The problem with technology – and one that will only get worse – is that the past never truly goes away; it is apt to return in odd and unexpected ways.
That has just happened to President Bush with the disclosure of tapes of conversations with an informal adviser, Doug Wead, made just before and during his first presidential campaign.
Wead, as so often seems to happen in cases like this, has a book just out. And while he denies any pecuniary motives, excerpts of the tapes that have become public have secured him all manner of promotional appearances. Wead, in his first round of appearances, seemed stunned and disquieted by the publicity monster he had unleashed.
The president’s reply, conveyed through White House spokesmen, was on point: He was having “casual conversations with someone he believed was his friend.”
Unlike the Nixon tapes, the Bush tapes show that he is very much the same man in private that he is in public and _ at least in those tapes disclosed so far _ do not reveal anything that wasn’t known or couldn’t have been guessed.
Bush notoriously sowed wild oats in his youth but came to believe, as many do, that there should be a political statute of limitations on youthful indiscretions or, as he forcefully but inelegantly put it, “Stand up for a system that will not allow this kind of crap to go on.”
The tapes show that on marijuana use he had a more honorable motive than simply ducking awkward questions: “Do you want your little kid to say, ‘Hey, Daddy, President Bush tried marijuana; I think I will.’ … I wouldn’t answer the marijuana question. You know why? Because I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried.”
The tapes show he is a devout Christian with a sense of mission, but he politely but unmistakably refused to be drawn into a gay-bashing campaign by some of his fellow, and politically powerful, evangelicals.
They also show he is an astute politician; very direct; not above bare-knuckle politics _ flat-taxer Steve Forbes especially riled him; and surprisingly thin-skinned about the press, much more conscious about what is written about him than he lets on.
What should be the fate of the tapes? Wead says the released excerpts are only a small fraction of the tapes. Wead should release no more; there is no kind way of saying that this is anything but a betrayal. At some stage, he should turn the tapes over to the National Archives for safekeeping and preservation. However dishonorable their origin, these tapes are valuable history about a pivotal figure.
At some stage, after the participants are dead and the time for embarrassment is past, the Archives should release them to historians. The technology will ensure that the past survives.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)