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

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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The ABC's of
campaign questions --
SIFTING THROUGH THE ALPHABET, we've apparently finished with the A-word (Adultery) and have moved to the C-word (Cocaine).

Have you ever used cocaine?

Prying minds want to know as we begin the quadrennial evisceration of our presidential candidates.

Some proudly trumpet, "No." Some decline to answer. No one says, "Yes," though some muddle through with the equivocal "Yes, but," as Bill Clinton famously did in 1992: Yes, but "I didn't inhale."

(Voters' key: No probably means "no." Yes means "yes." Decline means "yes." Yes, but means, "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is."

Meanwhile, if you want to analyze the relationship between youthful indiscretion and adult behavior, ponder this: For whom would you rather your daughter work? A guy who smoked dope in college or a guy who pretended to smoke dope in college? Such are the ethical dilemmas of our time.

The correct answer to Did-You-Ever questions regarding youthful, victimless activities is, "I'm not going to play that game," as Texas Gov.George W. Bush said recently. The game is childish, unproductive and motivated by a destructive quality within our political process that should be exorcised.

Bush was responding to questions regarding a rumor that he had tried cocaine. After initially refusing "to play," he amended his answer to conform with the standard required of federal employees seeking high-security clearance.

"As I understand it, the current form asks the question, 'Did somebody use drugs within the past seven years?' " said Bush. "And I will be glad to answer that question, and the answer is, 'No.' "

Good enough for me. Even better would be a campaign free of all questions beginning with, "Did you ever . . .?" Isn't "Are you . . .?" more useful, anyway?

Surely what someone did as a college student doesn't fairly predict what he'll do as a parent or president. I know a few former addicts I would trust with my child, as well as some pristine noses I wouldn't trust with my lawn mower.

I would wager that most people who came of age 30 years ago partook of illicit substances. Let's just say that, when I started college in 1969, at age 17, I assumed that my campus had a smog problem. I "inhaled" just by showing up.

Bush -- to the criticism of his political foes and the delight of late-night comedians -- consistently has said: "When I was young and irresponsible, I behaved young and irresponsibly." What else would we have him say? To what end?

Bottom line: By forcing qualified candidates to confess the sins of their youth, we embarrass ourselves and our children. We also endanger the supply of good people willing to live public lives. After the Inquisition, who's left? People who never made a mistake?

The '60s and '70s, when Bush and I grew up, was a different era. There's no excusing some of the behavior we barely recall, but the times were different -- chaotic, anarchical, tenuous. Tomorrow was uncertain, and today was for sport. Everybody who was young and irresponsible acted young and irresponsibly.

Scott McClellan, a Bush spokesman, said Bush "isn't going to itemize for the children of America and his daughters, who are watching, everything he did or did not do in the past."

I hope he sticks to it and that other candidates join in the protest. I'm not interested in what George Bush did as a college student, but I'm real interested in what he has done while governor of Texas. I'll be real interested in his proposals for domestic and foreign policies, should he win the election.

Onward to the D-word. "Done" playing the game.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


08/19/99: Male 'sluts'
08/11/99: Language doesn't excuse bad behavior
08/09/99: When justice delayed is still justice
08/03/99: Unemployment? Not in this profession
07/30/99: It's not about race -- it's about crack babies
07/22/99: Tragedy tells us what's important
07/19/99: Study denouncing fathers sends danger signals
07/15/99:'Happy marriage' belongs in the Dictionary of Oxymorons next to 'deliciously low-fat.'
07/11/99: 'Brother Man': An American demagogue in Paris
07/08/99: Only parents can fix broken families
07/06/99: America is home, sweet home
07/01/99: Tales out of Yuppiedom
06/28/99: Men aren't the only abusers
06/23/99: Is the entire country guzzling LSD punch?
06/20/99: The voice remains -- as always -- there beside me 06/16/99:Stating the obvious, a new growth industry
06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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