Judgment and Character
You’re at a bar on a warm Saturday evening in New England, and there is a group at the table next to you. At least one of the members, a 30-year-old man, is drinking several beers; the young woman next to him, only 17 years of age, is not old enough to drink yet.
They finish their drinks, and head for the exit; you note that the man who had been drinking several beers is fishing his car keys out of his pocket, and you wonder if anyone in his party will stop him from getting behind the wheel. After they leave, you may wonder if they get home in one piece, and wonder at the judgment of the driver–after all, he was not so drunk that he would lose the ability to understand that you don’t drive while in that state. You might wonder what kind of person knowingly drives drunk, what kind of character it takes to do that.
You pay the bar tab, and your group’s designated driver takes you home; on the way, you see a car pulled over by a policeman on the side of the road. You see that the driver is being given a sobriety test, and you recognize him: it’s the guy from the bar. Perhaps there is some justice, you think, but wonder how many times that guy drove drunk before he finally got caught.
The night was Saturday, September 4, 1976, and the driver was a future president of the United States. Bush’s passengers were tennis star John Newcombe and his wife, in addition to his underage sister, Dorothy. Bush had indeed, by his own admission, drunk “several beers” before getting behind the wheel. A police officer, Calvin Bridges, reported that Bush was swerving off the road when he pulled him over. Bush failed the sobriety test, and later tested a 1.0 on a blood-alcohol test, just exceeding the legal limit at the time. Maine’s legal limit today is 0.8, and had he been arrested today, Bush would have spent two days in jail for having a minor in the vehicle.
Bush received a $150 fine, and his driver’s license was suspended in Maine for no less than six months (several reports say two years). Bush, however, went to court to have his license reinstated about a month after his arrest, even though he did not take a rehabilitation course that is required for reinstatement. Although, by later confession, Bush was in his heavy-drinking period that would last until he was about 40, Bush testified in court that he drank only once a month, and had “an occasional beer.” The court granted his request remove the suspension on his license.
What is just as questionable as Bush’s decision to drive drunk that night with his underage sister in the car is how Bush related this event to the American people while trying to get himself elected to the nation’s highest office.
At first, he did not relate this to the American people at all; in fact, he lied about it several times.
In 1998, Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater asked Bush if he had ever been arrested. Bush replied, “After 1968? No.”
In November 1999, on Meet the Press with Tim Russert, Bush was asked, “If someone came to you and said, ‘Governor, I’m sorry, I’m going to go public with some information.’ What do you do?” Bush replied, “If someone was willing to go public with information that was damaging, you’d have heard about it by now. You’ve had heard about it now. My background has been scrutinized by all kinds of reporters. Tim, we can talk about this all morning.”
Also in 1999, Bush told CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan that there was not any “smoking gun” about unrevealed incidents in his past.
In November 2000, Bush told a press conference that he did not go to court about the DUI, when he in fact did so.
And then there was the infamous 1996 juror incident. At that time, Bush was randomly selected for jury duty. Wanting to make a PR stunt out of it, Bush made a big deal about how he was just an ordinary guy, and of course, he would do his duty and serve on the jury. He claimed to the press that it is “a feeble excuse” to say he’s too busy or important. When he was given the forms for jurors to fill out, there is a section where jurors are required to detail prior arrests and court proceedings they experienced. Bush left that section blank. Apparently, the court did not want to bother the governor with such legal niceties, so he was not required to fill it out as everyone else is. But then Bush ran into a bigger snag: by chance, he was assigned to a drunk driving case, and, as a potential juror, he would without doubt be asked, under oath, if he had ever been arrested for drunk driving before.
Time for a feeble excuse to come to the rescue. Bush asked to be dismissed from jury the night before the trial, and was helped by Alberto R. Gonzales, his legal counsel. (Bush later appointed Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court, and later as a legal counsel in the White House.) The excuse? “It would be improper for a governor to sit on a criminal case in which he could later be asked to grant clemency.” Huh? How often was Governor Bush asked to grant clemency for drunk driving? He was obviously taking positive action to hide his past from the public.
During the previous year, Bush had also taken another step to hide his past: On March 31, 1995, George and Laura Bush were given new driver’s license numbers; Bush’s was #000000005. Bush was born on July 6, 1946, and his license was not near expiration. The reason given for the change was “security,” but there was no precedent for Texas governors doing this. The change destroyed the records of his previous license, which would have detailed any arrests. This bears on the many rumors that Bush was also caught DUI in Texas, which would in turn explain why Bush mysteriously performed community service, for Project P.U.L.L., an inner city Houston program for troubled youths, from 1972. There may yet be other arrests we still do not know about.
And when the arrest came out in public, did Bush take full personal responsibility, as he likes to claim that he does?
Heck, no. He lied some more, of course. He started by claiming, “I have always been honest with the American people.” Uh, yeah, right. He then turned on the person who released the information, calling it a “dirty trick.” The timing of the announcement may have been (albeit a very clumsy “dirty trick”), but the DUI arrest was not. And he even tried a bit of revisionism, claiming that he was not pulled over because of his erratic driving, but rather because he “was driving too slowly.” Makes it sound less damaging that way–but nonetheless is just still another lie.
And how did Bush take full personal responsibility for lying to the American people about it for so long? He used his daughters as a publicity shield. He said he wanted “to be a good role model for his daughters.” Which, of course, is bogus, because any good parent, especially when it comes to alcoholism, knows that the best way to deal with such things with your children is to be honest and up-front. Of course, this course of action might explain why these same daughters have been repeatedly arrested for underage drinking. It might give Bush an excuse for lying to the people, but it also makes him a bad father.
This is the person we have leading our country, sending our young men and women to die in battle, making decisions that will affect this nation’s prosperity and security for decades to come.