Bush’s drinking and Dreier’s sex life

Some thoughts on outing, hypocrisy, and consistency.

Lots of email (and lots of comments from Jane Galt’s readers) on my two posts from yesterday about Pres. Bush’s (reported) drinking and Rep. Dreier’s sexual orientation. The key points made:

1. Dreier has a homophobic voting record (weaker version: works for a homophobic organization, the Republican Party) and therefore ought to be criticized for hypocrisy.

2. There’s nothing shameful about being gay, so identifying Dreier as gay does him no wrong.

3. Yes, it was nasty, but Democrats need to be as nasty as Republicans if we want to win elections.

4. If it’s wrong to mention Dreier’s private behavior, why is it OK to mention Bush’s private behavior?

5. There’s no good evidence that Bush is drinking.

6. If Bush is drinking, so what? Lots of people drink without having a drinking problem.

As to (1), the stronger version seems to be false. Dreier has cast various votes inconsistent with the positions of the Human Rights Campaign, but one of the objections made against him by the right wing was his opposition to the proposed Family and Marriage Amendment to the Constitution. As to the weaker version, it’s true, but not, I think, adequate to make out the charge of hypocrisy.

Consider, if you will, an analogy: religious skepticism or atheism is at least as unpopular as homosexuality (and with many of the same people). The GOP uses religiosity to score political points. No doubt some of its leaders are free-thinkers. Would it be appropriate to use their lack of conventional faith as a campaign issue against them?

It’s hard for me to see how anyone could take argument (2) seriously. A world in which being gay wasn’t considered a disgrace would be a nice world to live in, but it’s not the world we actually live in. And using someone’s sexuality to damage his chances of political advancement doesn’t bring that world any closer.

As to (3): remember what happened to Odin.

Argument (4) only works if you think that being gay is a weakness or a problem, like being a chronic drunk. Heavy drinking, unlike homosexuality, is likely to interfere with the performance of official duties. So I don’t agree that heavy drinking, or a return to drinking by someone who had quit after having an acknowledged problem in controlling his drinking pattern, is “private behavior” in the relevant sense.

As to (5) — whether Bush is drinking heavily again — I repeat that we don’t know. But there is lots of reason for worry. Reports of occasional benders, including one video that (to my eye) shows him obviously plastered at a friend’s wedding, have persisted. He’s done a considerable amount of falling down since being elected. That he has gone back to the bottle has been common gossip in Washington for eighteen months at least. And the National Enquirer — which isn’t, in fact, in the habit of just making stuff up — claims to have two sources with first-hand knowledge.

(6) simply misunderstands the nature of substance abuse. Yes, most people drink without ever having a drinking problem. And yes, it’s a mistake to see someone drunk once and conclude that the person is an alcoholic. But someone who drank heavily from age 15 to age 40, decided (under pressure from his wife) that he had a problem, and quit abruptly, and who goes back to drinking when under heavy profesional pressure, is at high risk of spinning out of control, especially if he’s someone who after almost twenty years (mostly) off the bottle regards his drinking years as “the good old days.”

So I continue to think that heavy drinking by public officials is a legitimate target of inquiry while their love lives mostly aren’t.

However, when a politician mixes romance with public business, that’s a different problem. And it seems that Rep. Dreier may have such a problem: he has his lover on the public payroll at $156,000 per year, which seems to me like a scandal, independent of the sexes of the official and the underling.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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