Politicians Under The Influence | The Fix
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HOT TOPICS: Alcoholism  Addiction  AA  Cocaine  Heroin

Politicians Under The Influence

From Churchill to Clinton, Putin to Palin, most politicians are obviously addicted to power. But they're often prone to other excesses as well. 

  • Hamid Karzai: Heroin

    Former U.N. envoy Peter Galbraith got into trouble last year when he said on MSNBC that Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, is a heroin addict. “He can be very emotional, act impulsively,” Galbraith said on the Andrea Mitchell show. “In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports.” This came days after the oddball president threatened to switch sides in the War on Terror if the U.S. didn't support his demands for power. These weird mood swings (coupled with the threat that he "might join the Taliban") were all used as evidence of Karzai's purported drugs problem. His defeated challenger in the last election, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, also accused Karzai of “erratic” behavior, adding that “as a former colleague and [medical] doctor I think this is beyond a normal attitude.” Still, Der Spiegel suggests that rather than evidence of being a junkie, Karzai’s behavior is instead indicative of his hurt feelings and sense of wounded pride

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  • Winston Churchill: Alcohol

    British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a famed boozer, starting his daily intake of whisky and water some time after breakfast. (He once said to King George VI, “When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.”) Churchill even managed to drink alcohol in the U.S. during Prohibition, carrying with him a doctor’s note certifying that it was essential to his health. However, opinion is divided over whether he had a true problem or not. He claimed only to start drinking whisky “when I was a subaltern in India, and there was a choice between dirty water and dirty water with some whisky in it.” An article in the BMJ suggests Churchill “drank the weakest whisky-and-sodas that I have ever known.” However, the fact remains that his drinking, alcoholic or not, was certainly legendary.

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  • George W. Bush: Alcohol

    Good old Dubya was supposedly “a riot” on the sauce, once asking a conservative female friend of his parents, “What’s sex like after 50, anyway?” But alas being “a riot” in your twenties can, according to his cousin Elsie Walker, “wear thin when you’re older.” He’s quoted as saying that alcohol began to “compete with my energies...I'd lose focus.” In fact, wife Laura famously told him after one bender, "It's me or the bottle." Bush never attended A.A. meetings, instead crediting his sobriety to his personal faith. Rumors have circulated—most prominently in James Hatfield’s controversial biography, Fortunate Son—that old Dubya also liked a few sniffters of cocaine back in the day, though this was way before he hit the White House. 

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  • Barack Obama: Cigarettes

    Even Mr. Perfect has a few flaws—and his penchant for the ciggies has been one that Fox News leapt upon with glee as a “dirty little secret,” despite the fact Obama’s never really tried to hide his addiction. He apparently quit the Marlboros at Michelle’s request to run for president, though pictures of him having a sneaky puff emerged throughout the campaign. Then he relapsed again, and continues to struggle, on and off, with the habit. “Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes?” he’s asked. “Yes. Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No.” Although apparently he’s now quit for good. Yeah, we’ve heard that one before.

    Of course, Obama also admitted to smoking marijuana during his Hawaiian adolescence, but by now, experimenting with pot is so widespread as to be ho-hum even for elected officials—from whom we have come to expect oh, so much. More interesting, the president was rumored to be taking the designer stimulant, Provigil—a.k.a. CEO speed—based on released medical records indicating a prescription for a drug for jet lag. 

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  • Joseph Stalin: Alcohol

    Talk about going on an alcoholic rampage. Joseph Stalin’s love of booze led to him annihilating over 22 million of his fellow citizens, and his daily drinking sessions did little to relieve his paranoia, sadism, monomania or even hypertension. Stalin even apparently blamed his exile of Trotsky on Trotsky’s love of the wrong kind of whisky. Stalin himself claimed to enjoy only humble peasant wine—although in private it’s suggested that he preferred vintage capitalist wines and Napoleonic brandy. Just how bad was his boozing? Well, his sudden death in 1953—in the nick of time for his nation's Jews as the Great Architect of Communism was ramping up a Soviet-style Holocuast—wasn’t even immediately evident to those noticing his slumped body because they assumed he was merely passed out in an alcoholic stupor.

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  • Mao Zedong: Barbiturates

    Leader of China, heavy barbiturate user, obsessed with constipation. Not the bio we might traditionally associate with the Communist Revolutionary but nonetheless pretty accurate. After starting barbiturate therapy in 1925 to combat his lifelong insomnia, Mao developed a huge tolerance for the drugs, and eventually became an addict, regularly falling asleep mid-sentence, and suffering from slurred speech and disorientation. The accounts of his death are pretty impressive stuff—apparently Mao hadn’t washed for years and had never brushed his teeth so he was racked with insomnia and constipation, according to The Private Life of Chairman Mao, written by his physician, Dr. Li Zhisui. “Towards the end of his life, some newspapers even ran a regular report on Chairman Mao's stool habits,” claim Francois Retief and Andre Wessels

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  • John F. Kennedy: Sex/Meth

    His love of women and sex is well documented, but the fact that, shortly before the 1960 Presidential Election, JFK made a sneaky visit to celebrity quack Max "Dr. Feelgood" Jacobson has gotten less ink. Jacobson was famed for his “miracle tissue regeneration” shots of amphetamines, vitamins, painkillers, and human placenta and by May, 1962, he had been to the White House no less than 34 times to "treat" the President. Kennedy apparently dismissed concerns about the injections, saying, “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.” 

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  • Boris Yeltsin: Alcohol

    “Boris Yeltsin is ebullient and aggressive, enigmatic and mysterious,” writes Martin Ebon. “He is notorious for lengthy, unexplained disappearances, erratic outbursts, occasional public intoxication and unpredictable changes in staff and policies. His life is also riddled with puzzling incidents and life-threatening accidents.” Sound familiar, kids? However, his daughter shot out at western portrayals of Yeltsin as a drunken boor with a daily booze problem, saying rumors of him wandering into the street in his underwear to go get a pizza simply weren’t true. And yet it is true that he got so trashed in 1994 that he grabbed a baton and started directing a brass band that was welcoming him to Berlin. Suffice it to say that the man who dragged his country kicking and screaming towards democracy was nothing if not colorful.

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  • Bill Clinton: Sex

    After the Monica Lewinsky debacle when Clinton was found to be screwing around with his former busty intern, former U.S. president Gerald Ford told writer Thomas M DeFrank, "He's sick, he's got an addiction. He needs treatment." His wife, Betty, who founded The Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs after her own battle with alcoholism, agreed. "You know, there's treatment for that kind of addiction," she told DeFrank during the same conversation in 1999. But just as he famously "didn’t inhale," Clinton—a great communicator who could resort, in a pinch, to some not-so-great lawyerly hair-splitting—seemed to think that oral and phone sex didn’t really constitute cheating, and before his impeachment, he swore that he and Lewinsky never had sex. “He’s in denial,” said Betty Ford, primly. Certainly the fact that the Paula Jones case was settled out of court would indicate the former president was in deep. He’s never, to our knowledge, sought treatment for sex addiction, but we have a feeling that Hills is keeping a tight hold of the marital reigns these days.

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  • Adolf Hitler: Meth

    The Germans didn’t see anything wrong with crystal meth—they even turned it into little pills, gave it a nice, clean pharmaceutical brand name (Pervitin) and distributed it widely to their troops during World War II. So to be fair to old Adolf, it’s not that strange that he got hooked on it while undertaking a world war to enslave Europe and exterminate the Jews, when his personal physician, Theodor Morell, prescribed it to him to ease his alleged Parkinson’s disease. But some historians have speculated that the daily IV drips Hitler received were actually responsible for the Parkinson’s-like symptoms (strange finger movements and unsteadiness) this strangest and most evil of world leaders betrayed. A teetotaler, vegetarian, and dog lover, Hitler is generally believed to have been frankly delusional as the Thousand-Year Reich raced to defeat and its Fuhrer's bizarre wedding-cum-suicide with the silly Eva Braun.


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  • Chris Christie: Food

    If you’re so overweight and immobile that you need a helicopter paid for by taxpayers to take you to your son’s ball game, then it might be fair to presume there's an issue with food which teeters dangerously close to an addiction. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—who is admittedly not a world leader but has betrayed national ambitions even as his popularity in the Garden state plummets—has endured the bile of the Internet commenting community (“I have nothing against pork, but when it comes to governing you should be able to control yourself before even considering controlling a state” snarks one johnfrisco) and Chris Matthews ("He must be 300 plus, and that’s something he’s just gotta deal with because you’re not going to say, ‘I’m going to cut the budget,’ well, how about starting with supper?”) Even the ever-tactful Reuters has pointed out that “America has not had a truly obese President since William Howard Taft a century ago.” Christie has never publicly commented on having a food addiction (though others have), which is especially notable in light of the fact that he's known for slashing budgets that are related to addicts. It's just possible that his presidential aspirations may be foiled by his fat before he even makes it to world leader status.

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  • Sarah Palin: Shopping

    So Sarah Palin never made it to Vice President. She did, however, get the Republican National Committee to blow $150,000 outfitting her during the campaign. Imagine how much taxes would have increased had we only gotten Palin into the White House. I, for one, am devastated my tax dollars can’t pay for baby Trig’s future romper and matching hat ensembles. But the Republican party can still spend money on Palin! How about footing the bill for a 60-day spell in a swanky rehab that specializes in shopping addiction? 

    Ruth Fowler has written for The Village VoiceThe GuardianThe Huffington PostThe New York Post and The Observer. Her memoir, No Man's Land, was published by Viking in 2008. She's also written about why doctors can't deal with addicted patients and nursing your way back to health, among many other topics, and can be followed on Twitter at @fowlerruth.

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By Ruth Fowler 06/02/11

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