The Politics of Personal Destruction
By John D. Turner
11 June 2001

Jenna Bush is a marked woman. If she didn't know it before, she certainly does now. She may as well have a target tattooed to her forehead, or a "kick me" sign taped to her fanny.

Whatever possessed her to think that she, the daughter of a conservative Republican President, would be allowed to live a "normal" life, like so many others attending college? Especially in Austin? Especially at UT Austin? I can understand why she would want that. Heck, so would I. But she really should have known better. Then again, with age comes wisdom; and how many of us were wise at 19?

Lets face it. For many attending college today, the primary focus is not on getting an education. To be sure, that is the ultimate goal, and many achieve it. But a big part of the college experience involves having a "good time". And for many college-aged young adults across the country, having a good time means having a drink or two...or three, or, well, you get the picture. Drinking age laws are just a inconvenience to be circumvented. And UT Austin, once rated the number one party school in the nation by Playboy magazine is a great place to have fun, and incidently, pick up an education at the same time. BYU it is not. For Jenna, it must have seemed a no-brainer. She's lived in Austin the past five years. She graduated from High School there. Her friends go there. It is a good school., and like thousands of other kids from Texas looking to have a good time and do what other college kids do, UT Austin is a logical choice.

The state legislature (at the coercion of the Federal Government) raised the legal drinking age to 21, in an effort to reduce traffic fatalities, which in many cases involved young adults and alcohol. Now I am no big fan of driving under the influence. But when those politicians, in their effort to please those in Washington who were trying to "make a difference" passed that law, did they really expect that college students across Texas would suddenly become teetotalers? Especially those attending "party central" at UT Austin, practically right next door to the capitol dome?

Jenna broke the law, and therefore must pay the price. The drinking age is 21, she is not, and was caught in possession. Twice. Once trying to purchase with a fake ID. Ok, fair enough. As the President's daughter, she shouldn't get any "special privileges" based on her dad's position. But on the other hand, she shouldn't be singled out either. If we want to be fair about this, the UT campus should be swarming with police on the lookout for underage students in possession. If drinking by those under 21 was such a big problem that the legislature felt the necessity of passing a law, shouldn't the police be enforcing that law to the maximum extent possible? And only someone living under a mushroom would be so naive as to think that underage drinking isn't rampant among the UT student body. Not to single out UT; the same is true at most colleges and universities across the country.

Unfortunately for her, Jenna Bush is the daughter of a conservative Republican President in a city about evenly split when it comes to liking or disliking him. This may seem strange, since Texas is the President's home state, and Austin its capitol. However Austin is a liberal enclave surrounded by a vast sea of more conservative folks. There are many in Austin who didn't like George W as governor, and who do not like him as President either. Some, as has been reported, would "do anything" if it would embarrass her father. At the restaurant where Jenna was busted, the manager first called the police using 911 (a misuse of that service, as underage drinking is hardly an emergency event), and then made a second call to alert the news media to the unfolding story. I find it hard to believe that this is the normal practice at that locale for handling underage drinking.

It is unfortunate that people would use the President's daughter to "get back" at the President, but that's the world we live in today. During President Clinton's tenure, his daughter Chelsea was considered "off limits", even after she started college. Of course, he was a liberal Democrat, and Chelsea attended a liberal college. No one would even think of informing the police if she had a drink or two. Mr Gore's kids had a free pass as well. In October 1995, 16 year old Sarah Gore was caught in Maryland by police with an open can of beer, the same offence Jenna was first cited for. History records no national hullabaloo by the news networks, cable TV, or media pundits. In 1996, son Al Gore III, then 13, was suspended from school for possession of marijuana. Again, silence, despite the national "war on drugs". Likewise in 2000, when he was pulled over for driving 97 mph in a 55 mph zone in North Carolina. Daughter Karenna Gore also has a past history of illegal alcohol and marijuana use dating back to her high-school days (including fake ID use), yet the media didn't see fit to pounce on that either. Once again, for the children of a liberal politician covered by a liberal press, such events are written off as "youthful exuberance" and are therefore "non-news". Jenna obviously lacks that "protection".

Some might think it strange that I, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, am defending someone in an alcohol-related matter. Isn't that a bit hypocritical coming from someone who doesn't imbibe adult beverages, and indeed, counsels his children against such? Not at all. As a member of the Church, when I was baptized I covenanted with the Lord that I would keep the word of wisdom, wherein the prohibition against alcohol is found. Having made that covenant, for me to partake would be a sin, as I have promised the Lord I would not, and take my committment seriously. Jenna Bush however, is not a member of my church, and has taken no such covenant (at least to the best of my knowledge). She is free to drink as she pleases, subject to the laws of the State of Texas, of course. Even if she had made such covenants, the fact that she has free agency, the ability to choose her own path and make her own mistakes, demands that I not condemn her. If she were a Church member her actions would have consequence, such as not being able to hold a temple recommend, for example. Even so, for me to judge her personally would be wrong, as I am not her judge.

My defense of Jenna (and her sister) is not with regard to her breaking the drinking laws of Texas (which she undeniably did), but with her being singled out as an object to get back at her dad. It is painfully obvious that she cannot lead a "normal" life at UT Austin, much as she may want to. And if she is discovered again with alcohol in her possession (which I would find quite likely, her dad's lecture at Camp David notwithstanding; she is a sorority sister after all and does have certain standards to maintain) she will then fall under Texas "three strikes" rule passed by her own father when he was Governor. The sweet irony of this possibility I am sure is not lost on many liberals in Austin, who would see it as "pay-back" for the way conservatives treated "poor Mr Clinton", never mind that it might ruin the Jenna's life. The inconsistency of singling out Jenna for the maximum penalty, while ignoring or excusing others doing the same thing, simply because her father is President and they dislike him, doesn't even seem to occur to those in the "ends justifies the means" crowd. And it is a dead certainty that if she is caught a third time, she will face three strikes, even if that is not the normal procedure for other UT students. What will happen then is anyone's guess. If she gets a liberal judge, as she easily could, she may end up with the maximum penalty; a hefty fine, six months in jail, and a criminal record, which could have other repercussions for her further on down the road.

Jenna's best bet is probably to leave Texas before that third strike; to go to another school, or perhaps wait until she is 21 to continue with college. Perhaps she should even consider going to a school overseas where the drinking age is lower. Even if she goes to a "conservative" school here in the States, it is certain that someone will be watching her, trying to make a name for themselves by catching her in some compromising position, now that she has been highlighted. And who would want to go drinking with her in Austin now anyway, knowing there is a large target painted on her forehead, and that they are apt to be caught in the same net.

Its unfortunate, but that's how the game is played these days, at least if you are connected to a conservative.