"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 November 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 11.9.00


So does this mean we'll never again have to hear about the majesty of the electoral process? As Suck goes to press, the Presidential race remains undecided, but, unacknowledged by most media, a more important transfer of power has already occured: After Illinois's four-decade reign as America's undisputed capital of voter fraud, Floridians can stand up and proudly claim credit for having contributed something other than O-Town to the national treasury. Frankly, we're disappointed that friends of Gore at The New York Times didn't take the opportunity to replace their planned "Gore wins" headline with the plan-B "Fraud at polls" headline. In this case, they wouldn't have been too far wide of the mark. Whatever the outcome of the recount, it's heartening to see that the electoral college system — initially created to give more voting power to slave-owning states — is still doing its good work.

But so many questions remain. Why is there so much support for Pat Buchanan among Palm Beach retirees? (And given the number of voters who realized they'd voted for Pat only after seeing TV coverage of the notorious ballot snafu, are we seeing the begining of a new Pepsi-syringe case of induced hysteria?) How is it that a race whose close running had been attributable mainly to the matching Browns/Bengals unimpressiveness of the contenders end up becoming the most madcap election in living memory? How can you win 29 states (so far) without winning the popular vote? Are there really that few South Dakotans? And of course, what role has George W. Bush's drinking played in all of this?

For an answer to this last one, we went straight to an expert. Stanton Peele is America's premier opponent of Alcoholics Anonymous. His books, including The Truth About Addiction and Recovery and Diseasing of America have made him not only a pariah in the addiction community but possibly the only person who could ever get kicked out of an AA meeting. Peele spoke with us about the likely winner's long-ago drunk-driving bust, and his grueling road to recovery.

George W. Bush had a drunk driving bust in 1976, and then ten years later Jesus inspired him to give up drinking. If you'd had to do an intervention in that case, what would you have suggested?

Well, the majority of people arrested for drunk driving are not alcoholics, and one of the problems of the American treatment system is that they deal with everybody the same way. George W. Bush is a guy who said he wasn't an alcoholic, and knew some alcoholics, people who had worse drinking problems than him. So in a case like that I would focus on making him aware of the problems that result from driving drunk, and try to deal with that specifically. For instance, in that case it wasn't clear that the other people in the car were drunk; so the simplest thing for all concerned would have been to have somebody else drive the car. And that's a pretty simple resolution, as opposed to convincing somebody they're an alcoholic and convincing them to give up drinking. You can focus more specifically just on getting people to stop driving drunk.

You know, Joan Kennedy just got arrested again for drunk driving. For the fourth time. She's been in and out of treatment, she's been in a million treatment centers, and she's been sober for a while. But what happened to her is typical. Because they teach her that she's an alcoholic, and she — although I can't judge from here — she does seem to have a longstanding alcohol problem. So what do they teach you? They teach you not to drink. And in her case that's probably a good message. But 95 percent of people who hear that message do drink again. And because all they've taught her is don't drink, she doesn't seem to have any plan for staying out of a car when she does drink. And of course she could kill somebody, she could kill herself. And she's lost her license again for umpteen years. She's probably well off, but if a person depends on driving for their livelihood or getting their kids around, that's a pretty serious life disruption. And that's typical of American treatment. They only know one thing: teach people they're alcoholics, tell them never to drink again, and leave it at that. Nobody will tell Joan Kennedy, "If you do drink, you need to call somebody, either your kids or your friends." And in fact she's probably so ashamed, because of what she's learned in treatment, that it's harder for her to make that call, which could be life-saving.

Bush also had a pretty spotty record as a pilot in the Air National Guard. Does that indicate any kind of long term problem with operating heavy machinery?

Are you saying he was flying airplanes while he was drunk? Because I've never read or heard anything like that. If you're saying he's a screwup, well, there are lots of screwups out there who aren't alcoholics. And there are a lot of screwups who occasionally get drunk. But to generalize from that evidence that it's alcoholism is shoddy practice, although it's fairly typical of alcoholism practitioners in the US. You could do that job; it sounds like you've got that inclination.

What job?

Labelling people alcoholics. You look at one piece of information, and say "Look, he was a screwup in the Air National Guard too; ipso facto, he's an alcoholic.

I'll keep it in mind. I'm always looking for new job opportunities.

Well, you're not a recovering alcoholic, so you probably couldn't put enough teeth into it when you do it.

How about if I'm a practicing alcoholic?

Well then you're in denial and you wouldn't be making all these observations about him. You'd be going "Oh he's just sowing his wild oats." That's what AA says you'd be doing. Do I hear bottles in the background? Are you drinking right now?

I'm having coffee in a cup, with a saucer to make it more elegant.

No, no, I'm diagnosing you and W. at the same time. It's a twofer today.

Well, even if W. wasn't an alcoholic, the fact is that the majority of Americans have never been stopped for drunk driving, and it's pretty likely the majority have never driven drunk.

Those are two different things. Clearly a large percentage of Americans have never been arrested for drunk driving. But some people estimate that a fair number of Americans, in the course of their lives, at one point or another, have been over the legal blood/alcohol level. Especially before we had this heightened awareness that we have now. Not that I want to defend W. But these days you'd have to be asleep at the wheel not to think twice about driving after you've had a couple drinks. But it's possible that quite a fair percentage of people his age may at one time or another have driven drunk.

So you don't think the D-Dubya-I story is a healthy reminder to Americans that our country is run by degenerate slobs who take no responsibility for themselves?

Well, again, I don't want to defend W., but that's when he was about thirty. He had an unusually prolonged adolescence. And if you want to hold that against him that's OK with me. But it is possible to believe that somebody who did that 24 years ago should be judged on his behavior now. You can find ample reasons not to vote for him without going back 24 years.

Have you noticed Bush exhibiting any other obsessive behaviors, other than compulsive drinking?

W. has specifically said that he did not consider himself an alcoholic. He knew alcoholics and he didn't put himself in that category. He's said he decided to quit because he was drinking too much and it was starting to have an effect — he'd wake up in the morning and not feel like running. So he noticed a depreciation in his skill level, but he didn't consider himself an alcoholic.

Then why did he need Jesus to help him quit drinking?

I don't know that he said he needed Jesus to give up drinking. The way it worked in his mind was that by being confronted with Jesus he realized that he should give up drinking. It was more kind of a "cast away all your sins" kind of thing. And he didn't decide to cut back his drinking. He just decided to give up alcohol altogether. It sounds to me like the kind of guy who wouldn't even offer his daughters wine at Christmas.

You know, Americans are a pretty kooky lot around alcohol. America has the highest percentage of abstainers of any western country. There are microscopic numbers of people who abstain in France or Italy. But close to 40 percent of Americans don't drink alcohol at all. And they tend to accumulate in the Protestant South. In that environment you can pull off the idea that you should give up drinking altogether. In Italy people would notice, because you have wine with virtually every meal.

So if Bush had found the Catholic Jesus instead of the Protestant Jesus, would the outcome have been different?

He was brought up in a Protestant ethic. Southern Baptists are close to 90 percent abstinent now. I don't know that he's a Baptist. But the Southern Protestant environment often alternates between heavy drinking — like W. did when he was a kid — and absolute abstinence.

You know I've written in my book Diseasing of America about the tendency Americans have to label everything a disease, the way recovering alcoholics have conquered the airwaves, telling everybody, "Got drunk? You're an alcoholic like me. You need to abstain, you need to join AA. You need to rely on AA, you've got to go forever." In a way George Bush shares that outlook. He didn't decide to cut back his drinking; he decided to eliminate it entirely, like it was sinful. To a certain extent that same world view underlies AA. AA comes out of a Protestant revival background, and there's a lot of God left in it. At the same time, though, they look at Bush and say, "Oh God, you didn't go to AA. You're not allowed to do that." Even though in a way his resolution to quit entirely with the help of God has similarities to AA. I've heard people on radio call-in shows say, "What's this about? You can't quit drinking on your own! He's going to relapse any minute." Which doesn't seem very likely. He's been governor for two terms and he seems to be pretty good on his word that he isn't drinking. So then they'll have this angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debate about George W. Bush, saying, "He wasn't really an alcoholic, so he could quit on his own."

How many teetotaler Presidents have we had?

I was thinking about that. I'm not aware that there have been many. I was thinking about Jimmy Carter, because he was a Southern Baptist. But I seem to remember him having wine at dinner with Rosalynn. So you'd have to go back over the whole schmear. If you go back — Harding was a pretty famous drinker, Jackson was big partyer. And in colonial America heavy drinking was the norm. George Washington was a big drinker in his day. Temperance didn't come around until about 1830. At the Constitutional Congress it was normal to have grog passed around.

Do you see any foreign policy implications? Like, how are you supposed to meet the president of Russia without having a little vodka?

Well that's funny. His dad drank, right? He threw up on the Japanese prime minister. But yeah, if you go to China, there's no AA there. So when dealing with Russia or China, heavy drinking is part of the negotiation. You know, George W. Bush is so awkward and so American. People have already pointed out how funny it will be to see him overseas; they tell funny stories about how he offended Queen Elizabeth. She said to him, "I understand you're the black sheep of your family." And he said, "I understand you're the black sheep of your family too." You're not supposed to say that to the Queen. And that's a typical ugly American thing. It would be part and parcel of that to end up somewhere and say, "Oh, I don't drink." It's almost a cultural offense to say that in some places. But I'm sure George Bush will just say it.

Fuck the Queen. Who cares about her?

Yeah. "And who cares if all deals are sealed with vodka? That's their custom. I don't drink. The hell with stupid Russia."

If Darryl Strawberry had played for the Rangers and had a suspected drug user like George W. as the owner of his team, would that have had an impact on his career?

Well, hadn't W. already quit when he owned the Rangers? Darryl Strawberry seems to do a good job of taking drugs anyway. Of all the bad things people have said about George Steinbrenner, I don't think he's ever been accused of taking drugs. I'm pretty sure Joe Torre doesn't take drugs. So Darryl can't quit even when he's surrounded by people who don't take drugs. And of course the solution he's getting is the opposite of what he needs. Darryl Strawberry, and in fact most human beings, would be better off keeping their jobs. They send him back to Tampa and say "You've got a couple things you're good at, like playing baseball. We're not gonna let you do that. Why don't you just hang around all day and see what you come up with?" That sounds more like a recipe for drug use than otherwise. Most people do better when they're gainfully employed, and doing what they're good at.

Would W. have used Jesus to cure Darryl's addictions, and maybe even his cancer?

Well Darryl is a born again Jesus guy, don't you know that? You remember Huckleberry Finn? Remember Pap got religion one night, and he swore off alcohol? But he didn't make it through the night; he got kind of powerful thirsty, and climbed down a stanchion and got drunk as a lord? And they found him on the ground, half froze? You know, all kinds of thieves and saints get religion, and they announce that that's the source of their resolve to go straight. I guess what you'd have to say is that you need a little more than that backing it up. George W. Bush seemed to have a pretty stable family life. He seemed, a little late, to be feeling his professional oats. And that seems to have calmed him down, so that he could stick to his pledge to quit drinking. But Jesus alone — as Darryl Strawberry demonstrates — isn't really enough to keep up the vow of abstinence.

So Jon Corzine, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, wakes up one day in his Summit, NJ, estate, and he decides that instead of throwing millions of dollars at the Democratic National Committee — so the feeble, earnest staffers there can waste it on FedExes and chairman Ed Rendell's back electrolysis — he'd rather fly his golden parachute onto his own Senate seat. Well it sure beats taking cash from evil corporations — the way George W. Bush does, so he can give further tax and legislative breaks to them; or the way Vice President Al Gore does, so he can rail against them in public but reassure them at White House coffees. Hell, no. What separates Corzine from such previous moneybag contenders as Al Checchi and Michael Huffington (besides the fact that he ended up winning) is that he used his cash to become the Senate's pre-eminent liberal, aiming to help those in decidely different tax brackets. Reasonable people can differ on, say, whether the dream of universal health care should be trusted to a federal polity whose previous ventures into the medical profession include the Tuskegee experiments, the war on swine flu and the post-Nagasaki eco-tourism of Dr. James V. Neel, but at least Corzine is trying to do the right thing. Despite his rumpled professor mien and his counterintuitive beard, Corzine was dissed by pundits and editorial boards alike — his opponent, GOP Rep. Bob Franks won the endorsement of the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as the other, lesser-read newspapers actually located in New Jersey. But in the end Garden Staters sent him to Washington, D.C., because one thing seems pretty clear — this is a guy who actually gives a flying fuck about them, unlike poll-tested pols like Franks, or Gore, or Bush, or the pundits themselves. In the focus-group-tested wilderness, Corzine openly cries out for universal health care, and a living wage, and opportunities for the state's underclass. He's one of the few Democrats who actually runs as a Democrat. So cheers, Mr. Corzine. Drinks are on you.

Despite the possibility that the GOP has finally managed to get some Kennedy payback by stealing a presidential election of its own, it's not Al Gore who got the sharpest kick in the balls via Campaign 2000 (though we don't think the Prince of Tennessee will be getting it on with Lady Tipper anytime soon). Nope, that honor would have to go to incumbent Republican Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, who suffered the double-salt-in-the wounds insult of not merely losing his seat when sitting senators have 95 percent-plus return rates but actually losing to a dead man, former Gov. Mel Carnahan.

Sadly — or rather, hilariously — Ashcroft had even been ahead in the race until Carnahan took a page from the playbook of that master politician, Daffy Duck, and died in a successful bid to win over the famously hard-to-impress Show Me State voters. (Looney Tunes fans will no doubt recall the time when Daffy, locked in a burlesque-hall battle with Bugs Bunny, literally explodes in order to score points with the reluctant crowd). But don't count Ashcroft out just yet. We've got it on good authority that the lame-duck senator, who came within 39,000 votes of dancing on Carnahan's grave, is just making a show of conceding the race to Carnahan's widow. As the inevitable lawsuits unfold, Ashcroft has a secret plan to boost his chances in a new tally by killing himself.

courtesy of the Sucksters