Wooing the allergy vote

Kevin Cowherd

March 25, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

He only explodes like that when his sinuses are unbearably painful.

-- A former aide explaining Bill Clinton's occasional flashes of anger.

In an effort to reinvigorate his campaign and seize the all-important allergy sufferers' vote, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton yesterday detailed a long history of sinus problems that he said had made his life "a living hell -- especially in the spring.

"It hurts right here," said the Arkansas governor at a hastily called news conference, pointing to an area of his forehead above both eyebrows. "It's like . . . I'm all clogged up or something."

Clinton said his sinuses were responsible for many of the questions about character and ethics that have dogged him in recent months.

He noted that charges of marital infidelity first surfaced when his physician prescribed a new time-release decongestant that caused him to feel "woozy" and black out for long periods.

Clinton declined to name the brand of decongestant, citing pending litigation.

He added that much of the confusion surrounding his draft status during the Vietnam War stemmed directly from allergies.

"I was lost in a haze of antihistamines," said Clinton. "I was so far gone I didn't know whether to enlist, head for Canada or go bowling."

He also said his much-publicized flare-up in a TV studio last month -- in which cameras captured him making heated remarks after being erroneously informed that the Rev. Jesse Jackson had endorsed Iowa Senator Tom Harkin -- was due to "enormous amounts of dust in the air.

"My head was pounding and I was a little cranky," said Clinton. "I . . . I just lost it."

Clinton promised full disclosure of the various medications he has taken throughout his political career, and playfully posed for photographers with his lips around an inhaler.

At one point during the news conference, Clinton's eyes watered noticeably and he was overcome by a fit of sneezing.

This prompted frantic cries of "Anybody got any Dristan?!" from campaign aides, who wrestled the governor to the ground and forced two quick bursts from a generic nasal spray into each nostril.

Informed of Clinton's statements at a tree-hugging ceremony at Yellowstone National Park, former California Gov. Jerry Brown seemed incredulous.

"He said his what were bothering him?" said Brown, Clinton's Democratic rival. "His sinuses?! Oh, that's beautiful! That's just . . . er, excuse me for a moment, will you?"

Twenty minutes later, Brown called a news conference of his own near the petting zoo to address what he called a "lingering problem with bunions."

Brown invited the assembled crowd of reporters, park rangers ++ and curious tourists to study X-rays of both his big toes.

He also vowed to set up a toll-free 800 number which voters could dial to direct bunion-related questions to his personal physician.

"If I have seemed a bit testy during debates, I ask your forgiveness," he said. "But, you know, these things really hurt."

Brown said he hoped the disclosure about his bunions would explain much of his bizarre behavior while governor of California.

"My critics constantly accused me of being 'way out there,' " Brown added. "But the truth of the matter is, I was in a lot of pain."

With Clinton positioned as the clear Democratic front-runner, most analysts agree the "sinus issue" could emerge as a pivotal one as the presidential campaign heats up.

Republican campaign strategists were rushing to point out that President Bush's own sinus problems are every bit as severe as Gov. Clinton's.

"The President's sinuses bother him a great deal," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said in a prepared statement. "He's just not a big baby about the whole thing, like a certain Southern Democratic governor we know."

Later, Fitzwater said that much of Bush's apparent indecision over measures to revive the economy was due to constant, debilitating sinus attacks.

"Sometimes he can't even remember his own name, let alone think about a capital gains tax," said Fitzwater. "All he can do is pop some Allerest, lie down and watch the Seniors' Golf Tour on ESPN."

"The incident in Japan with the prime minister, that was sinus-related," said Fitzwater, referring to the state dinner last winter at which Bush became sick to his stomach and briefly passed out.

Senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the President is now using a simple, over-the-counter nasal spray.

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