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Blame the Bush girls
By Leo K. O'Drudy III
By now it is a matter of legitimate doubt whether there are natives deep in the Amazonian jungle, Sahara desert, or Mongolian tundra who have not heard about the alcohol-related antics of Jenna and Barbara Bush, daughters of the President of the United States.
The media spotlight on these young women has been intense. Mainstream newspapers and television news shows have examined the story exhaustively, and White House spokesmen, Bush family members, even the President and First Lady have been relentlessly questioned about it. Commentators have felt free to speculate on whether the president's well-known trouble with alcohol earlier in his life contributed to this. People magazine, to the consternation of the White House, even put the girls on its cover.
Then, of course, once there were no new details or information to report, we saw the time-worn expedient of "covering the coverage" and thus dragging the story on even longer. The mainstream media did so much thumb-sucking, navel-gazing, and hand-wringing that it ought to consider registering them as new sports for the 2004 Olympics.
Some Republicans have complained, and rightly, that no such intense scrutiny was brought to bear upon the children of former President Clinton and former Vice President Gore.
During the eight long years of Clinton-Gore, plenty of tales swirled around Washington of bad behavior from the Clinton-Gore offspring. Of Secret Service agents, men who stand ready to take a bullet for those they protect, being treated with contempt and called names policemen were called in the 1960s by radicals. Of highly questionable personal conduct, including use of marijuana. Of Chelsea Clinton's determination to visit (and thus morally legitimize) Communist Cuba together with her prep school class.
But these stories never made the mainstream press, and if they did, were dealt with very quietly and vanished quickly.
This kid-gloves treatment continued even when Albert Gore III, son of the then-Vice President, was arrested for driving at breakneck speed (97 mph in a 50 mph zone), just before the 2000 Democratic National Convention, the most important event in his father's political life. The media coverage of this breathtakingly irresponsible act was muted. This was not mere gossip, but a law enforcement issue and a matter of public record. Not even the excuse of a 'human interest" angle ("why would a young man who nearly died from a car accident as a child do this?") got the media to take the bait and run with the story.
So conservative complaints about disparate treatment are legitimate.
However, let's not kid ourselves.
The Bush girls are not victims here. It's not important whether the restaurant at which Jenna sought to illegally buy alcohol treated her differently than it would have an ordinary customer. Nor that the media gleefully made the most of its chance to embarrass President Bush.
And it's not the fault of government either. Yes, perhaps the drinking age is too high. Yes, it might be tidier to have a single age at which one is considered an adult for all purposes, including driving, drinking, voting, serving in the military, marrying and so on. And yes, the federal government should not have poked its nose into the business of states by setting a national drinking age.
These matters are side issues to the central fact in the case: both Bush daughters deliberately and knowingly lied and broke the law.
Moreover, Jenna was doing so for at least the second time. She had been caught before trying to buy alcohol, causing a minor media storm around the world. So she cannot claim that she was unaware of the danger of embarrassing her father.
Like it or not, both girls are now public figures. It is absurd for these privileged children of ancient wealth, daughters of a president, nieces of a governor, grandchildren to a US Senator, to complain about their status and insist on being treated "just like everybody else." From those to whom much is given, much is expected. It's even more important for them to conduct themselves with decorum and respect for the law than it is for ordinary citizens. And not simply out of concern for being examples to others.
This President faces an uncertain and dangerous world. Our European "allies" are balking at the idea of being shielded from missile attack, violent Islamic radicalism is spreading, Russia and China are drifting away from being friendly to us, and the economy is faltering while reform efforts at home face steep obstacles. In such a challenging situation, any President who has a hope of making progress must be widely respected as a man of moral authority and a serious force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, the Bush girls chose this time to insist on embarrassing their father, inviting questions such as "if he can't even handle his daughters, how can he handle Saddam Hussein?" They shouldn't be getting an outpouring of conservative sympathy; instead, they should be ashamed of themselves.
And their father needs our prayers.
Leo O'Drudy is a host of Direct Line, Free Congress' live interactive Renaissance Network television program.
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