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Monday, February 12, 2024

As Crazy As A Loon But Elected To High Office - How Losing Your Marbles Means Nothing In Washington

 Hadley Buford had been an unusual child, precocious - almost creepily so - without the usual high IQ of special children, but still a boy to be watched.  

He often disappeared into the woods behind his house and could be found by a rabbit hole, waiting for the animal to emerge so he could talk with him. 'The birds are my friends', he said to his father, a retired Army colonel, who told him to shape up, man up, and get with the program before it was too late. 

'Too late for what?' Hadley wondered, for he had no clear vision of the future and saw it only as a fuzzy, dimly-lit possibility.  Except for these visions, he was a normal boy, happy to ride bikes, climb trees, and swim in the swimming hole behind Avery's bottling works.  As a young teenager he worked at Avery's as a stock and errand boy, cleaning the machines, sweeping the floors, and washing old man Avery's '48 Buick; after which he went skinny dipping in Avery's pond. 

So it was a paranormal world that Hadley inhabited, complete with shadowy night visions and voices, but they never interfered with his schooling, sports, or friendships.  On the contrary, his mental 'febrility' as it was later described, was somehow calming and reassuring.  The world could never be a dangerous, ominous place since it was filled with such spritely, happiness; and so it was that this handsome, charming boy became president of his class, prom king, and 'Most Likely To Succeed'.  It was either to the credit of his peers or their astounding discredit that no one picked up on his errancies, his lapses in reality and mini-fugues into his own, special world.  

'You're such a poet', said Nancy Booth as she unhooked her bra in the back seat of Avery's Buick, lent to Hadley for the occasion of his 'hot date'; and that was how most girls saw him, a sensitive but surprisingly assertive young man, full of attention and passion.  Surprisingly, the boys neither hated nor resented him for his easy sexual success, but were drawn to him - a Billy Budd character, a simple, beautiful soul. 


Somehow Hadley had managed to conflate the normal with the paranormal without even trying.  In other words no one suspected how completely around the bend he was, so completely unhinged. Only many years later after Hadley's tenure in Washington, did a psychiatrist correctly categorized his state of mind - so one of kind in its ability to swim easily in familiar waters and fly at the same time through an impossibly weird, Gothic ether.  The 'Buford Syndrome' was named, taught, and referred to in court cases thereafter. 

This, however, is putting the cart before the horse; for the story of Hadley's electoral rise is the one to follow, so classically American was it, and so illustrative of the nature of politics itself.  The fact that the public could elect such a man to high office was remarkable.  The voters in his district looked at him and saw the same poetry - albeit more an Ogden Nash doggerel than Lord Byron - that Nancy Booth did, and were as charmed by it.  His metaphors were taken as insights rather than picked at random from his drawer of fancies.  When he talked of 'the environment', he never mentioned ozone layers, melting icecaps, or the greenhouse effect, but only of the fantastical, storybook forests, glens, and woods he inhabited in his mind. 


When he spoke of women, it was with grace, dignity, and eloquence that voters instinctively knew his position on the glass ceiling and equal opportunity.  He never had to cite chapter and verse from this or that manifesto, or invite superior women to the podium. 

Energy, Russia, China, or the Ayatollahs got equal measure.  Somehow his woven fabric of generosity and Onward Christian Soldiers firmness and resolution made sense.  In his mind he saw only sumptuous Turkish harems, snowy palaces, knights and maidens, and the crosses of the Crusades, but the voters heard policy and sensed a moral rectitude. 


He became an immediate hit in Congress, invited even as a freshman to important committees.  His colleagues wanted to caucus with him, confer with him, and seek his opinion.  Because he had his pick of aides, he chose by high standards - Harvard and Yale, acknowledged brilliance, ambition, commitment, and loyalty - and so position papers, policy statements, and discourses on national and international affairs were scripted and ready.  It was a work of accidental, felicitous genius.  Here was a man completely unhooked from the normal ties that bind, free from logical tethers, and in no one's traces but his own respected as a political visionary destined for greater things. 

Buford Syndrome, however, had its downside, one which lies undetected for years until finally it can be tamped down no longer.  At some point, the marvelous fabric of reality-unreality starts to unravel, and in Hadley's case the errant threads were first noticed in his speeches to his constituents. He went off on tangents.  People at first were not concerned.  After all their man was loved for his poetic license, but when his anecdotes about his childhood became windy, unending stories about fictitious, imagined characters - Uncle Bob, for example, who could raise the dead -  they knew something was amiss. 

Nevertheless, he was elected to yet another term, in itself not surprising since the current President, an elderly man who had clearly lost his mental foothold was positioned for a second term, and his opponent was a loose cannon whose bombast and vaudevillian temperament barely hid his complete looniness.  There were whispers of incompetence at home in his state, and his colleagues in the House were un-customarily keeping their distance but Hadley kept on until one day he was found naked as a jaybird in the cloak room talking to himself. 

There were generous cover stories about his resignation from office but Washington being the gossipy place it has always been, the story about The Congressman and the Cloakroom quickly made the rounds.  Predictably, the voters in his district said, "I told you so" and conveniently forgot the rallies, the cheers, and absolute love and acceptance they had given the man. "As nutty as a fruitcake", they said consigning the poor man to the dustbin of history.  A sad, ignominious, and totally undeserved end for a politician who was legitimately off kilter while all his colleagues simply acted that way.  The whole place is a loony bin, said one of Hadley's oldest friends, and he fit right in. 

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