The Truth, Mainly - 01/06/2003

Monomania and the age of the openly ill
by Leon Satterfield

The Washington Post says we're in "a new era in national politics: the age of the openly ill."

What the Post means is that political candidates are less secretive about their illnesses than they used to be back in FDR's and JFK's time.

More than 20 members of Congress, the Post reports, let their electorate know—before the election—about their cancer. Vice President Cheney talked openly about his defective heart during the 2000 campaign, and Rudolph Giuliani talked openly about his prostate problems.

And, the Post suggests, their illnesses may be working for them.

"Voters understand these people have faced a struggle," political strategist Mark Mellman said. "They'll say this person understands the problems real people face. It humanizes them."

So my guess is that more candidates will be telling us how rotten they feel. And there's no reason to hope they'll limit themselves to talking about merely physical problems.

"Why, yes," a candidate will soon be telling us. "I've suffered from delusions of grandeur ever since I was in kindergarten."

Who could refuse to vote for that kind of honesty?

So with the 2004 election bearing down on us, isn't it about time that President Bush go before the nation and admit his little problem?

"My fellow Americans," I can imagine him saying. "I'm a candidate for re-election and the first part of 'candidate' is 'candid.' I'm here tonight to tell you that I'm crazy as a bedbug. But not about everything. Just about one thing. I'm what we call a monomaniac.

"When you're crazy in all areas, see, you're a maniac, but when you're crazy in only one area, you're just a monomaniac. Laura told me. She's a librarian. She reads books. All the way through.

"The area I'm crazy in is Saddam. Like my daddy said, 'I have nothing but hatred in my heart for him.' So even if the U.N. inspectors find him clean as a whistle, it won't matter to me. He tried to get my daddy, see, so I'm a monomaniac about getting him.

"Some people say how about Osama and how about whatsisname in North Korea. But if I were just as crazy about getting them as I am about getting Saddam, then I'd be a bimaniac or a trimaniac, and I just told you I'm a monomaniac, now didn't I? Weren't you listening?

"And if you tell me that Osama, not Saddam, was behind 9/11, or that whatsisname in North Korea has two nuclear bombs and Saddam doesn't, or that North Koreas army is three times as big as Saddam's army, then I'd just have to tell Johnnie Ashcroft about you. And the next thing you know, you'd be so far back in the clinker we'd be piping soup to you.

"Because monomaniacs, see, get really upset if anyone suggests there's more than one thing to get crazy about. And it's me, not you, who gets to decide what that thing is. Because I'm President and you're not. Haven't you been paying attention?"

"Laura says I'm like that guy in that one book. Guy called Moby Richard. Moby was a monomaniac too. Laura told me all about him. She's read the book. All the way through. She says Moby's one area of craziness was this big white whale that he chased all over the ocean. Although I don't see why that makes him crazy. The whale was full of oil, see, and everyone knows that oil is very important and worth chasing after.

"Because oil is the lifeblood of civilization, the source of all that's good about our country and our religion. Remember what Jesus said to the virgins who ran out of oil for their lamps: 'Verily I say unto you, I know you not.'

"Anyway Laura told me that the whale sank the ship that Moby Richard was the captain of, and Moby and everybody else on the ship drowned.

"And that's the way I am. Like Moby Richard, a monomaniac who knows that oil is very important and worth chasing after. I admit it and I hope you'll vote for me in 2004 instead of somebody who's 100 percent. I ran across a few like that in college and they're just flat-out boring. Made lousy fraternity members. Did you know I was president of my fraternity?"

The President could go on like that all night long. And who among us could deny him our vote?


Addendum: Today, Jan. 6, is Carl Sandburg's 125th birthday. As we prepare for our upcoming war, let us read, aloud and all together now, his 1918 WWI poem called "Grass":

"Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo./Shovel them under and let me work—/I am the grass; I cover all./And pile them high at Gettysburg/And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun./Shovel them under and let me work./Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:/What place is this?/Where are we now?/I am the grass./Let me work."


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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