Thomas Sowell
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THE STORY ABOUT George W. Bush's minor brush with the law, two dozen years ago, tells more about the people who leaked this to the press, on the eve of the election, than it does about Governor Bush. Add to this the innuendoes about Ralph Nader's sex life by Gore operatives, also on the eve of the election, and you can see some pretty desperate people in the Gore camp, whether or not the vice president's fingerprints can be found on any of this -- and whether or not there is any "controlling legal authority."

What someone who was not a public official did in his private life in 1976 has no relevance to his fitness to be a candidate today or to take office in the 21st century. Abuses of elected office -- by Al Gore as vice president and by both Clintons in Arkansas and in Washington -- are wholly different from some young man having too many beers on a night long ago. Moreover, political smears of this sort have become a hallmark of the Clinton/Gore administration.

Remember the illegal release of Linda Tripp's confidential personnel files -- and Attorney General Janet Reno's announcement that she would not prosecute the person who admitted doing it? Remember James Carville's depicting Paula Jones as trailer park trash on nationwide television? Remember the leak to the press of Congressman Henry Hyde's 30-year-old affair on the eve of the Clinton impeachment hearings?

Remember Clinton's lawyer accusing Kenneth Starr of illegally leaking grand jury testimony?

This charge had already been investigated and found to be groundless in a court of law when this inflammatory claim was nevertheless repeated during the nationally televised impeachment hearings. But, because that court decision was still sealed at the time, it would have been illegal for Starr to defend himself by referring to it -- a fact shamelessly exploited by the Clinton smear machine.

These are the people who publicly deplore "the politics of personal destruction" while no administration in living memory has practiced that tactic as much as they have. What does that tell you about their character?

Many other people of far less prominence have been targeted for character assassination by this administration. The Clintons had barely arrived in the White House when they made false criminal charges against travel office employees whose jobs they wanted to give to their Arkansas cronies. These employees were quickly acquitted in court -- but were left with legal bills larger than their annual salaries.

During Clinton's days as governor in Arkansas, state health officials who tried to enforce the law against the Clintons' business partner Jim McDougal were summoned to the governor's office and told that McDougal was a friend of his. When they failed to take the hint, and continued to cite McDougal for violations of state health laws, they were fired.

After Bill Clinton reached the White House, federal officials in Arkansas investigating the Whitewater scandal were suspended after they disregarded hints from their supervisors that people higher up did not look favorably on their investigation.

Personal destruction? This administration wrote the book! These stories planted in the media about Governor Bush and about Ralph Nader are only the latest chapters.

The media have not covered themselves with glory in this episode. Too many press pundits seem to think that everyone in public life owes it to them to tell them everything about their private lives. But we are not voting on people's private lives.

The distinction seems to be lost on too many people. What Clinton did with government employees in the White House is not his private life. Committing perjury in a federal court is not his private life.

As for Governor Bush, it may be revealing that he was not speeding, like so many people driving under the influence of alcohol, but was in fact pulled over by the police because he was driving too slowly. Apparently he was aware of his diminished capacity. Later, he became sufficiently aware of the problems created by alcohol that he became a teetotaler more than a decade ago.

We could use somebody in Washington with an awareness of his own limitations, instead of the arrogant recklessness and disregard of others that is all too apparent in the Clinton/Gore administration.

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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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