A Memo to Bush's daughters
  by Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- Planet Earth to Jenna and Barbara Bush, age 19: In case you haven't heard,
your father is now president of the United States.

The both of you must be somewhere out there in space to have committed the bonehead caper of drinking
under age in public, especially you, Jenna, using somebody else's driver's license to beat the rap.

Just as your old man is trying to get over the loss of Jim Jeffords (a Republican senator who quit your dad's
party with a parting shot at him), you had to add to his grief. Thanks to you, his own earlier confessions of
excessive drinking and a DWI arrest are being resurrected, along with his refusal to say whether he ever used drugs.

Again thanks to you two, there will be much chatter around the water cooler, especially in Democratic precincts,
with comments like: What else could you expect from the kids of this reformed drinker? And: He's a fine one
to talk about family values; he should instill them in his own daughters. Never mind how unfair all this will be.

To your father's credit, he had been doing a pretty good job of protecting your privacy, and urging the news media
to do the same, until you screwed up in a public place. He got you out of the Washington goldfish bowl and trusted
you not to give aid and comfort to his political foes with stupid behavior.

Almost 20

You are, after all, almost into your twenties now, and after six years of being the twin daughters of the governor
of Texas, you had to know you were in the public's scrutinizing eyes, especially in your home state.

By the way, whom did you think those guys were in the suits, with the wires plugged into their ears,
following you around to assure your safety and security? No, they weren't the Blues Brothers.

Your conduct has my journalistic fraternity once again in the throes of self-examination about whether your arrests
are part of all the news that's fit to print and broadcast. It's a question we've been asking ourselves at least since
Margaret Truman set out on a singing career and father Harry got into a verbal brawl with a newspaper critic
over the quality of her performance.

John Kennedy's two kids, Caroline and John-John, were just tykes when they lived in the White House,
much too young to be carded. Lyndon Johnson's daughters were more your age, but they pretty much kept
their noses clean, so to speak, and seldom embarrassed him. One of them, Lynda, went out with a White House
Marine guard named Chuck Robb, but that was OK because they got married and he went on to become a senator.

Assuming burdens

Richard Nixon's two daughters, Tricia and Julie, were famously goody-two-shoes girls and never got their dad
in hot water, he being plenty capable of getting in it by himself. The same was true of Amy Carter, and Ronald Reagan's
kids were on their own, to say the least, in their distant dad's White House years.

Your own father, for all his admitted cutting up in his irresponsible youth, didn't cause any appreciable public grief
to your grandfather. And Chelsea Clinton, another straight arrow, could never hold a candle to either of her parents
in the bad publicity department.

No doubt it isn't a day at the beach being the offspring of the president. Obviously you can't be just a couple of
young women going out on the town with your friends. It's said you didn't want him to run for the job in the first place.
But he's there now, and you're old enough to assume the awesome burden of having your brewskis in private,
if you care to have them at all.

If you want to stay out of the headlines, you owe it not only to your parents but also to yourselves to be a bit more
prudent in your public behavior. It's not like you were caught lifting diamond necklaces from Tiffany's.

And if you want your privacy and want to avoid giving your old man any more non-Jeffords-related headaches,
just play it smarter from now on. After all, it's only a four-year sentence, with the possibility of four more for
good behavior -- yours and his.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington Bureau.
His latest book is "No Way to Pick a President" (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999).

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