Profile: George W Bush - This Charmed Man
Gumbel, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
Anyone who has examined the privileged, almost preternaturally charmed life of George W Bush will not be remotely surprised by the latest revelation that he was once caught behind the wheel with too much alcohol in his system. Granted, the news has broken suspiciously close to next Tuesday's US presidential election, in which Mr Bush, the Republican candidate, is pitted neck-and-neck with his Democrat rival, Al Gore. Granted, it could still have some effect on the fickle band of floating voters who hold the outcome of the race in their hands.
But as a smoking gun, it does not seem to have much firepower. The incident occurred 24 years ago, long before Mr Bush entered public life. He was found to be at the legal limit of 0.1 parts per mil, not over it. Nobody died. There was no accident.
Mr Bush can hardly be accused, either, of lying about his youthful misadventures. Throughout his presidential campaign he has alluded to the wilder days of his past, particularly the heavy drinking that characterised his social life throughout his twenties and thirties and almost ruined his marriage. His promise to restore honour and dignity to the White House after the moral lapses of the Clinton years is not based on any claim to lifelong virtue; rather, he claims to be a reformed sinner, someone who saw the light - and hit the wagon - after one last drinking binge on his 40th birthday in1986. That he had the fortitude to do so he credits to his wife, Laura, and their twin daughters - a line that only reinforces the impression that he is now a God-fearing, morally strong man standing four- square behind the values of family and hard work.
If the drunk-driving revelation has any power to damage Mr Bush politically, it is perhaps in the attention it focuses on the many other questions about his early life that have never found an adequate answer. Just how wild was the young George W Bush, exactly? Did he sniff cocaine? Did he sleep around and get young women pregnant? Did he use his wealth, his privileged background and the connections of his politician father to cover up for his more excessive behaviour? And, if he did, how bad does it need to have been before people worry about his suitability for high public office?
Up to now, these are questions that have been asked but have found little in the way of a concrete answer. The cocaine question dogged Mr Bush throughout the primary season this year, but was eventually dropped as a serious political consideration after he said that he had not taken any illegal drugs in the past 25 years. That left open the possibility - never denied - that he had indeed dabbled in narcotics as a young adult, but Mr Bush's "reformed sinner" line seemed to satisfy most voters.
Having given him the benefit of the doubt on the cocaine question, American voters have followed the same line on everything else. Just a few days ago, the pornographer and political rabble- rouser Larry Flynt claimed to have found evidence that Mr Bush got a girlfriend pregnant back in 1970 and quietly arranged for her to have an abortion. Mr Flynt, who you may recall digging up sexual dirt on Republican leaders at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal two years ago (including evidence of an extra-marital affair that forced the resignation of Republican House leader Bob Livingston), says he has four affidavits attesting to the events of 30 years ago.
Again, a double standard is in play here, since Mr Bush claims to be opposed to abortion and has allied himself with the rabidly anti- abortionist Christian right in Texas. But the media is wary of giving Mr Flynt any airplay, and the story did not even go far enough to elicit a reaction from the Bush campaign.
Another area of controversy concerns Mr Bush's record in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war. There are strong suspicions, first of all, that Mr Bush found a place in the reserve force and thus avoided active service thanks to the influence of his family - suspicions that contradict Mr Bush's somewhat disingenuous account about hearing of a vacant spot on the Guard and applying for it. …