The Valium Bottle’s Open

Call Me Crazy, But Think I’ve Been Here Before

Remember Watergate? I sure do. I lived through the entire sorted mess. But yesterday a particularly chilling image from those days returned to haunt my imagination. It was at the height of the crisis. Nixon, hunkered down in the Oval Office, buzzed his secretary and asked for his chief of staff, Al Haig.

When Haig walked in Nixon thrust a pill bottle at him. It was Valium. A frustrated Nixon asked Haig to open it for him. The bottle had a child-proof cap Nixon could not dislodge. As Haig went to open the bottle he noticed the cap had been nearly chewed off.

I always considered that moment — an American president, the most powerful person on earth, in emotional free fall and desperately chewing the cap of tranquilizer bottle — the most frightening image of my life. That is, until this week.

This week I saw that look again. It was the look Richard Nixon had just weeks before the Valium bottle incident. It’s hard to describe, but unmistakable — an unsettling combination of nonsensical defiance, confusion, Captain Queeg-like paranoia with a dash of self-pity.

I saw that look in George W. Bush’s face twice this week. The first time was during his Wednesday morning photo-op with the members of the Baker/Hamilton Commission. The best way to describe Bush’s manner is that he seemed untethered from what everyone else in the nation considered a momentous moment. He lacked even appropriate voice inflection, delivering disjointed and rambling comments in a monotone. His comments were so bland and generic he might as well have been responding to a report from a local Rotary Club on the importance of good street lighting fighting street crime.

It was at that moment the thought first popped into my mind, “Whoa! This guy – or someone else – must have gotten the Valium bottle open this morning!”

Read it all here.

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