Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Bush Tapes

From the New York Times:

As George W. Bush was first moving onto the national political stage, he often turned for advice to an old friend who secretly taped some of their private conversations, creating a rare record of the future president as a politician and a personality.

In the last several weeks, that friend, Doug Wead, an author and former aide to Mr. Bush’s father, disclosed the tapes’ existence to a reporter and played about a dozen of them.

Variously earnest, confident or prickly in those conversations, Mr. Bush weighs the political risks and benefits of his religious faith, discusses campaign strategy and comments on rivals. John McCain “will wear thin,” he predicted. John Ashcroft, he confided, would be a “very good Supreme Court pick” or a “fabulous” vice president. And in exchanges about his handling of questions from the news media about his past, Mr. Bush appears to have acknowledged trying marijuana.

Mr. Wead said he recorded the conversations because he viewed Mr. Bush as a historic figure, but he said he knew that the president might regard his actions as a betrayal. As the author of a new book about presidential childhoods, Mr. Wead could benefit from any publicity, but he said that was not a motive in disclosing the tapes.

The White House did not dispute the authenticity of the tapes or respond to their contents. Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said, “The governor was having casual conversations with someone he believed was his friend.” Asked about drug use, Mr. Duffy said, “That has been asked and answered so many times there is nothing more to add.”

The conversations Mr. Wead played offer insights into Mr. Bush’s thinking from the time he was weighing a run for president in 1998 to shortly before he accepted the Republican nomination in 2000. Mr. Wead had been a liaison to evangelical Protestants for the president’s father, and the intersection of religion and politics is a recurring theme in the talks.

Preparing to meet Christian leaders in September 1998, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, “As you said, there are some code words. There are some proper ways to say things, and some improper ways.” He added, “I am going to say that I’ve accepted Christ into my life. And that’s a true statement.”

But Mr. Bush also repeatedly worried that prominent evangelical Christians would not like his refusal “to kick gays.” At the same time, he was wary of unnerving secular voters by meeting publicly with evangelical leaders. When he thought his aides had agreed to such a meeting, Mr. Bush complained to Karl Rove, his political strategist, “What the hell is this about?”

Mr. Bush, who has acknowledged a drinking problem years ago, told Mr. Wead on the tapes that he could withstand scrutiny of his past. He said it involved nothing more than “just, you know, wild behavior.” He worried, though, that allegations of cocaine use would surface in the campaign, and he blamed his opponents for stirring rumors. “If nobody shows up, there’s no story,” he told Mr. Wead, “and if somebody shows up, it is going to be made up.” But when Mr. Wead said that Mr. Bush had in the past publicly denied using cocaine, Mr. Bush replied, “I haven’t denied anything.”

Snort, snort.