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The Truth, Mainly - 02/28/2005

In defense of the president

Well, there goes the New York Times again, casting aspersions on our president's character.

I'm talking, of course, about David Kirkpatrick's piece in the Feb. 20 issue. It's all about secretly taped telephone conversations—in 1998, 1999, and early 2000—between George W. Bush and his so-called "friend," Doug Wead, a writer and former aide to the first President Bush. Also a sometime minister and Amway cheerleader.

(For the record, I agree with the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz who wrote that "secretly recording a friend, and then using the tapes to peddle a book is a betrayal of the first order.")

Where the tape gets nasty is when the president sounds as if he's talking about his past marijuana and cocaine use.

He tells Mr. Wead that his past involved "just, you know, wild behavior." And he says this of previous interviews: "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."

He criticizes Vice President Gore for admitting he'd used marijuana. "Baby boomers," the president tells Wead, "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."

When Wead reminds him that he's already denied using cocaine. The president says, "I haven't denied anything."

Cynics will, of course, read into all that an admission that before he found religion, the president found illegal drugs. But as a dirty rotten secular humanist, I want to suggest a mitigating possibility.

I'm not convinced he ever decided to use illegal drugs. I think he may have used them without knowing it. I think he may have been demonically deceived, treacherously tricked.

And since intent is at least nine-tenths of the law—or something like that—he cannot be held responsible. No matter how many secretly taped telephone conversations are made public.

Why, you're probably asking, would I make that argument?

Because, I'm afraid, I may have been myself demonically deceived and treacherously tricked into breaking part of the same law the president may have broken. And I'm just now facing up to it.

It happened back in the 1960s and I trust the statute of limitations has expired by now. I was in my early years of teaching English and I'd led a sheltered life.

I was, innocently enough, part of a softball team made up mostly of teachers. To celebrate the end of the spring semester we were playing a team of students. As I remember, we won.

It was mainly because we were serious about winning and the students weren't. When a ground ball went through our legs, we threw our gloves at it, grimaced, and said "O pshaw!" or something like that. But when a ground ball went through the students' legs, they laughed as though it was the funniest thing that had ever happened.

The Truth, Mainly


After the game ended, both teams retired to my backyard for a picnic. We cooked hotdogs on the grill and drank soda pop from a washtub full of ice.

And after we'd finished, one of the students went to his car, opened the trunk, and pulled out a shoebox full of homemade brownies. They were delicious.

"These are very tasty brownies," I said to the guy who brought them.

"Made them myself," he said. "They're Alice B. Toklas brownies."

"Alice B. Toklas," I pontificated, "was a constant companion and inspiration to Gertrude Stein, but I was unaware of her culinary skills."

"Relax," he said. "Chill."

It seemed like a very funny thing for him to say, so I laughed. He laughed too. And his laughing at what he had himself just said seemed like an even funnier thing to do so I laughed some more and before you knew it nearly all of us who had eaten brownies were laughing.

And that's when we decided we should have a football game in the backyard. It wasn't nearly big enough to play football in, so one of the students suggested we play in slow motion so nobody would get hurt, and another student who had climbed a tree laughed so hard he fell out of the tree and, we later found out, cracked his collar bone.

Slow-motion football was the funniest game we'd ever played. It was even funnier when one of us, in slow motion, knocked down part of the fence surrounding the backyard. Everything was very funny, even the police who came to tell us to quiet down because neighbors had complained of our loud laughter.

And I looked for several years before I ran across the recipe for Alice B. Toklas brownies. And then I was aghast at what I had ingested.

You know. Like the president I'm finally identifying with.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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