Jackie McLean isn't a Republican living in...

TOO BAD

April 21, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

TOO BAD Jackie McLean isn't a Republican living in Virginia. She could be running for the U.S. Senate.

Mrs. McLean, the city comptroller, was recently revealed to have been undergoing psychiatric treatment and hospitalization for depression. That's practically a requirement to be a Republican senatorial candidate in Virginia these days.

Oliver North described in his autobiography his own bouts with depression, which led to hospitalization. His principal opponent for the nomination, James Miller III, tried to make hay out of this. He failed, so he said that he, too, had been treated by a psychiatrist for "mood disorders."

He probably hasn't been. It just finally occurred to Miller that an admission of psychiatric problems is no stigma in politics. It's a plus: It shows honesty and self-confidence.

We've come a long way since Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton had to get off the Democratic ticket as vice presidential nominee in 1972 when his history of emotional illnesses surfaced. Eagleton was re-elected to the Senate twice after that and had a very productive career for 16 more years, which the healthy presidential nominee who booted him, George McGovern, can't say.

One of Eagleton's colleagues in the Senate was Florida's Lawton Chiles. He suffered severe depressions, too, and was on Prozac. When he ran for governor in 1990, his opponent tried to make that an issue -- and lost.

Virginia politics is getting fun for a change. Take the Senate race. There's Ollie North. There's Democratic Sen. Charles Robb, whose description of his sexual encounters with a beauty contest queen and other young female persons carried Bill Clinton's "didn't inhale" excuse to the ultimate. There's former Gov. Douglas Wilder, who is gearing up to run as an independent -- and, because of the flaws of North and Robb, is emerging as proper Virginians' Great White Hope.

If I still lived in Virginia, I would really be torn. I think all three -- Robb, North, Wilder -- would make great senators. Great in the sense of interesting, you understand.

I'd probably go with North, out of nostalgia. His critics say he would be another Joe McCarthy, and Joe McCarthy got me into journalism.

Forty years ago tomorrow, the Army-McCarthy hearings began. A Senate committee was investigating his reckless search for subversives in uniform. The hearings were televised all day, then repeated on the radio at night. I was a graduate student hoping to become a teacher of literature, with no interest in politics and government, but I couldn't get enough of those hearings. I didn't crack a book all spring, was invited to leave school and went to work on a newspaper, my sights set on Washington.

What a wonderful charlatan McCarthy was. And, boy, did he get his come-uppance in those Senate hearings! That was the beginning of the end for the Reds-under-the-bed demagogues of the era.

Monday: Nixon.

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