Was Dubya Drunk? More Expert Opinion

Yesterday, Chatterbox queried several opinion leaders about whether this 1992 video shows George W. Bush in a state of inebriation. (Click here to read a transcript of Bush’s giddy remarks, recorded at a friend’s wedding.) The findings were posted, along with Chatterbox’s own rather tentative conclusion, in this item. But since the Internet guarantees only that queries go out quickly–not that they be answered quickly–quite a few people failed to reply in time. What follows are additional comments that came in last night or today.

The question of whether Dubya got drunk in 1992 is of some interest because he has often stated that the key turning point in his life was his 1986 decision, on the occasion of his 40th birthday, to quit drinking. Bush insists he was never an alcoholic, but his drinking was bad enough to put a strain on his marriage, so he stopped. In a March 1999 profile in the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes quoted George W. making the Shermanesque statement, “I’ve never had a drink since then.” Hence the excitement (mostly from Matt Drudge, who broke the story) about the emergence of possible evidence that Dubya fell off the wagon in 1992. However, today’s comments mostly continue yesterday’s trend: Respondents tend to conclude either that Dubya is not drunk or that it’s impossible to tell.

Hendrik Hertzberg, writer, The New Yorker:

Drunk would seem too strong a word for what the video shows, but obviously he’s a little tipsy, rather charmingly so. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

My impression had been that Bush had “quit drinking” only in the sense that he had given up being a habitual and/or obnoxious drunk. I had been assuming that he sometimes has a glass of wine with dinner, maybe enjoys a cocktail once or twice a week, maybe even allows himself the pleasure of a pleasant buzz on special occasions such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, and inaugurations. I would rather have such a person in the White House than someone who’s out and out abstemious.

If in fact Bush claims to be a total teetotaler, then I suppose he has a wee credibility problem. … But I don’t see how anybody was harmed by his having a few drinks at that wedding. What would be disgusting would be if he were a prohibitionist–if he believed in jailing people for possession of alcohol. That’s why drug policy is the real outrage. Both candidates are horrible hypocrites on that one.

William F. Buckley Jr., founder, National Review:

My opinion is that Matt Drudge should be sent to the Survivor island for life.

Christopher Buckley, humorist:

Honestly! This smoking gun shoots blanks.

Walt Mossberg, “Personal Technology” columnist, the Wall Street Journal:

Nah, I don’t think so. He talks like that a lot, when he’s goofing around, I think. Or, at least, I don’t think you can tell for sure on the video.

Christopher Caldwell, writer, Weekly Standard (responding to doubts Chatterbox expressed about Caldwell’s assertion, in yesterday’s posting, that the tape shows Dubya slurring his words):

Bush is slurring his words, if only slightly.

But Bush’s remarks may be wittier than they look, even positively alert. I imagine Kelly Weiss (about whom he says, “Kelly, very skinny fella, marathon runner”) to be one of those chain-smoking 325-pounders, who, in parts of Texas, get nicknamed “Tiny.”

David Tell, writer, Weekly Standard:

a) I wouldn’t call that “drunk”–not by a long shot–and I can’t imagine too many other people would, either.

b) If he is drunk, then liquor makes him sharper of tongue than he sometimes is sober, and I would recommend to Austin headquarters that they give their candidate a double martini before each of his pending debates with Al Gore.

c) Matt Drudge is an evil troll and always has been. Why are we talking about him?

Dahlia Lithwick, writer, Slate:

Is that Rick Lazio conducting the interview?

Probably the only thing more depressing than the possibility that Bush was totally lit that night is that he appears to be sober. Just sophomoric, telegenic, and banal. More confirmation that we have a vast sucking noise running for president.

I need a drink.

Jack Shafer, deputy editor and “Press Box” columnist, Slate:

I am outraged that Chatterbox would ask a celebrity panel of journalists to speculate on whether or not George W. Bush was drunk in the now-infamous wedding video when it’s absolutely transparent from Bush’s behavior that he was ripped on “Chiba-Chiba,” a Brazilian form of reefer–high in THC–and usually gummy and compressed into bricks. Chiba-Chiba intoxication more than explains Bush’s sprightly combination of slur-free speech and shit-faced silliness. The drink in Bush’s hand, which he expertly empties into his gaping mouth, is a beard for his stoned condition, and I am astonished at how many of Chatterbox’s correspondents fell for it.

I await Chatterbox’s next column: What chemical straitjacket is Al Gore wearing?

As additional comments from those queried trickle in, Chatterbox will append them to this item.

Update, Sept. 3:

Sam Tanenhaus, writer, Vanity Fair:

Is this what passes for a smoking gun these days? The only evidence of possible inebriation I could see (it’s really my wife’s observation) pertains to the cameraman, who seemed unable or unwilling to keep the lens still or his object in focus. As for W., certainly, based on this performance, Bill Buckley, Pat Moynihan, and Gore Vidal can rest easy: W. will not displace them on the short-list of public wits. But we already knew this, didn’t we?

Sounding a little dopey is not the same as sounding smashed. I heard no slurred words, observed no jerky (or loose) movements. He appears to be a touch glassy-eyed but don’t we all at the tag end of a wedding party?

Another thought: If we’re scrounging for subtexts (in the absence of a more compelling Ur-text), how about this: W. characterizes the groom (is it?) as “very boring” because he neither smokes nor drinks. He also praises the guy’s jogging abilities and slimness and further remarks that “only in America” could such a dreary specimen achieve any form of success. The point is that most of these unexotic virtues are found in W. himself, who is also a powerful jogger with a lean build, not to mention a famously self-confessed abstainer. Might it be, then, that W.’s comments amount to a faintly ironic capsule description of himself? If so, W. is not so much mocking the teetotaling bridal principals as offering a wry apology for his own “boring” sobriety on an occasion that calls for more unbuttoned behavior–of the variety he perfected in his party-animal days, now sadly behind him. He caps the performance with a final bit of self-parody: taking a deep swig from a glass probably filled with Gatorade. W., the maestro of deconstruction. Paging Jacques Derrida …

Evan Smith, editor, Texas Monthly:

Conspicuously absent from the list of journalists you polled are Texans, who would look at that video and tell you definitively what I’m about to: It’s the Bush we’ve known at parties and at the capitol for six years. A smartass? Yes. Drunk? Not even remotely possible.