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Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 1999 /10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Don Feder

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Mentally ill can help us understand politics -- THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY has discovered an untapped source of support -- a constituency attuned to both its philosophy and goals: mental patients.

A front-page story in the Oct. 13 New York Times heralds the Mental Health Voter Empowerment Project, which seeks to create, "a nationwide constituency of people with mental illnesses by locating potential voters -- whether in hospitals, at advocacy events, in housing projects, clinics or support groups."

The project will focus on enrollment, education and getting new voters to the polls. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5.6 million Americans have serious mental illnesses (manifested by such bizarre beliefs as the conviction that Bill Clinton did not commit perjury?).

Here is an interest group in the making. Give me your schizophrenics, your paranoids, your manic depressives, yearning for -- what? Well, politicians who understand "mental health issues" and support "better services" (more government spending), the story discloses.

Just what the republic needs, another minority to which politicians can pander. Gov. George W. Bush will want to address their next convention and assure them that compassionate conservatives care about their issues, too.

Al Gore will pledge to put psychos in his Cabinet -- following the example of the man he wants to succeed.

The Times conjectures that the project might serve as a watchdog, for instance, by alerting members that a politician had referred to the mentally ill as "mentally deficient."

The result could be a new sensitivity. No longer will a candidate call his opponent's proposal "just plain nuts!" or charge that "only a lunatic could support" certain measures. Expressions like "detached from reality" and "delusional" would also be banished from the political debate.

Why shouldn't the the mentally ill vote? There have been persistent efforts to register the homeless, on the theory that people who don't work, or have a permanent address or responsibilities (and many of whom are addicts, alcoholics or crazy to boot) can make important contributions to the political system.

This is the reductio ad absurdum of democracy -- everyone's vote counts. The man who works 60 hours a week to support his family and the bum who stands on a street corner with his hand out; the immigrant who uses a bilingual ballot because he can't read English and the businessman who provides employment for hundreds of people; the citizen-activist who's thoroughly conversant with the issues and the person who not only believes the CIA covered up the so-called Roswell landing, but that he was on hand to greet the aliens -- all stand on an equal footing.

The mentally ill may be uniquely qualified to understand American politics, which increasingly seems in serious need of physical restraints.

Both parties prattle about saving Social Security, a Ponzi scheme doomed by demographics.

Programs that deny some people jobs or educational opportunities based on race are celebrated as moves toward equality.

Guns are blamed for crime. Poverty is blamed for crime. Everything is blamed for crime, except criminals.

After losing the last two presidential elections with mushy moderates, the GOP is poised to nominate Gov. Bush, a candidate who makes his father seem firm and Bob Dole look principled by comparison.

Due to a misinterpretation of the Constitution, the name of G-d can't be spoken in our public schools. But thanks to sex education, third-graders are learning to say "anal intercourse."

This spring, the United States bombed the hell out of a country that hadn't attacked us, wasn't menacing our allies and posed no threat to our national interests.

Once again this year, Clinton issued a proclamation for National Character Counts week.

Perhaps the mentally ill can explain this to the rest of us.

The Times piece opens by relating the experience of a Houston woman who's had a mental illness for 35 years. She wanted to vote for Clinton in 1996 but had an anxiety attack on the way to the polls.

It closes with an account of a New York man who has been repeatedly hospitalized for manic-depression. He plans to vote by absentee ballot next year and favors Al Gore. Figures.

Let me be the first to wish the Mental Health Voter Empowerment Project success. At last, politicians can have the support of their peers.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder can be reached by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate