Although it would come to be known as the most treacherous piece of
political sabotage of the century, the press didn't find out about the
president's sodium pentothal patch until the '92 election was over.
But all the pundits agreed that while his sudden burst of candor
during the last week of the campaign made him oddly attractive, it lost
him the election. The only state he carried was Nebraska. It was
The truth serum had been osmosing through the president's pores
since Oct. 26 when the patch had been surreptitiously stuck to the base
of his spine by a female intern at Bethesda Naval Hospital. (He would
later refer to her as "that nice lady doctor.") Wearing only his
slippers and open-backed hospital gown for his monthly checkup, the
president was taking the day off from campaigning, confident of the
polls showing he had come back from a 23-point deficit to draw even with
Gov. Clinton by mid-October. A week later, he had a five-point lead and
the momentum was clearly his.
"Big mo," the president liked to say, pointing to himself. "C'est
The third time he said it on television, the intern was heard to
say "We'll just see about that."
"Way to go, Mr. President," she told him when he said it again in
the examination room. Then she slapped him on the bare backside with
the sodium pentothal patch hidden in her hand. "Give 'em hell, Harry."
The first sign there might be something amiss came the next
afternoon when the president told a conference of historians that when
he got right down to it, he wasn't absolutely certain that he should
take all the credit for the collapse of international communism.
"After all," he said, "containment had been a policy of both
Republicans and Democrats for decades. The commies just happened to go
broke on my watch."
We know now that James Baker wrote him a sharply worded memo
questioning the strategy of that admission. But the president seemed
unable to help himself. For the next week he ignored his prepared text
when it deviated from what he knew to be the truth.
On the morning of Oct. 28, he told a group of Republican women that
Hillary Clinton hadn't really written that marriage was a form of
slavery, and the next day he told a national television audience that
Gov. Clinton wasn't really proposing to raise taxes for everybody, only
for people making more than $200,000 a year.
"My mistake," he said. "I don't know anyone who makes less than
$200,000, so I thought he was talking about everybody. I could bite my
Marlin Fitzwater shook his head and rolled his eyes when reporters
asked about it later.
On Oct. 30, the president told the National Association of
Manufacturers that his earlier charge that Gov. Clinton had raised
Arkansas taxes 128 times in 11 years was a "bogus campaign ploy because
of the goofy way we were counting. If we counted our own tax increases
the same way, we'd have to say there were133 of them in just four years."
The Truth, Mainly
William Safire noted that the president seemed to be speaking in
complete sentences more often, George Will said his words were "no
longer just audible confetti," and Donald Kaul said the president was
"suddenly sensible, even likable." "When George Bush vowed to do
whatever was necessary to get re-elected," Mike Royko wrote, "nobody
guessed he'd sink to telling the truth."
On the Sunday before the election, the president told the AMA he
really had no health care plan beyond doing whatever the insurance
companies wanted, and the next day he told the VFW that deep down he
felt that even his foreign policy "sucked canal water." Nobody had
heard him use that phrase before.
"Everybody says the Gulf War was such a success," he said, "but
look at what it did: restored a corrupt Kuwaiti emir to his corrupt
throne, killed several hundred thousand Iraqi people we had no quarrel
with, and left the guy we went after still in power. If that's success,
we ought to try failure. You know?"
Gov. Clinton was so confused by the president's candor that he
cancelled all his speaking engagements the last four days before the
election, thus increasing his popularity by 12 points. He remained
speechless even after the president's remarkable seven-word concession.
"The hell with it," the chief magistrate told the nation. "I'm
The patch lost its potency a few days later and by the time
President Clinton was inaugurated, Citizen Bush was talking to Barbara
about making another run in '96.
"I'd make a crackerjack president," he told her. "Don't you
"It'll be all right," she said, patting his hand. "And isn't
it about time to make another appointment with that nice lady doctor?"
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.