Texas Gov. George W. Bush, seeking once again to put an end to questions about his possible use of illegal drugs as a young man, said today that he and other members of the baby-boom generation have a responsibility to share with their children the lessons they learned from their own youthful mistakes.
The day after Bush said he could have passed a federal government background check on drug use when his father was president, effectively denying illegal drug use after he was 28, Bush was not specifically questioned about earlier drug use. But asked if he had been forthright with his teenage twin daughters when discussing drugs, Bush responded with a brief lecture on generational responsibility, suggesting that his youthful mistakes were no different than those of many others his age.
"I appreciate your question, but I'm going to leave my daughters out of the campaign," he told reporters at a stop here. "I think parents, particularly baby-boomer parents, ought to say to children, do not use drugs. I think we owe the children that responsibility--to share our wisdom.
"I worry about a society that sends a different message," Bush continued. "One of the interesting questions facing baby boomers is, have we grown up? Are we willing to share the wisdom of past mistakes? I think the message ought to be to all children, don't use drugs, don't abuse alcohol. That's what leadership is about."
Asked how a parent should respond if asked directly by a child about drug use, Bush said, "I think baby boomers ought to say I've learned from mistakes I may or may not have made and I'd like to share some wisdom."
The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination ducked a question about whether the intense scrutiny he has undergone on the drug question made him any more empathetic toward President Clinton. But asked what he had learned from the scrutiny he has undergone, Bush replied, "I've learned that sometimes politics can be unnecessarily ugly and I'm trying to purge the system of ugly politics."
The drug use questions intruded, if only briefly and relatively mildly, on what was designed to be a return to Bush's main campaign theme of "compassionate conservatism" and his call for more reliance on "faith-based" community organizations in battling social ills. His campaign chose as the backdrop Akron's Haven of Rest Ministries, a nondenominational Christian homeless shelter on the edge of the city's downtown.
Accompanied by Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R), Bush was given a private tour of the facility, which he pronounced a "fabulous place." He also chatted with a handful of men staying in the shelter, two of whom told him of their struggles with drugs. Bush listened but did not respond to their stories.
From the outset of his campaign, the Texas governor has vowed not to respond to questions about what he has characterized as sometimes "irresponsible" behavior as a young man and sought to tie such questions to the "ugly politics" that he vowed to purge today. But on Thursday he backed off that stance when the drug use question was put in the context of background checks that many applicants for federal jobs must undergo.
After responding to that question, Bush said he was finished talking about the subject of whether he ever used drugs.
There were fewer drug use questions today and Bush used them to invoke another favorite campaign theme: responsibility. Later, at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raising luncheon that Ohio GOP officials said raised $365,000, Bush spoke critically of the time he and other members of his generation were coming of age.
"A major goal of this country," he said, "ought to be to usher in the responsibility era, an era that will stand in stark contrast to the last few decades, which clearly said if it feels good, do it, and if you have a problem, blame somebody else."
As the front-runner in the crowded GOP presidential field, Bush has the most to gain from a relatively genteel primary campaign that is devoid of the kind of negative attacks that damaged the 1996 GOP presidential nominee, former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole (Kan.). That goal was also clearly shared by the luncheon audience from the Ohio Republican establishment that cheered Bush's call for "a new style political campaign" that rejects "trash-mouth politics."
At his news conference, Bush also said that the March 7 Ohio primary, the same day that California, New York and several other states will hold primaries, will be key in determining the nomination. "I suspect the day after the Ohio primary, the primary season will be over," he said.
CAPTION: With a controversy about whether he used illegal drugs in his younger days following him, George W. Bush (R) returns to Texas governor's mansion in Austin after a swing through Ohio designed to return his presidential campaign to its message of "compassionate conservatism."