At first glance, it seems that George W. Bush could have turned the cocaine issue on its head, winning millions of votes, simply by uttering one simple sentence:
“Yes, when I was younger, I did try cocaine. But I didn’t inhale.”
In one stroke, the issue would be confronted with Tim Allen-style directness and turned into a reminder of Bill Clinton’s evasiveness.
Instead, the man the GOP hopes will make voters forget Bill Clinton has issued his own series of half-tweaked, semi-denials, strongly implying but refusing to confront his widely rumored past abuse of cocaine.
And this from the leader of the party which claims a monopoly on personal responsibility.
By way of defense, Bush campaign prefers us to consider such issues as strictly personal, and therefore outside the bounds of public debate.
To our credit, that’s how millions of Americans would like to perceive the issue. In a recent survey, roughly half said they think Bush should come clean with his whole story, but an equal number said that past cocaine use wouldn’t affect their opinion of his candidacy.
Which isn’t surprising: As the nation merely shrugs at the knowledge that Al Gore smoked marijuana repeatedly and Newt Gingrich spent the last few years Renewing America with a congressional aide 23 years his junior, most sane people realize that, save the odd felony, the citizenry cares more about public policy than private peccadilloes.
And so the question of Bush’s possible drug use is debated as roughly equal to Bill Clinton’s sex life: Both are framed as personal issues that may or may not have public implications, and the debate therefore centers largely over whether or not questions on such issues are even valid.
There is a difference, however.
And it’s not about honesty or integrity or any similarly rare conceit among politicians. Both Bush and Clinton, in this example, have demonstrated a disturbing inability to look America in the eye and say what they did and didn’t do. Both have tried to present this inability as a strength of character, refusing to bow to such rude levels of inquiry. And for both, the ploy has plainly failed.
Here’s the difference:
Oral sex is not a felony. (That’s not quite true, actually: In a dozen states, it is; however, the laws are rarely prosecuted. And thank God. Almost everyone I know would be in prison.)
Cocaine possession is.
The state of Texas alone, where George W. Bush is governor — locks up about 15,000 people each year for drug offenses.
One recent study by the Texas Justice Policy Council found that 64 percent of those convicted of cocaine possession in Texas were holding less than half a gram.
For those of you unfamiliar with drugs: In terms of amount, that’s very roughly comparable to sending someone to prison for a single marijuana joint.
Leaving aside here any debate over legalization, sentencing fairness, or other specific aspects of drug policy, and merely looking at the question of intellectual consistency, let’s just look at the amazing position the leading campaign fundraiser in American history now asks us to accept:
Do the math, and George W. Bush, in his term as governor of the state of Texas, has presided over the felony imprisonment of roughly 10,000 people for precisely the same activity that he is now increasingly hinting he engaged in himself.
This is the frame in which the current debate should properly be set.
If indeed, as now seems likely, Bush eventually concedes earlier casual cocaine abuse, a stronger argument for either
a) George W. Bush’s unfitness for office,
b) the insanity of current drug laws, or, arguably,
could not possibly be made.
President Clinton is proud of the 1996 Welfare Reform law. The number of recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) has fallen by half, and the number of welfare recipients is down by more than 5 million.
But does that mean welfare reform is a success? Not necessarily.
Just in time for the law’s third anniversary, a new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priority looks at income changes for single parent households (accounting for 90 percent of AFDC payments) and finds that welfare reform has hardly been a rousing success.
In the two years prior to Welfare Reform, disposable income among the poorest fifth of households was actually rising; in the years since, it is falling. The poorest are now becoming even poorer.
In addition, while the number of poor children has fallen since 1996, the number of child food stamp and AFDC recipients has decreased much more sharply, indicating that many thousands of children who remain in need have been pushed off the federal rolls.
But in the mainstream view, welfare reform has marvelously reduced the burden that support for the needy places on the federal budget.
And indeed it has — in much the same way cutting off the oxygen supply eventually reduces the burden astronauts place on a spacecraft.
In the state of Kansas, evolution is no longer considered part of science.
But that’s OK. In turn, science no longer considers Kansas part of evolution.
If you haven’t heard by a vote of six to four (assuming, of course, that math is still a science, and not some dangerous liberal conspiracy) the Kansas state school board has decreed that evolution should be eliminated as a basic principle of biology and other sciences.
This doesn’t mean that individual schools can’t teach evolution. They can, although they’ll have to face mobs of angry villagers waving pointed sticks and fire. What this does mean is that evolution can’t be part of state sanctioned tests. Which includes most of the important exams.
Which means that pre-med students from Seattle and New York will enter Harvard Med School knowing about random genetic mutation, natural selection, the adaptation of species, and survival of the fittest.
Pre-meds from Topeka will arrive knowing about the sixth day.
The presidents of all six Kansas public universities signed a letter saying the new standards, quote, “set Kansas back a century.” Which seems entirely the point.
Although let’s hope they don’t go much further back in time. Somehow I don’t think the Kansas school board would like meeting some of their more ancient ancestors.
The Gulfport, Miss. school board has banned a teenage student from wearing the Star of David because they say it’s a gang symbol.
Excuse me? That’s one hell of a big gang they’re trying to get rid of.
Last week, a 15-year old Jewish boy named Ryan Green was actually told he wasn’t allowed to wear a small six-pointed pin. In the wake of Columbine, his school is trying to crack down on potentially violent gang activity, and so teachers are on the lookout for strange symbols worn to display solidarity among members of a secretive group.
In other words, apparently: Jews.
And gee, I can’t think of anything more frightening than a gang of 15-year old Jewish boys. If you’re not careful, they might surround you and read.
Then again, that would frighten some people in Mississippi.
So is the ban on the Star of David the result of latent anti-Semitism? Oh, possibly. Notably, nobody’s trying to get rid of the crucifix as a gang symbol, even though burning crosses have been used by a fairly prominent Mississippi gang for well over a century.
As it happens, the school superintendent openly admitted that he actually didn’t know of any gangs using the Star Of David. And that’s because there aren’t any. A check with the anti-hate group Southern Poverty Law Center finds no record of a single gang in the entire state of Mississippi that has ever used the Star of David as a gang logo even once.
In fact, there’s only one such group in the whole country, the Black Hebrew Israelites of New York — who sound more confused than anything, if you ask me — and no one is trying to claim that Ryan Green is leading a group of Black Hebrew Israelites marauding around Gulfport.
Even if he was, it sure sounds like Gulfport could certainly use the diversity.
So the ACLU, which can handle a case like this the way Mark McGwire can handle T-ball, has filed suit, trying to ensure that a Jewish kid will be allowed to be visibly Jewish. Even in Mississippi.
If the Star of David is a gang symbol then the motion I’m making with my hand right now is a gesture of love.
Something odd I just had to share
These are actual headlines I came across this week while reading the Reuters newswire:
Reaching 100 Reflects A Healthy Life
Stretch Longer For Better Flexibility
Impaired Ability To Swim Likely Cause Of Drowning
Dateline: Planet Duh.
The following story was recently emailed here by a good friend in the entertainment industry whose voice you would almost certainly recognize. She also sent photographs and has witnesses to back up the story, so I personally buy it. Besides which, I like believing it. And really, isn’t that what politics is (all too often) ultimately all about?
Last fall, Bill Clinton and his entourage attended a Democratic fundraiser held at a private home at the end of a narrow and winding street in the mountains above Beverly Hills.
My friend, who apparently isn’t quite yet in the economic class to snag an invite to such a shindig, nonetheless wanted to greet Mr. Clinton as his motorcade passed her home, which is further down the street. And so for the occasion, she fashioned a discreet, hand-made sign carrying the encouraging message:
I think my friend’s support for Clinton through his difficult emotional troubles could not have been clearer or more elegantly understated.
However, due to prior personal commitments, she was unable to personally greet the president with this message. So, not wishing her sentiments to pass unnoticed, she decided to leave her cordial message for Mr. Clinton on her front lawn, propped up against a lamp post. And while she and her husband were gone, the President’s motorcade came and went, presumably passing their house, and the large black-and-white sign, twice.
When they returned that evening, the power was off in their house. Every other house up and down both sides of the street still had electricity.
And theirs remained the only house in the neighborhood with no electricity until morning.
I don’t know how that could be arranged, and maybe it’s just a coincidence. Oh, heck, probably. Sure. Stuff like that just happens all the time, right?
And finally: the Los Angeles Times reports that after his attack on a suburban day care center, white supremacist Buford Furrow went to Hollywood to look for a prostitute, couldn’t find one, and then caught a cab to Las Vegas.
Wait a minute. The guy couldn’t find a hooker in Hollywood?
That’s like not finding ice in the arctic. There’s a burger joint on Sunset where if you order a sandwich and a drink, you can get Super-Sized by a transvestite for just 99¢.
And this guy calls himself a part of the master race.
Bob Harris is a stand-up comedian, political writer, and syndicated radio humorist. His new book, Steal This Book And Get Life Without Parole, is now available from www.commoncouragepress.com.