Ask Clinton the Question
If Bush can be grilled about cocaine use, why can't the President?
Posted Tuesday, August 24, 1999
William Bennett has an op-ed in Monday's Wall Street Journal arguing that George W. Bush should stop the Clintonesque evasions, answer the cocaine question honestly, and be done with it. But if it's relevant and fair to ask Bush the question (and to expect him to answer it), isn't it fair to ask the question of President Clinton as well?
Bush may be running for president, but Clinton is president, for another year and a half. The "issue" that makes past coke use relevant -- the severity of cocaine sentences -- is as much a live controversy for Clinton's Justice Department as for Bush's statehouse. Bush may have opened up his private life by bragging about his fidelity -- but Clinton's wife and teammate has just opened up huge chunks of his private life for public inspection, all the way back to his pre-kindergarten traumas. (Actually, cocaine, more than Clinton's childhood, would help explain a few things, such as the unempathetic, aggressive sexual behavior described by Juanita Broaddrick.)
True, Clinton has already been judged by the people, while with Bush they're still at the fact-finding stage. On the other hand, with Clinton, unlike with Bush, someone has actually come forward and accused him of snorting the stuff -- Gennifer Flowers, not a person whose accusations are so readily discounted anymore. (On Fox's Hannity & Colmes, she said: "He made it very clear that if I ever wanted to do cocaine he could provide that. He also told me there were times when he did so much cocaine at parties that his head would itch.")
White House spokesman Jim Kennedy responded to Flowers by saying, "The President did not do cocaine." But denial-by-spokesman, especially in this White House, is not the same as a recorded denial from the President's own lips. So Clinton should, and almost certainly will, be asked directly, to his face. Then we might see what a Clintonesque evasion really sounds like. ... Actually, Clinton could knock the query out of the park by admitting, yes, he used coke but then he realized in the period before his brother's arrest what an evil thing it was, etc. ... Wouldn't that hurt Gore by letting Bush off the hook? Not necessarily. It would put Bush in the same cokehead camp as the scandal-fatiguing President, and it should make Bush look even worse as his evasions contrasted with Clinton's candor. ... Clintonian candor! -- the phrase might actually become plausible! ... Nah. Don't count on it. I'd bet Clinton will try simply referring to his spokesman's denial. If pressed, Clinton will then flatly deny it himself.
[Think not such an original point. Campbell of the London Evening Standard wrote late last week that "President Clinton will be asked." He had quotes from Jeff Birnbaum and Deborah Orin, plus Kennedy denial -- ed. Yeah, but how come Time and Newsweek missed it?]
Speaking of the newsweeklies, both of them repeat the current journalistic mantra that there is 'no evidence' Bush used coke in his pre-1974 days. All he's done, we're told, is refuse to answer the question. But of course there is some evidence Bush used coke, and the evidence is precisely that he refuses to answer the question. If you suspect that someone slept with your wife, and you ask him, and he refuses to answer, isn't that some evidence that tends to confirm your suspicions? ... Maybe the evidence against Bush is not conclusive. It's almost surely not evidence that would be admissable in court against him, because the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination forbids juries from making an inference of guilt from an accused's refusal to answer questions. But it's still evidence. ...
Copyright 1999 Mickey Kaus.