Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2004 / 6 Tishrei, 5764
Of heart pathology, and pathological narcissism
At the time of Ronald Reagan's funeral, I had a joke in my stand-up act that went: Seeing that dead ex-presidents get more attention than living ones, Bill Clinton confided to a staff member that he wished he were dead. I even warned audiences that he may try to stage his own death just so he too could have a week-long state funeral for himself. But then, I speculated, he'd let the cat out of the bag, because he wouldn't be able to resist writing a sequel to "My Life," called "My Death."
The day after the Republican Convention, the news was Bill Clinton, and Terry McAuliffe thanked him "for putting the Democrats back on the front page." I myself must give the man credit for lasting a whole four days with the spotlight being fixed on something other than himself (though that's likely what catalyzed his condition). When he returns to the campaign trail, according to the Washington Times, it'll be "invested with an element of attention-getting drama and sympathy that it would not have otherwise."
We know this male diva likes attention (if he could sleep in the spotlight, he would), but this quadruple bypass thing is quite a ways to go to get it even for Bill Clinton. Given his famously addictive personality, and after the outpouring of love and well-wishing, I just hope that he doesn't turn into one of those surgery addicts.
A shamelessly gushy email which his people released read, "I'm having an awfully hard time imagining anything big enough to block a heart as large and generous as yours." I'd made the opposite misjudgment of the man: He's made of organs and soft tissue after all! and not mechanical wiring and machine parts, which I'd long suspected were the reason this president wouldn't disclose his medical records. (Though I did read that his surgeon is a pioneer in something called robotic surgical technology.)
Granted, it's not all about him. He figured that if a dead Ronald Reagan could give Bush a boost, perhaps an ailing Bill Clinton could give Kerry a boost especially needed after Bush's eleven-point post-convention spike. In other words, while inspiring sympathy that the current president doesn't enjoy, the former president gets to upstage the guy running for president, who was supposed to get upstaged earlier by the former president's book release except that the book release was upstaged by the death of another former president, whom this ex-president is now getting back by reclaiming that lost ground for the guy running for president whom he's upstaging. Just in case it's more about Bill than John, though, after hearing that the former checked himself in for chest pains on a Friday, Teresa checked herself in for stomach pains that Saturday.
If it all sounds too satirical, consider this from the AP: "Doctors said Clinton's problems were not as sudden as had been portrayed. He had suffered shortness of breath and tightness in his chest for several months." (So there was precision timing involved after all!) More: Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood, a spokesman for the American College of Cardiology, "agreed with Clinton's doctors that the president had been in a dangerous state leading up to the operation. 'Within the next couple of weeks, something was going to happen.'"
And Clinton's chief surgeon, Dr. Craig Smith, said the heart disease they had to repair was extensive, and blockage in several arteries was " well over 90 percent." There was a "substantial likelihood that he would have had a substantial heart attack in the near future," added Alan Schwartz, Columbia-Presbyterian's cardiology chief.
In other words, my opening joke wasn't far off the mark: The man did risk his life for attention! Clinton even chose a hospital that has a death rate of 3.93% for coronary bypass operations above the 2.18% state average. Not only that, but he took a Republican for his chief surgeon! (Dr. Smith last April donated $2,000 to the Bush campaign.) Bill was seriously going for that state funeral!
Isn't that just like Slick Willy to attempt an early exit, and escape earthly justice for all the misdeeds that have yet to surface (remember the prosecutions that were dropped in 2001? And just wait 'til details emerge from Sockgate the why, wherefore, and whether Berger acted alone). Not only would the master escape artist evade history's reckoning, but newly deceased he'd make it poor taste to criticize him. Genius!
History has yet to catch up with Slick Willy, and I prefer him to be alive when it does. So I join the rest of the country in praying for the former president's complete recovery even if it puts a damper on his plans.
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JWR contributor Julia Gorin tours with Right Stuff Comedy and performs in the monthly New York-based show Republican Riot. Send your comments by clicking here.
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© 2004, Julia Gorin This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review