Pubdate:  Mon, 28 Feb 2005
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Clarence Page
Bookmark: (Bush, George)


I was surprised, but hardly shocked, to hear that President Bush all but 
admitted to illicit drug use in a secretly taped conversation. I'm only 
disappointed by the sleazy way the disclosure was disclosed and by the 
president's reluctance to set the record straight.

Like many of the rest of us parents, he says he doesn't want to talk about 
any of his alleged past drug use because he doesn't want other youngsters 
to try it.

Unfortunately, experience shows, silence is a self-defeating way to 
discourage kids from drug use.

And in Washington, where public ignorance feeds endless mischief, silence 
can also lead to well-meaning but wrong-headed legislation.

In case you missed it, Bush suggests on tapes recorded before he became 
president that he smoked marijuana in the past. He also dodged a question 
on the tapes, whose authenticity the White House does not dispute, about 
whether he had used cocaine.

The New York Times broke the story in a Page One report on Doug Wead, a 
Christian activist who has published a book based in part on conversations 
with Bush that Wead secretly recorded in 1998 and 1999. Wead has since 
expressed regrets over releasing part of the conversations without Bush's 
permission, a move that rivaled Linda Tripp's bugging of her chats with 
Monica Lewinsky on the treachery scale. Wead announced that he is donating 
the book's proceeds to charity. Ah, nothing concentrates your conscience 
like having a nation of millions call you a sleazebag.

Fortunately for the president, the tapes' contents have done less damage to 
Bush's reputation than to Wead's.

My disappointment comes with Bush's refusal, so far, to speak openly and 
candidly about his past drug and alcohol use and how he recovered. He says 
he does not want to answer the questions "Because I don't want some little 
kid doing what I tried."

Take it from me, Mr. President, a lot of today's teenagers think you 
"smoked and snorted," as one of my son's high school classmates put it, 
anyway. Your silence does nothing to defuse their suspicions.

For the record, our president has never acknowledged using drugs, despite 
repeated questions from nosy reporters during his days as Texas governor. 
He has acknowledged a drinking problem that he appears to have kicked, to 
his credit, through the wonder-working powers of his religious conversion.

His party-animal days involved nothing more than "just, you know, wild 
behavior," he told Wead, although he did worry, apparently with 
justification, that his opponents would revive allegations of cocaine use.

Bush's reputed "wild" days hardly make him unique among us, his fellow baby 
boomers and post-boomers. Unfortunately, too few parents have a clue about 
how to come clean with our own kids in ways that can help them to avoid our 
mistakes -- and worse.

A national survey released by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 
coincidentally a few days after disclosure of the Wead tapes, found that 
the number of parents who report never talking with their children about 
drugs actually has doubled in the past six years, from 6 percent in 1998 to 
12 percent in 2004.

And while many of us parents say we've talked to our kids about drugs, 
that's not what a lot of our kids are saying: 85 percent of the 1,205 
surveyed parents said that they had talked to their children at least once 
in the last 12 months about drugs, but only 30 percent of teenagers said 
they've learned much about drug risks from their parents.

We need to share more straight talk, not silence, with our kids.

And more straight talk from the White House on down would help government 
avoid doing greater harm, like the provision that Congress passed in 1998 
that bars college students or applicants with a drug conviction from 
receiving federal financial aid. If ever there was a case of throwing 
obstacles in the way of young people who are trying to improve their lives, 
regardless of past errors, this is it.

The provision's author, Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., says he intended the bill 
to apply only to those convicted while they are students or loan 
applicants, not to earlier convictions. He also has been trying to correct 
that error with a new amendment, although the wheels of Congress have been 
grinding slowly in that process.

In the meantime, we have a president who refuses to talk about his own drug 
history, whatever it may be, and a Congress that continues to discriminate 
against aspiring college students who are honest about their own past drug 
use. That's nuts. We, the people, need to talk. Then Congress needs to act. 
Leadership from the White House will help, Mr. President. Your silence will 
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