I don’t know whether the revelation of a 1976 D.W.I. arrest will hurt G.W.B., but I do think it should. Not because of the incident itself, which is eminently forgivable. And not even because Bush clearly, knowingly, and explicitly lied about it when he told Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News that he was never arrested after 1968. I don’t condone politicians lying to reporters, but I’m not shocked when they do. What should count against Bush, though, is his off-the-charts hypocrisy. His campaign and the Republican National Committee are running TV ads at this very moment that excoriate Al Gore for fibbing. “Why does Gore say one thing when the truth is another?” one of them asks. As a certain politician once said, you can’t take the high horse and then claim the low road.
In fact, there’s a difference between Bush’s fibs and Gore’s. The difference is that Bush’s tend to be consequential, while Gore’s do not. When Bush said in the third debate that he backed a patients’ bill of rights in Texas that he actually opposed, he was trying to create a false impression about his record on an issue that might affect how people vote. When he said he wasn’t aware of the ban on interracial dating at Bob Jones University, or that he didn’t meet with the Log Cabin Republicans because they were backing John McCain, he was lying to get out of tight spots he’d worked himself into. The same was true when Bush lied to Slater about his arrest record–something I hear he has also done off the record with other reporters, by the way. He was trying to avoid disclosure of something that really could harm his candidacy.
I also have my doubts about Bush’s excuse for not coming clean about his drunken-driving arrest before now. “I made the decision that as a dad I didn’t want my girls doing the kinds of things I did,” he told reporters. “I’m not trying to get away with anything. I didn’t want to talk about this in front of my daughters. I’m a dad trying to teach my children right from wrong. The girls did not know until tonight.”
But how does this parental policy work in practice? If the girls never ask their dad about his drinking days, they must be as incurious as he is–which I don’t believe. So what does Bush say when Jenna and Barbara ask about his back pages? He either lies to them, in which case he may doing far more damage than the truth would. Or he tells them the truth, but is lying publicly now about the reason for not coming clean. Or I suppose it’s possible that he neither lies nor tells the whole truth, but instead plays the same cat-and-mouse game he plays with the press. So long as the girls don’t hit on the precise formulation that nails him (“Dad, did you get arrested after 1968?”), he slips free. If the questions start hitting too close to home, he can always call in Karen Hughes to stonewall ‘em. But with your own family, a nondenial really does count as an admission. Not to tell Bush how to raise his kids, but in general, I think they’d be better off hearing this kind of thing from him than from CNN.