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Jewish World Review August 1, 2001/ 12 Menachem-Av, 5761

Jackie Mason & Raoul Felder

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Getting to the heart of the matter: Leave Cheney alone -- THE joke going around town is that Dick Cheney's recent medical problems made George Bush realize that he was just a heartbeat away from being President. Maybe just a pacemaker away from being President would be a more accurate way to put it.

John Nance Gardner, Vice-President in Roosevelt's first two terms, said, "The Vice-Presidency isn't worth a pitcher of warm p---." Allowing excuses for his barnyard language -- he was from Texas -- and putting aside the fact that when he is now quoted, bodily fluids are now substituted, and "p---" becomes "spit," the bucket theory of the Vice-Presidency would not have found adherents in Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Andrew Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Chester Arthur, Calvin Coolidge and Gerald Ford. All of these gentlemen, in an instant, went from the bucket carrier to President. But until the unfortunate day came, that's all they were: the bucket carriers, hardly worthy of an examination of their medical records so intimate that it would make the Mayo Brothers blush.

The point of the tasteless "heart beat" joke is that, according to some of the liberal segments of the population who are still waiting for the chads to come home, Mr. Cheney, while nominally the Vice- President, is the substance of the administration and President Bush, the figurehead. Based on this fuzzy premise, the self-created media event - something of a cross between The Survivors and ER - generated by Mr. Cheney's health problems, seeks to gain legitimacy. In this regard it woefully fails.

There are, of course, times for legitimate interest in health related issues: inquiries about Lincoln after he was shot; Wilson after his stroke, or the exact nature of the peculiarity of Clinton's private parts (our bet is that there is a map of Arkansas tattooed on it). Other than these dire sorts of emergencies and barring lunacy, a persons medical records are nobody else's business, except if suing somebody because of a fall on a banana peel.

The atrocious practice of looking at politicians medical records started when President Eisenhower suffered his first stroke. The newspapers gave exquisitely complete medical reports on his progress in the hospital based on the theory that the nation would somehow be reassured knowing that he performed his bodily functions on schedule. It was a short leap from there to photographs of Lyndon Johnson holding up his pajama top to show the scar from his recently removed gall bladder which was, at least, somewhat more attractive than the photographs of him holding his basset hound in the air by his ears. To convince the public of Ronald Regan's humbleness, we were treated to the news that while recovering from his gunshot wound he spilled the contents of his urinal. Not to inconvenience his nurse, he cleaned it up himself, oblivious to the fact that this denied the nurse the opportunity to be interviewed on talk shows or write an article, "Ronald Regan's Urine and Me" or, at least, sell bottled samples labeled as "Holy Water"on e-bay to Republican presidential hopefuls.

In this tradition, there has been a media frenzy about Dick Cheney's health. We learned of his four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, insertion of a coronary stent into the blood vessels of his heart and most recently, the placement of a "pacemaker plus" to monitor and regulate his heart beat.

While history may be replete with examples of the Vice-President having to step in for the President, constant reporting of Mr Cheney's condition serves little purpose, other than as an example of bad taste. Mr. Cheney is not the President. The President is a younger man and a physical fitness buff who is not a candidate for an embalmer. If some terrible act of fate puts him out of office, Mr. Cheney becomes President, healthy or not, along with his stent and pacemaker. Until that unlikely time, we would all do better to worry about our own health.

JWR contributors Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder need no introduction. Comment on this column by clicking here.



© 2001, Jackie Mason & Raul Felder.