Richard Cohen's gleeful take on the rumors about George W. Bush borders on malicious and harms the public good more than the blame he assigns the governor ["And Confessing Everything But," op-ed, Aug. 19].

Mr. Cohen commits a great injustice by stating that since individuals are in jail for drug offenses, Gov. Bush should address rumors that he may have violated similar laws. By that rationale, public officials would be obliged to answer questions about possible criminal infractions floated by unnamed sources without even the basic protections reserved for suspected criminals. That standard has not been met by the current president regarding a direct accusation of rape that allegedly occurred while he was serving in public office. Mr. Cohen cavalierly casts aside the cherished presumption of innocence in favor of suppositions about the traits of a man whom he doesn't know. "I happen to think Bush is a Fifth Amendment cokehead," Cohen brazenly writes.

I have known Gov. Bush for most of his adult life and know him to be a law-abiding citizen and not a drug user. The preponderance of the investigations reported support that position. Regardless, I believe Gov. Bush is doing America a great favor by breaking the damaging cycle of forcing candidates to disprove baseless rumors that distract from America's greater interests. Moreover, Gov. Bush is adhering to a principled approach that precludes young people from surmising that irresponsible conduct committed 20 or 30 years ago by a public figure is okay.

Yes, we need high standards for public officials. We need equally high standards governing the scrutiny candidates must endure. Applying basic levels of decency to the treatment of Gov. Bush, who has served his country honorably, upheld the integrity of his office and been a dedicated family man, would be a good start. Assuming the presumption of innocence reserved for accused criminals would be another minimum step.



The writer is a former Republican U.S. representative from New York.