Bush bungles cocaine test

All of a sudden, the Republican presidential favourite looks vulnerable, writes Mary Dejevsky

AFTER WEEKS of flying high in the polls, George W Bush has fallen to Earth with a bump, forced to address allegations that he once used cocaine. The man who hopes to succeed Bill Clinton as President is suddenly exposed as a political parvenu: his wings singed by an alliance of news- starved reporters and resentful Clintonites out for some vengeance of their own.

Exactly one year after Mr Clinton was forced to admit that he had indeed had a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a suddenly defensive George W found himself pursued by reporters interested in only one thing: had he ever used cocaine? The directness of the question, and the reporters' persistence, caught the early favourite for the Republican nomination with his guard down.

Twice elected Governor of Texas without having to answer the "C" question, he was spared it again this spring, when he took off into the wide world of national politics to near universal acclaim. When he launched his presidential campaign in earnest, he marked his private life off-limits.

In this, he was ably supported by his fiercely loyal team of advisers. His campaign machine is more cohesive and professional than that of any other candidate. Yet when the "C" question was finally raised last week, his response was described by American campaign-watchers as "about as bad as it could be".

His first error, said Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal, among others, was his decision to expose some aspects of his private life and not others. He boasted, for instance, of his fidelity to his wife. He acknowledged a drink problem in his thirties, which he solved by renouncing alcohol at 40. But he banished other aspects, speaking of "mistakes" which should be consigned to the past.

Last week, the US media finally seized on the inconsistency and said, in effect, that he could not have it both ways. In one sense, said Gigot, "it's refreshing to see a politician try to draw a line on personal privacy. But then he has to be consistent about all private matters".

Having established this dual strategy, Mr Bush's second mistake - identified by Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe - was to have deviated from it even by a fraction. "At the first sign of heat," he said, "he wilts." After trying to hold the line, Mr Bush selected one question put by his local paper, the Dallas Morning News. Would he, as President, continue the practice of background checks for White House employees, and would he pass? "Yes", and "yes", Mr Bush replied - putting on the record that he had not used drugs for at least seven years.

The next morning, Thursday, clearly perturbed by the impression this might create (only seven years?), Mr Bush issued a statement - his first on the subject - saying that he would have passed the White House background check also "when my dad was President" (from 1989 to 1993), when the required drug-free period was 15 years. Mr Bush left it to his office to clarify that the 15 years should be counted back from his father's first year in office, taking George W Bush's drug-free period back to 1974, when he was 28. As Oliphant put it: "This was not just a flip-flop, but a flip- flop on a flip-flop."

By Friday, Mr Bush was again trying to hold the line. Asked what parents should be telling their children about drugs, he said they should use the benefit of their experience to say: "Don't use drugs. Don't use alcohol." Drawing the public/private line again, however, he refused to say what he had told his own two daughters.

By yesterday, few US political observers believed he would be allowed to leave the cocaine question there, even though no one has any proof that he took it. But any admission will only prompt more questions: such as when, where, how and how much, and whether he brushed with the law. Several US media watchers said that he should have come clean much earlier.

Unfortunately for Mr Bush, the question has now shifted from the fact, or not, of an aspiring President's use of illegal drugs towards the way in which he has dealt with the allegations. "I've told the American people all I'm gonna tell them," Mr Bush told reporters on Friday, prompting one analyst to remark: "He has violated just about every law of mature campaign behaviour."

To British eyes, it might seem remarkable that Mr Bush is only now having to face questioning. This tardiness matches the US media's non-reporting of an affair between the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, and a young Congressional aide at the very time of Mr Clinton's liaison with Ms Lewinsky. The affair has made its way into print only now that he is out of office and seeking a divorce.

The mainstream US media fight shy of reporting such matters without prima facie proof. They also say that in fact Mr Bush is being targeted early in the election campaign; this, they say, is because he already seems a more plausible candidate than most of his opponents.

Some see jealous rivals behind the offensive. Others suspect Democrats, prompted by the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, who compared what he saw as the easy ride the media were giving Mr Bush with the criticism of Hillary Clinton. A newspaper then asked each candidate if they had ever used marijuana and cocaine. Mr Bush was the only one not to answer the cocaine question. All the others answered "No".

This time last week, Mr Bush won the "straw poll" in Iowa. Seven days later, he looks vulnerable for the first time. If a week is a long time in politics, then the year between now and the nominating convention next August, and the following election, is much, much longer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn