by election day in the year 2000, if the media jackals keep on asking the same questions and Governor Bush keeps refusing to answer. Among other things, this would present golden opportunities for Bush to give a much-needed civics lesson to smug Beltway talking heads, who are by no means either believed or beloved by much of the public.

Behind all of this is the notion that there is some parallel between what a young man may or may not have done as a private citizen and what an elected official used his public office to do, both as governor and as president -- and what he committed perjury and obstruction of justice to get away with.

There is colossal hypocrisy among those who tried to depict these felonies as merely Clinton's private life and who now turn around and demand an accounting from a man who was in fact in private life during the period they are asking him about.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate