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Open Bag. Eat Pretzels

“The nation can be grateful in the knowledge that Strom is in good health,” read the second e-mail I received dealing with the president’s fainting spell. (The first dealt with the location of the Japanese prime minister during the incident.) Bush, too, was back on his game the day after, playfully sending bags of pretzels back to the working press on Air Force One with instructions to chew carefully.

At this moment, someone being fitted with a lapel microphone is no doubt getting ready to call George W. Bush “positively Reaganesque” in the way he handled this thing with humor. Notably, the commander-in-chief offered no jokes on the subject of Enron.

The White House physician assured the nation that the president is in no danger and that a fainting spell caused by food going down the wrong pipe, while not uncommon, is not likely to recur.

Several related matters went pretty much unreported. Had the president been drinking when he fell off the sofa? The answer, despite the president’s history of substance abuse and the bruises around his eye and on his lip, was apparently considered too self-evident for the White House to volunteer comment. And no one on network television who joined in the national chuckle was likely to ask the question in the first place.

Was the vice-president officially notified of the president’s loss of consciousness? Amid all the detail of where the dogs were, which elevator the president took, and in what sequence people were summoned for help, mention of the legal successor was conspicuously absent.

Where was Cheney? What is the true state of Cheney’s health? After all, while fainting is not an uncommon result of failure to swallow food properly, neither is death. That is why posters illustrating the Heimlich Maneuver decorate restaurant walls.

The vice-president was a pretzel away from the Oval Office. Is he up to the job? It is widely believed that his absence from public view is due more to Cheney’s precarious heart condition than to reasons of national security. It has been rumored (and reported in CounterPunch) that Cheney was about to step down for health reasons before the events of Sept. 11.

Are these things true? If they are, on what justification have they been withheld from the public? If loss of consciousness and collapse by the president of the United States, during wartime, will not spur the press to raise these questions, and the White House to address them forthrightly, what will it take?

UPDATE: The day after this column went online, the New York Times reported that the White House physician, Dr. Richard J. Tubb, had checked the president for alcohol “as part of a standard examination.” The Times quoted Dr. Tubb as saying “There was absolutely, positively, no suggestion on physical examination that any alcohol was involved” in Bush’s collapse. Was this an extraordinary announcement? You decide. The Times also quoted Ari Fleischer as saying that Vice President Dick Cheney was notified of the incident shortly afterward “as a courtesy.” However, if the White House has addressed (or been asked to address) the question of Cheney’s current health in light of the president’s collapse, CounterPunch is not aware of it.

David Vest is a regular writer for CounterPunch, a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs. Visit his website at http://www.mindspring.com/~dcqv

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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