"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 10 August 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Presidential Head Trips



"People are mean," our first

lady and Senate candidate in

waiting breathlessly informs

a breathless reporter in

Talk magazine's tussle with

the presidential id. At the age

of 4, as Hillary Rodham Clinton

tells it, Bill suffered trauma that

left him "so scarred by abuse that

he can't even take it out and

look at it. There was terrible

conflict between his mother and

grandmother. A psychologist once

told me that, for a boy, being in

the middle of a conflict between

two women is the worst possible

situation. There is always the

desire to please each one."


Of course, little in William

Jefferson's subsequent sexual

history suggests that he's ever

been long possessed by the

desire to please even one woman

at a time, let alone two. (And

some helpful staffer should

point out to the first lady that

taking it out and looking at it

seems to be precisely where all

the trouble starts.) But we

applaud the first lady's line of

reasoning and have applied her

ideas to a new study of

Childhood Presidential Dysfunction.

Herewith, Suck's official

12-step mini-tour of presidential

psyches. After all, people, must we

really be so mean?


To begin at the beginning, all

great mental disorders start

with the complexes of the

Father, and the Father of Our

Country was no disappointment.

The implicit virility of his

unofficial title

notwithstanding, George

Washington produced no offspring

— a lapse that stemmed from

a mania formed in childhood, as

the epistolary testimony of his

wife Martha Dandridge Custis

Washington has now revealed.

"His mother would dress the

youthful George in lace caps and

petticoats," Martha confided to

her sister in an oddly deadpan

tone. "She would then chase him

about the parlor, derisively

hooting and calling out, 'Look

at the girl-boy!'" Martha

ruefully explained later that

this was "one reason why he

shudderingly refers to all

intimacies between the sexes as

'entangling alliances.'" Still,

their domestic life had its

compensations. By Martha's

account: "We love to torment our

dinner guests with misanthropic

banter and vicious after-dinner

games into the early morning.

Sometimes we invent imaginary




President No. 5, James Monroe,

lorded over the deceptively

named "era of good feelings,"

but his developmental years were

steeped in feelings of terror.

As Elisabeth Kortright Monroe

revealed in a New York Post

interview with the young Cindy

Adams, Monroe's deranged mother

would tie him to the leg of the

family pianoforte for days on

end, releasing him only long

enough to administer ginger-beer

enemas. This horrific treatment

soon produced the classic

symptoms of multiple personality

disorder. Monroe's other

personalities included an earthy

coachman called Smitty, a

Prussian attaché named

Franz, and a comely milkmaid

known as Fanny. While many of

these personalities went into

prolonged remission during his

term in office, the structure of

Monroe's disorder took such deep

root in his character that he

authored a foreign policy

doctrine literally dividing the

world in two.


Though James Buchanan, our only

confirmed bachelor chief

executive, does not survive in

the first-lady interview

literature, scholars have

unearthed telling school

records. Buchanan's schoolboy

nickname was Pond Scum. And, of

the extant teachers' notes, the

kindest evaluation reads: The

idle fool if whipt at fchool.

These early trials made the boy

pusillanimous. Later in life,

Buchanan was unable to decide

whether people should be allowed

to buy, sell, own, and — if

necessary — kill other

people within the borders of the

United States: admittedly, a

puzzle that stumped many. Among

his more creative compromise

positions was a proposal to

admit Kansas as a slave state.

But the Buchanan doctrine was

best expressed in the

president's lame-duck period

from 1860 to 1861, as the

administration pursued a

rigorous policy of doing nothing

while the nation ceased to exist.


If we are to believe Hollywood

screwball comedies, all sorts of

maniacs suffered from the

delusion that they were Teddy

Roosevelt. But Edith Kermit

Carow Roosevelt's reminiscence

in the labor journal The Canner

indicates TR was delusional

enough all by himself.

Sequestered on a Long Island

manor as his father engineered

business takeovers and stock

deals, the frail and sickly

Teddy began referring to his

sister Anna as "Electra" and was

tormented by the suspicion that

both parents were scheming to

kill each other and sleep with

him. He escaped these paranoid

fantasies by slaying the odd

wild mammal, which he would

dedicate in secret pagan North

Shore ceremonies as hecatomb

offerings to the gods. New

evidence from the family

archives now suggests that

Teddy's pursuit of political

power was wholly organized

around the mandate to procure

sacrificial offerings on a

greater and greater scale. One

telegram to a 1904 campaign

adviser reads, "Running low on

San Juan buffalo....Concerned

that Japanese win over Russia

will effect Kobe beef market."



Helen Herron Taft's interview

in Milady's Boudoir sheds light

on the tormented childhood

endured by Teddy Roosevelt's

successor. Taft's austere

attorney father would shower

taunts on the rotund boy William

Howard, calling him "Cream

Puff," "Doughboy," and most

damning of all, "Mama Taft

Elliot." In an all-too-familiar

spiral of self-hating

self-medicating, William would

seek to comfort himself with yet

more food and swell to still

greater proportions. In an

unguarded moment, he once

described his childhood to Ida

Tarbell as "a blur of Napoleons

and petits fours." At length,

William developed the conviction

that he was neither man nor

woman, but a towering pastry,

which explains the odd diction

of his maladroitly written

notes to staffers. "My

leaves tremble at the

thought of your frosting gun

caressing my cavities," reads

one pained missive scrawled on

White House stationery.


Franklin Roosevelt could have

been a proud poster boy for

polio telethons — but

instead was only a poster boy

for denial. Steeped in

old-fashioned notions of illness

and transgression, FDR developed

a private religious mania, based

on the notion that he had been

stricken by polio as divine

punishment for his marriage to a

matronly, humorless cousin.

Determined to ward off further

retribution from an angry God,

he crafted the modern welfare

state, sanctioned collective

bargaining, repealed

Prohibition, and marshaled the

country through the successive

crucibles of a depression and a

world war. How sad that he

couldn't stop driving himself

onward with senseless activity

and simply look himself squarely

in the eye and say, "No more

blaming — I can't walk, and

that's OK!" And just think of

how much trouble the country

would have been spared if we

never had a welfare state to

repeal in the first place.


In a brilliant and apparently

unique turn at sketch comedy on

Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, Pat

Nixon revealed that husband

Richard had had his young mind

shattered by a crucial primal

scene, involving his grocer

father astride his Quaker mom.

The setting and the nature of

the scene were such that it

bequeathed the future president

a richly variegated host of

psychosexual fetishes, involving

pumpkins, spaniels, and H. R.

Haldeman in drag. This is all to

say nothing, of course, of

Nixon's well-documented scopo-

and auraphilia.



The inner child of a president

who addresses his wife as

"Mommy" can safely be said to be

out of the closet. But after

examining Nancy Reagan's

exclusive interview with Joyce

Jillson, we must ask ourselves:

Was it Dutch Reagan's abusive,

alcoholic father who invaded

Grenada, sent the Ayatollah

Khomeini a cake shortly before

sending several hundred US

Marines to their deaths, and did

more to unlock the radioactive

power of the national debt than

any president before or since?

Or was it his overpowering,

suffocating mother?


To be sure, Childhood

Presidential Dysfunction is a

poorly understood phenomenon,

raising more questions than it

answers. We can only wonder at

the boyhood demons that drove a

capable and decent citizen like

Herbert Hoover to fail so

miserably as president.

Somewhere in a lonely Missouri

childhood rests the key to Harry

S. Truman's decision, a few days

after the bombing of Nagasaki,

to change his middle initial to

an unpronounceable glyph.


We must find the answers to

these questions. Ahead of us

lies a better understanding of

our past, of ourselves as

Americans, and of how far we

have come as a nation. The

search for truth continues. We

have top scholars right now

investigating whether Chester A.

Arthur may have actually been

born in Canada.

courtesy of Holly Martins

[Purchase the Suck Book here]