Barry Eisler

Monday, May 08, 2006

More Leadership from Congress...

Representative Patrick Kennedy, a six-term Democrat from Rhode Island, admitted being addicted to prescription drugs after driving his green 1997 Ford Mustang convertible into a security barrier near the Capitol Friday and almost creaming a police officer heading in the opposite direction. The police report said that, at the time of the accident, Mr. Kennedy's "eyes were red and watery, speech was slightly slurred and, upon exiting his vehicle, his balance was unsure."

Well, that sounds like prescription drugs to me.

(This isn't the first time for Kennedy, BTW. He went to rehab as a teenager for cocaine addiction, and has since said he was in recovery for depression and alcoholism.)

Kennedy said he was rushing to a vote. It was 2:30 in the morning.

Here's Kennedy's mea culpa: "I struggle every day with this disease, as do millions of Americans."

Translation: this isn't my fault, any more than it's the fault of all the other victims who suffer from it.

Look, I'm not an expert. Maybe alcoholism and other forms of drug addiction are a disease. But is that really the point? Shouldn't we -- shouldn't Kennedy -- be focusing on whether, as a victim of this disease, he's capable of fulfilling his responsibilities as a representative to the US Congress?

Glaucoma is a disease, and it can cause blindness. What would be the relevance of the cause of the blindness if a sufferer wanted a job as a bus driver? We would say, with sincere sympathy, that the person was unqualified, and should find another way to contribute to society.

Longtime Kennedy friend and former campaign manager Jack McConnell said calls for Kennedy's resignation were misguided.

''If Congressman Kennedy had had a heart attack, nobody at all would be calling for him to step aside.''

Well, I guess if Kennedy had suffered a heart attack instead of being so blotto that by his own admission, "I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police or being cited for three driving infractions," we wouldn't be having this discussion. But what if, after the heart attack, Kennedy had been brain damaged? Or lapsed into a coma? Would we be discussing the origins of his condition then? Or only the condition itself?

Bill Lynch, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said people in Rhode Island "respect the fact that [Kennedy is] courageous enough to deal with this in the public eye, which is very difficult.''

Do they really? I don't. Where else was Kennedy going to deal with this? He crashed his car in public. The police arrested him in public. And all right, getting caught in this kind of behavior in public is difficult, I'll give Lynch that. But I can't muster a lot of respect for someone who's doing something difficult when there's simply no alternative, easy or otherwise.

Senator Edward Kennedy said of his son: "I love Patrick very much and am very proud of him. All of us in the family admire his courage in speaking publicly about very personal issues and fully support his decision to seek treatment."

Look, Patrick is Edward's son, so the senior Kennedy had to say something. And he gave it his best, with those three "verys" trying to pump up a shaky vote of confidence.

But again, what, precisely, is PK's courageous act? And why is it even noteworthy that EK supports PK's decision to seek treatment? Could EK have conceivably counseled PK against treatment?

I'd also like to know when it become a virtue to discuss personal issues in public. Call me old-fashioned, but I find this kind of behavior weak and vaguely embarrassing. I'd much rather see our leaders doing their job and not insisting that I get to know them so well.

Predictably, Kennedy made sure to say "I'm taking full responsibility." But responsibility for what, and to do what, exactly? Let's go back to sympathetic Jack McConnell's heart attack analogy, and substitute the words "heart attack" for the words "drug and alcohol addiction:"

"I take full responsibility for my heart attack, meaning I will promptly check in to the nearest emergency room."

That would be a non sequitur, of course. And in fact, Kennedy's use of the "I take full responsibility" dodge is implicit acknowledgment that his condition is nothing at all like a heart attack. Taking full responsibility for Kennedy's problems would mean resigning his seat and finding some other way to serve the public weal, a way for which he has not disqualified himself. But that would also entail a genuine regard for the people of Rhode Island, rather than a narcissistic focus only on what's best for Patrick.

I don't mean to be harsh here. Kennedy clearly has problems, and clearly needs help. I hope he'll get that help and solve his problems. But in the meantime, I don't want him driving the bus.

I only wish Rush Limbaugh were here to offer some guidance on all this.
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32 Comments:

Blogger M. G. Tarquini said...

I agree.

Monday, May 08, 2006 11:21:00 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

I only wish Rush Limbaugh were here to offer some guidance on all this.

Heh! Beat me to it.

I'd suggest that the Congressman from Rhode Island affects the opinions of far fewer people than nationally famous radio-show host Rush Limbaugh. So if one should step down, so should the other.

But seriously, folks, I don't think either should resign. There but for the grace of God, etc.

It's a pity, however, that Limbaugh's experience of his own frailty doesn't seem to have taught him an ounce of humility. How it affects Kennedy remains to be seen.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 5:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

You might have also titled this post, "Yet more verbal sleight of hand."

A quote from Mr. Kennedy's speech: "But in all candor, the incident on Wednesday evening concerns me greatly."

Concerns you, Mr. Kennedy? In all candor, what about us?

Another quote: "The recurrence of an addiction problem can be triggered by things that happen in everyday life, such as taking a common treatment for a stomach flu."

Did none of Mr. Kennedy's rehab counselors mention that doctors are smart people and know how to prescribe drugs that won't trigger addiction problems?

This is not to belittle the problems people with addiction and depression face, and those problems are both many and serious, but it doesn't sound to me like Mr. Kennedy has taken to heart one of the golden rules of the 12 step program (not to mention THE golden rule of crisis communications): Apologize.

For more verbal fun and games, the full text of Mr. Kennedy's statement can be found at http://www.heraldsun.com/nationworld/washington/15-731925.html.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 5:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Maryann said...

I'm old enough to remember what disclosure of past treatment for depression and mental illness did to Thomas Eagletons run for v.p with George McGovern. What makes addiction to prescription drugs so different, especially when, while past 'problems' are confessed to, current ones are dismissed as 'oops, painkillers...I guess I took too many'. I fear the answer may be that this country has heard and seen so much of this on every level that we accept it as 'it is what it is'until something horrible happens. What would we be discussing if Patrick Kennedy had NOT missed that policemen ? He didn't mean to do it?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 6:20:00 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

JD, I don't think Limbaugh should step down. He's an entertainer, and I don't look at alcoholism and drug addiction as disqualifications for being an entertainer. But I do think they ought to disqualify someone from government office.

I do think, however, that unless Limbaugh is a hypocrite, he ought to be doing his show from prison now. After all, he has argued forcefully for prison terms for drug users.

Ah, but he's not going to prison, is he... well, I guess that settles that.

Elizabeth, great additions on the verbal sleight of hand! I missed those in the articles I read. "In all candor," he's concerned? Come on, the only logical follow-on to the "In all candor" lead-in is, "I wish none of this had happened and I'm going to use every ounce of guile and familial connection I have to pull the wool over your eyes and keep my position in Congress."

Now *that's* candor.

Maryann, agreed... it's what Daniel Patrick Moynihan correctly called, "Defining Deviancy Down."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 7:59:00 AM  
Anonymous jh from toledo said...

It’s so easy to admit fault, and accept responsibility once you are caught! Great blog Barry.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

I don't look at alcoholism and drug addiction as disqualifications for being an entertainer. But I do think they ought to disqualify someone from government office.


Would that include notorious boozer Winston Churchill?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Aargh, JD, that's a good question. Obviously the answer is "no," so what is the principle here? That ought to take us closer to the HOTM...

My sense is that the equation boils down to something like cost/benefit. What is the leader doing for the nation? What are her accomplishments? Who much is he needed? Measured against, how severe is the problem? Moynihan, who I mention above, was another man with a fondness for booze. But how did it affect his carrying out of his responsibilities? And how did he (or Churchill) handle his booze? Did he get in multiple car accidents, lose his memory, was the problem almost life-long and did it involve multiple substances...?

Ordinarily, I don't like my leaders to be drug addicts and alcoholics. If Churchill was an alcoholic, his record would probably create an exception to my rule. But now PK is in the uncomfortable position of trying to claim he's in some way like Winston Churchill...

I think the more dignified, responsible, America-centric (as opposed to narcissistic) route would be to resign and redeem his good name through lifelong public service outside the government.

Again, great question, and exactly what I hope HOTM will be about. There was another excellent exchange on an earlier thread, I think among you, JH, and Joe Konrath, about govt surveillance that I felt was getting closer to the HOTM. I want to get back to it, but this damn day job...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 2:20:00 PM  
Blogger law dawg fed said...

Barry-

Cost/benefit as defined by whom? A good leader as defined by whom?

My take - if it impaires your ability to do the job you're gone. I think plowing one's car into a roadblock qualifies.

And, BTW, Mr. Kennedy, Esquire was not arrested. He was given a ride home, after the responding officers were given explicit instructions from their management. Wonder why that happened? I'm sure the same courtesy would have been extended to all of us here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 2:36:00 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

I'm with Adam on this one. If he can do the job, who cares what he does off work? As Lincoln said when Grant was accused of being a drunk: "find out his brand and send my other generals a keg."

BY this criteria, should Kennedy step down? Well, he was showing up for votes at 2:30 AM, so probably, unless he can get it together pretty damn fast.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 4:36:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Adam, per my post above, I'm not sure that because Churchill shouldn't have resigned for love of a tipple, Kennedy gets a pass.

I don't think Kennedy should be fired (whatever that might entail for a Congressman). I do think, if he has a realistic notion of his own importance and a sense of personal dignity, he ought to resign. I certainly wouldn't vote for him; even if he were providing me pork, I'd be embarrassed to call him my representative.

LD, you asked, "Cost/benefit as defined by whom? A good leader as defined by whom?"

Why me, of course. Did I not make that clear? This will be one of my purviews when I am philosopher king...

(Sidenote: I've discovered another station to which one can aspire in life. There aren't really any philosopher kings around these days, and benevolent dictators and warlords are frowned upon in America, but one can still hope to become a tycoon. Tycoon's not so bad. What do you think?)

So who decides... it's a good question. I suppose, in the end, his constituents. Does that make sense?

I agree with your impairment standard. And it's hard for me to believe this guy isn't impaired.

Let me pose a hypothetical to all: what if Kennedy had hit that oncoming patrol car and killed a policeman? Would that change anything? I think the answer to that question will bring us closer to the HOTM...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 7:41:00 PM  
Blogger law dawg fed said...

Tycoon....hmmm. It has possibilites. But I'm still sticking with either warlord, philosopher king or benevolent dictator. I'm old school.

Besides I've already printed up the bumper stickers for my upcoming election : "Three weeks 'till Tierra del Fuego". I would've made it two weeks but figured we needed the extra week for Rio.

But back to matter at hand - of course it would have made a huge difference had he plowed the cop. But do you know why? It isn't the offense itself, its the PERCEPTION of it. People accept his platitudes about the offense now because they WANT to be fooled in my opinion. They know this guy has a problem, but if he came out and told the truth in a no-nonsense, matter of fact why they would crucify him. Instead he comes out, dissembles a little bit, and people can go back to sleep. If he had crushed the cop such evasion would be impossible. You can't ignore that.

Real honesty, though, is not comfortable. A politican who comes out and says what he thinks? No handlers? Don't kid yourself. Because if it would work so well then riddle me this Batman - why isn't everyone doing it?

Really, if it would be so successful then surely someone, somewhere would capitalize on this fact. But no one does, and that's because for all our talk about how we want the truth, the Truth(tm) is that we really don't. We just want to think we do and then we can go about living our small little lives, thinking all is right with the world. Even if all being right merely means we think that politicians are crooks and liars, rather than KNOWING what's going on and facing the responsibility of our culpability in the matter.

So, you guys and gals hear Brittney's pregnant again?

My BS opinion only. YMMV.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 8:22:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

LD, agreed on all points. Especially on the tycoon scenario. Strictly plan B. But still... it's always good to have a backup.

As for the rest... yes, my bleakest moments don't come during my rants about the incompetents who govern the country. They come in the moments of clarity afterward... when I realize that we elected these people.

The fault lies not in the stars... but in ourselves...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 9:10:00 PM  
Anonymous M.J. said...

I'd also like to know when it become a virtue to discuss personal issues in public. Call me old-fashioned, but I find this kind of behavior weak and vaguely embarrassing. I'd much rather see our leaders doing their job and not insisting that I get to know them so well.

I'm with you on this one, Barry.

This blog has absolutely become one of my favorite blog stops of the day.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 5:54:00 AM  
Anonymous jh from toledo said...

Real honesty, though, is not comfortable. A politican who comes out and says what he thinks? No handlers? Don't kid yourself. Because if it would work so well then riddle me this Batman - why isn't everyone doing it?

Because you won't get to that level of power by telling the truth. But's that's more of the caliber of the people running rather than the issue of truth telling.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger law dawg fed said...

"Because you won't get to that level of power by telling the truth. But's that's more of the caliber of the people running rather than the issue of truth telling."

I agree you won't get to the level of power but disagree as to the why.

If it was legitimately possible to do so someone would have. Things become the status quo because people want them that way.

If some enterprising young turk just said, "Screw the establishment, I'm letting it all hang out and tell it like it is" how mcuh play do you think he or she would get. Really.

Me, I bet they'd be a media sensation and then wouldn't be elected.

Because we want our comfort not ugly reality.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 1:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Rae said...

As for the rest... yes, my bleakest moments don't come during my rants about the incompetents who govern the country. They come in the moments of clarity afterward... when I realize that we elected these people.

Yeah, but we don't elect them because we can't be bothered to vote. So, we get what we *don't* vote for. And we deserve it.

Also agree with Law Dawg's statement about comfort versus ugly reality. The vast majority of us are just flat mentally lazy - we don't want to think or study the issues. We'd rather find some talking head that makes us feel good and let them spoon feed us their opinions, rather than actually developing a viewpoint of our own.

But I'm not cynical.....

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 8:20:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

MJ, you are very kind, and right back at you. I'm a daily BBH addict and loved the two latest -- "You can't handle the truth" and those form letters from hell.

Rae, always remember: "That quality of seeing things as they really are is called cynicism by those who have not got it."

:-)
Barry

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 9:57:00 PM  
Blogger Alan D. said...

Since Churchill was mentioned I thought it appropriate to add one of his quotes that I like:

"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened."

Nothing else constructive to add so I'll put back on my lurker cape.

Thursday, May 11, 2006 11:15:00 AM  
Anonymous jh from toledo said...

"Also agree with Law Dawg's statement about comfort versus ugly reality. The vast majority of us are just flat mentally lazy - we don't want to think or study the issues. We'd rather find some talking head that makes us feel good and let them spoon feed us their opinions, rather than actually developing a viewpoint of our own."

That statement is so very true! Yet, why do we always want to complain when those people don't vote? I don't want them to vote.

Thursday, May 11, 2006 3:50:00 PM  
Blogger M. G. Tarquini said...

Anybody remember that movie, The Candidate? Or am I dating myself again?

Robert Redford plays a fresh face, a candidate for congress who doesn't pull punches, says what he thinks, blah blah blah. The party grabs him because people love the honesty, the candor, the no holds barred. Then the handlers get hold of him. They clip him and suit him and groom him and by the end of the film he looks and talks like every other politician out there.

Makes me think of Hillary Clinton, way back in the beginning. A bright, sparkly, well-educated, black hair-banded, political spouse with opinions backed by research and brains.

Then the hairdressers and the eyebrow waxers got hold of her. And they told her she shouldn't make cracks about baking cookies.

Worked for her. Now she's senator. And maybe someday she'll be president. But sometimes I miss the feisty lady speaking her mind, putting the numbers out there to prove it and making me feel like, 'Yeah, I could do that.'

Sometimes she still does that. I want to send her cookies when she does. I'd even homebake them.

Thursday, May 11, 2006 7:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Bipolar Explorer said...

Law Dawg--"...if it impairs your ability to do the job you're gone. I think plowing one's car into a roadblock qualifies." It does? First off, I don't care how well our elected officials drive. Secondly, one could make a good argument that virtually any illness impairs one's ability to do one's job, in which case we should have only young, disease-free representatives (I guess an all-Mormon congress would work). Third, if you are, as your name implies, a fed, I'd think twice about demanding that mistakes have severe consequences--I for one would enjoy seeing Lon Horiuchi eat a .300 win-mag.
Besides, this whole question has been settled long ago...Brett Farve made great split-second decisions as well as strategical decisions on the football field while addicted to pain killers--no one in Green Bay asked him to resign. Go Druggies!

Friday, May 12, 2006 9:10:00 AM  
Blogger David Terrenoire said...

Or am I dating myself again?

When I was single, I frequently dated myself, but that's not what we called it at the time.

Thank you, thank you, don't forget to tip your waitress.

Friday, May 12, 2006 9:27:00 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

Anybody remember that movie, The Candidate?

Absolutely! I trotted back to the dorm afterwards and pinned the 'McKay' button they had given out onto my bulletin board, where it remained for the rest of my college years.

To your description, I would only add: Despite everything, I'd've preferred him to what we got in the real-life election that year. :-)

Or am I dating myself again?

Ditto.

Friday, May 12, 2006 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger law dawg fed said...

Bipolar explorer-

When did I ever comment upon the driving skills of our elected officials? And when did I ever make the comment that "mistakes have severe consequences?" No, I said that if your ability to do the job is impaired then you shouldn't have the job. Maybe if I add the qualifier significantly impaired it would pass muster? I'm obviously not talking about having a cold here. I am talking about serious issues.

And as a Fed I know that my actions are under the highest possible scrunity. Far, far, far more so than my legislators.

Friday, May 12, 2006 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Bipolar, who is Lon Horiuchi? Why would you enjoy seeing him killed?

Friday, May 12, 2006 2:10:00 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

Bipolar, who is Lon Horiuchi?

The FBI sniper at Ruby Ridge.

Why would you enjoy seeing him killed?

I have an explanation, but it might lower the blog's tone :-).

Friday, May 12, 2006 4:30:00 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

Makes me think of Hillary Clinton, way back in the beginning. A bright, sparkly, well-educated, black hair-banded, political spouse with opinions backed by research and brains.

And she drove the right wing into an absolute frenzy of shrieking, teeth-gnashing hate.

Worked for her. Now she's senator. And maybe someday she'll be president. But sometimes I miss the feisty lady speaking her mind, putting the numbers out there to prove it and making me feel like, 'Yeah, I could do that.'

Me too, actually. See 'hate, shrieking teeth-gnashing frenzy of', supra.

Friday, May 12, 2006 4:35:00 PM  
Blogger M. G. Tarquini said...

Heh, J.D. I don't know why I feel that way about Hillary... maybe because she was empowering for women of my time. Also, her husband was the first Democrat I ever voted for, mostly because she was so feisty and he made me believe the future could be good. I never looked back. I've voted for Republicans since, but only moderates.

For the record, I like Laura Bush also. And Barbara Bush. And Roselyn Carter.

But I didn't like Nancy.

Friday, May 12, 2006 8:49:00 PM  
Anonymous james@4h.com said...

He's a politician: a person who craved power probably in addition to other things more benevolent, learned how to get it and hold it, and he is instinctively and he is surely even being coached on how best to keep it. When "VIPs" screw up badly enough, they typically do this kind of song and dance if they wish to continue doing what they're doing. A handful of people end up supporting them, while a few decide to outright praise them. Many more complain. But few of these unhappy individuals have the ears of the right people. Even the tiny group on top of the food chain like everyone else have their priorities and plain laziness. Most Americans when such incidents occur barely react. They don't realy have to. Feeling uncomfortable in this country is almost always no big deal compared to what it means elsewhere in the world. A celebrity screws up, issues an apology, and we let her move on because it doesn't affect us directly enough--and also, typically, because we either admire her or don't have an opinion. Plus, what are you actually going to do about it? You most likely don't know, don't feel like it, or can't. Our senses fool us into believing the same holds true for our elected officials, also well-known strangers. The many safeguards in our government--the checks and balances, the democratic republic, the bureacracy itself--do a decent job of keeping any one person or group from having too much of an impact on this nation. But, in the rare case someone does get hold of a bit too much power, this same Internet-like structure makes it extremely difficult to loosen that perpetrator's grip. Kennedy, Bush, and big tech co.'s can skate nearly wherever they want.

Saturday, May 13, 2006 9:19:00 PM  
Anonymous james@4h.com said...

(Barry feel free to delete my previous comment because this one is the same one edited for clarity. I promise to use the preview button next time.)


Patrick Kennedy is a politician: a person who craved power probably in addition to other things more benevolent, learned how to get it, holds it instinctively, and is surely being coached on how best to keep it. When VIPs screw up badly enough, they typically do this kind of song and dance if they wish to continue doing what they're doing. A handful of people end up supporting them, while a few decide to outright praise them. Many more complain. But few of these unhappy individuals have the ears of the right people. Even the tiny displeased group on top of the food chain like everyone else have their priorities and sometimes plain laziness. Most Americans when such incidents occur barely react.

They don't really have to. Feeling uncomfortable in this country is almost always no big deal compared to what it means elsewhere in the world. A celebrity screws up, issues an apology, and we let her move on because it doesn't affect us directly enough--and also, typically, because we either admire her or don't have an opinion. Our senses fool us into believing the same holds true for our elected officials, who likewise are well-known strangers. But even when we remain cognizant that politicians are shaping the boundaries of our lives, what are we actually going to do about it when one of them displays a serious character issue?

We most likely don't know, don't feel like it, figure someone else will, or can't. If no one does something about it, did you judge too harshly? By the way, the converse of this habit of assuming the other guy is going to handle the ball is also the reason occasionally innocent men end up on death row. At best, we whine in unison. The many safeguards in our government--the checks and balances, the democratic republic, the bureacracy itself--do a decent job of keeping any one person or group from having too much of an impact on this nation. But, in the rare case someone does get hold of a bit too much power, this same Internet-like structure makes it extremely difficult to loosen that perpetrator's grip. Kennedy, Bush, and huge tech co.'s skate nearly wherever they want. Sure, we can say things, but DO what?

Saturday, May 13, 2006 10:12:00 PM  

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