Stop presses: W is a politician

BushRopeline.jpgDavid Kirkpatrick of The New York Times is doing yeoman’s work on the conservative beat, especially in observing conservatives saying and doing the darndest things.

“Now comes the revolution,” Richard Viguerie crowed in a Kirkpatrick report on Nov. 4. The first hint of James Dobson’s dissatisfaction with an all-star inclusivity video including SpongeBob Squarepants? Kirkpatrick again. If there is a social conservative in Congress who’s leading a double life and decides to come clean about it, I expect Kirkpatrick to be first on the story with a series of lengthy Q&As.

For now, I’ll have to be content with a bizarre but captivating feature story from Saturday in which Doug Wead plays secretly taped conversations with his longtime friend George W. Bush. Wead, who was ordained in the Assemblies of God, worked in the administration of President George H.W. Bush as a liaison to evangelicals. W was Wead’s boss in those years, but it was Andrew Card Jr., Kirkpatrick writes, who invited Wead to leave “sooner rather than later” after he criticized the administration in a letter to other conservatives.

Kirkpatrick reports that Wead turned to the tapes to defend a point about Bush in his new book, The Raising of a President.

Evangelicals may be disappointed to hear Bush speaking about the importance of “code words” when addressing them, but it’s also clear from the story that Bush’s faith is more than just a campaign strategy:

Preparing to meet Christian leaders in September 1998, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, “As you said, there are some code words. There are some proper ways to say things, and some improper ways.” He added, “I am going to say that I’ve accepted Christ into my life. And that’s a true statement.”

. . . In November 1999, he told his friend that he had been deeply moved by a memorial service for students who died in an accident when constructing a Thanksgiving weekend bonfire at Texas A&M University, especially by the prayers by friends of the students.

In another conversation, he described a “powerful moment” visiting the site of the Sermon on the Mount in Israel with a group of state governors, where he read “Amazing Grace” aloud. “I look forward to sharing this at some point in time,” he told Mr. Wead about the event.

Bush’s remarks on his past — including rumors of his using marijuana and cocaine — sound both Clintonian (“I haven’t denied anything”) and incoherent (Why is being honest about past drug use a sign of baby boomers’ immaturity?):

He worried, though, that allegations of cocaine use would surface in the campaign, and he blamed his opponents for stirring rumors. “If nobody shows up, there’s no story,” he told Mr. Wead, “and if somebody shows up, it is going to be made up.” But when Mr. Wead said that Mr. Bush had in the past publicly denied using cocaine, Mr. Bush replied, “I haven’t denied anything.”

He refused to answer reporters’ questions about his past behavior, he said, even though it might cost him the election. Defending his approach, Mr. Bush said: “I wouldn’t answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried.”

He mocked Vice President Al Gore for acknowledging marijuana use. “Baby boomers have got to grow up and say, yeah, I may have done drugs, but instead of admitting it, say to kids, don’t do them,” he said.

Kirkpatrick mentions that the Times “hired Tom Owen, an expert on audio authentication, to examine samples from the tapes.” But there are enough Bushisms present to suggest this is the W we all know:

Mr. Wead said he withheld many tapes of conversations that were repetitive or of a purely personal nature. The dozen conversations he agreed to play ranged in length from five minutes to nearly half an hour. In them, the future president affectionately addresses Mr. Wead as “Weadie” or “Weadnik,” asks if his children still believe in Santa Claus, and chides him for skipping a doctor’s appointment. Mr. Bush also regularly gripes about the barbs of the press and his rivals. And he is cocky at times. “It’s me versus the world,” he told Mr. Wead. “The good news is, the world is on my side. Or more than half of it.”

. . . “It’s unbelievable,” Mr. Bush said, reciting various rumors about his past that his aides had picked up from reporters. “They just float sewer out there.”

. . . Mr. Bush could hardly contain his disdain for Mr. Gore, his Democratic opponent, at one point calling him “pathologically a liar.”

One of the more entertaining passages involves Bush’s preparing to meet with James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family (which the Times, in its inimitable “idiot’s guide to Red America” style, informs us is “an evangelical self-help group”):

In September 1998, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead that he was getting ready for his first meeting with James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, an evangelical self-help group. Dr. Dobson, probably the most influential evangelical conservative, wanted to examine the candidate’s Christian credentials.

“He said he would like to meet me, you know, he had heard some nice things, you know, well, ‘I don’t know if he is a true believer’ kind of attitude,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush said he intended to reassure Dr. Dobson of his opposition to abortion. Mr. Bush said he was concerned about rumors that Dr. Dobson had been telling others that the “Bushes weren’t going to be involved in abortion,” meaning that the Bush family preferred to avoid the issue rather than fight over it.

“I just don’t believe I said that. Why would I have said that?” Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead with annoyance.

By the end of the primary, Mr. Bush alluded to Dr. Dobson’s strong views on abortion again, apparently ruling out potential vice presidents including Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Gen. Colin L. Powell, who favored abortion rights. Picking any of them could turn conservative Christians away from the ticket, Mr. Bush said.

“They are not going to like it anyway, boy,” Mr. Bush said. “Dobson made it clear.”

One disappointment in the piece: Kirkpatrick does not mention that Wead’s new book follows up on themes he covered two years ago, in the deliciously titled All the Presidents’ Children (somewhere, Richard Nixon is chuckling). Wead’s previous book explored how so many children of presidents have struggled with failures or even early deaths because of the pressures they face. Noemie Emery praised it in The Weekly Standard as “a heart-wrenching and impressive book,” but in The Washingtonian, Cristy Lytal called it “a poorly written, reductive catalog of lifeless facts.”

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  • gratefulbear

    I enjoyed the NYTimes article but I was bothered by the ethics involved (or lack thereof). What “friend” secretly records conversations with a friend?

  • Stephen A.

    You found Bush’s secretly taped comments about Marijuana “incoherent”? Hmmm.

    Well, let me try to illustrate what I think he meant. A few years ago, I decided to try watching a sitcom about a single mother who was raising a family (the lead character was played by that southern comedian with the nasally voice. No, not “The Nanny”.)

    The character told an adult friend on the front porch that she was trying to tell her kids about drugs, but COULDN’T tell them not to do drugs because she would feel like a hypocrite because she did drugs as a teen. The character ended up giving a very lame, drug-neutral pitch to her kids (“I can’t tell you what to do.”??) The show didn’t last long, with writers like that.

    Sorry for the Murphy Brown-style fictional example, but it illustrates the kind of WARPED, and yes, immature, attitude some Boomers have towards drugs, and that’s what I think he was getting at. But I could be wrong.

    To get into his head a bit more, I believe he was saying he didn’t want to parade his faults and failures before the public like Clinton did, although Clinton’s way of admitting drug use had a clever way of *winking* at it, and sent some powerful cultural signals about drug use that people got loud and clear.

    One other thing, a report today showed that drug use in Utah and in many parts of the South were significantly lower than in other states. A woman on TV said she attributed the low rate in her native Tennessee to the Southern Baptist “no tolerance” approach to drugs. Utah’s rank on the list speaks for itself.

    My liberal, largely “unchurched” region of New England, on the other hand, has the highest drug use in the nation. I’m sure liberal skeptics will scoff, but I wonder if there are any studies on the correlation between religious beliefs and drug use. There’s a common sense correlation, but I’d like to see stats.

    I would also note that Colorado has among the highest cocaine use in the country, but that ranking is likely to go down now that Hunter S. Thompson is dead.

  • Stephen A.

    I also have to say that I find the taping of Bush’s private concersations troubling.

    Guess Bush finally has his “Linda Tripp,” though if these were the juiciest tidbits that could be released, we won’t be half as titalated as we were by Monica’s conversations.

  • Molly

    “I would also note that Colorado has among the highest cocaine use in the country, but that ranking is likely to go down now that Hunter S. Thompson is dead.”

    I was going to let that one pass, but then read that Thompson had killed himself. I assume that you were attempting to be funny, but in my opinion, you failed.

    I am also intrigued to hear someone “slip” and confess that the Starr report was titillation; it certainly isn’t as newsworthy as no WMD’s.

  • Stephen A.

    That wasn’t a slip. I thought a great deal of it was nonsense. On the other hand, at the time it occurred to me that feminists defending a man who had “relations” with a subordinate – or choosing to ignore or overlook it in this case – was quite hypocritical, and I still do.

    I’m sorry I didn’t do justice to Mr. Thompson’s legacy to writing. His drug-induced, hateful rantings were an INVALUABLE contribution to journalism because he taught reporters they could inject themselves and their opinions into what they write, regardless of whether it’s appropriate to do so. How could I have POSSIBLY overlooked his importance?

  • dw

    My liberal, largely “unchurched” region of New England, on the other hand, has the highest drug use in the nation. I’m sure liberal skeptics will scoff, but I wonder if there are any studies on the correlation between religious beliefs and drug use. There’s a common sense correlation, but I’d like to see stats.

    I don’t have any stats, but I tend to think correlation != causation with stuff like this. Numerous studies have shown that the rate of divorce and alcoholism within the Christian community are virtually the same as with society as a whole. I would tend to think that drug use would follow that.

    Think of it this way: The two areas with the highest amount of meth use in this country are the Northwest (with the lowest rate of church attendance in the US) and in an area of the Midwest stretching from Oklahoma to Iowa (two states with some of the highest rates of church attendance).