Mentally Sick or Crazy like a Fox?

By Dettmer, Jamie | Insight on the News, October 25, 1999 | Go to article overview

Mentally Sick or Crazy like a Fox?


Dettmer, Jamie, Insight on the News


President Clinton has bared his soul at a White House prayer meeting, attributing Ids misdeeds to a mental disorder. Was he just being honest, or was he pleading insanity as his defense?

So now we know, and we have it straight from the horse's mouth: The president of the United States -- the commander in chief of the U.S. military -- is unstable, stricken with some kind of mental illness. Or at least he was; he hasn't made it clear whether he's totally recovered.

Don't believe it? Parse his comments at the annual White House prayer breakfast on Sept. 28. After thanking the clergy, his family, Americans and God for forgiving his sins, he proceeded to remark about how men are reluctant to ask for help on mental-health issues. "Men, I think, are still really hung up about asking for help. I know about that. That's a hard thing for men to do. I know about that" he said.

Most media coverage of the event concentrated on the president's belief that Americans have forgiven him for dragging the country through the tawdry Monica Lewinsky scandal, with reporters at the scene pondering how Bill Clinton knows forgiveness has been forthcoming. As the Rev. Philip Wogaman, one of his clerical counselors, admitted: "That's not the sort of thing you do a poll and decide." If so, it must be the first time the president hasn't polled something.

But, for Washington's Week, it was the president's candor about "his problem" that deserves attention -- after all, it isn't every day the chief executive of the United States acknowledges that he's nuts. And Clinton's frankness came only weeks after the White House proved a tad shy about talk of mental illness. Flashback to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's interview with Talk magazine and how presidential aides bristled at her remarks concerning her husband and the mental consequences of "abuse" he endured during his childhood years in Hot Springs, Ark. But then, as we know, White House aides play fast and loose with language -- their philosophy is "make the words fit the occasion."

The politically ambitious first lady has to portray Bill as a sick puppy to explain why she stood by him when he was exposed as a dog. Her loyalty had nothing to do with her reluctance to relinquish her closeness to power; she is more Florence Nightingale than Lady Macbeth. In that vein, the prayer breakfast required a contrite demeanor from the president -- after all, at last year's annual gathering he threw himself on the mercy of the nation's clergy and he could hardly saunter into this year's event with a boyish smirk on his face. What better way to elicit sympathy than to claim status as a victim?

But, what if the president was telling the truth when he suggested he was sick? Taking Clinton at face value, Washington's Week is prepared to say it comes as a relief to know that the president wasn't in his right mind these last few years; it explains so much. The poor prez then can't be blamed for Chinagate and all that Beijing money pouring into Democratic Party coffers. He wasn't, you see, well enough to monitor what was going on and, likewise, with nuclear secrets flying out the doors of the nation's nuclear labs. White House coffee receptions, renting out the Lincoln Bedroom, siccing the FBI on the fired White House Travel Office staff -- all easily can be understood now. Bill was struggling with a personal problem; he wasn't at fault. Thank God he wasn't around at the height of the Cold War when presidential fingers hovered over nuclear buttons!

Following that track of mental illness to its logical conclusions, however, prompts one or two tricky questions. Where was the vice president when all of this was happening and his boss was sick? Didn't he notice there was a problem, and shouldn't he have scrambled to read up on the 25th Amendment and to discuss with then-House speaker Newt Gingrich his fears that the president was "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office"?

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