Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

By Donna Westfall – September 16, 2016 – Like it or not, we are a heavily medicated society.  Alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, anti-depressants and tobacco are just a few of the substances we turn to.

Over 61 million American’s suffer from mental illness and of those about 13.6 million live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. (Source – National Alliance on Mental Illness 2013) Should candidates for public office disclose any treatment for mental illness?

Does anyone remember when Senator George McGovern ran for President against Richard Nixon? The former South Dakota senator infamously lost his 1972 presidential bid to Richard Nixon after it became known that his vice presidential running mate, the late Sen. Thomas Eagleton, had a history of clinical depression, a fact that caught McGovern and his campaign team by surprise.

What most people don’t know is that McGovern’s wife suffered from bouts of depression while their daughter, Teresa, struggled with alcoholism. She died in 1994 and their story is in “Terry: My Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism” (Plume Books, 1997).

Recently, there’s been an active discussion on Facebook about this subject. One former Police Chief for Crescent City wrote in response to someone calling an elected official an alcoholic, “Who has the right to deem someone an alcoholic?”

Years ago, when my first husband was branch manager for American Standard Plumbing and Supply, he had one one particular customer who we deemed a “functioning alcoholic.”

Let’s call him Leo.  Every morning at 5 am, Leo would call our home and place his order for plumbing supplies for the day.  We later learned, after going to his home, that every night Leo drank so much beer that he would eventually pass out. Then his wife and kids would carry him to bed and act like this was how a normal family functioned.  There were crates and crates containing beer bottles stacked up on his kitchen floor. The empties separated from the full bottles.

How would you feel if Leo was our President instead of a Los Angeles plumber? Do you have the right to know? Do you even care if he is capable of doing the job? It’s not the 2 drinks with dinner that’s part of the discussion.  It’s the misuse or abuse of the substance.

From recently released classified documents about President Nixon, it was disclosed that during 1973, the Watergate heyday with impeachment proceedings against him and the Israeli conflict with Egypt, Nixon was passed out drunk. His Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, behaved as acting president.  Was this just a normal response to immense pressure?

No it wasn’t.

Prior to that, his advisor, John Erlichman, told him in 1960, after Nixon lost his first bid for the Presidency that he would quit if Nixon didn’t stop drinking. People usually know when someone has a drinking problem.  At what point can you call someone an alcoholic?    Is it only when a doctor has diagnosed the condition?

I think not.

I believe I have the right to know if my elected official has an addiction problem just like the municipality they work for has the right to test for drugs and alcohol. Just to be clear as to why I think it’s important to know its because it puts people and the community at risk.  Is their addiction affecting their decisions which ultimately affect my life?


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