I take no pleasure in writing today's column. I do not enjoy witnessing the suffering of another human being, even if he is a politician.
But facts must be faced. Hard evidence cannot be swept under the rug:
William Donald Schaefer may be bonkers. Crackers. Nuts. Loony. Around the bend. Out of his skull.
His elevator may not be stopping on all floors. There may be a few cards missing from his deck. He might be standing out in left field without a mitt.
But let me put it bluntly: Our governor may be meshuga.
I do not cite as evidence for this that which has already been cited by others. I do not think the governor's practice of writing rude letters to people is a sign of madness. (If writing rude letters were loony, most of my readers would be in institutions.)
Nor do I think Schaefer's recent remarks about the Eastern Shore -- he called it a "s---house" -- is an indication that he has bats in his belfry.
The governor says this was a joke, and it may have been. On popular television shows and in schools all across this country, children greet each other by saying things like: "Hi, butt-face!"
The quality of American speech has declined. Sarcasm and insult have replaced charm and wit.
Besides which, we all know that one member of a group can "insult" the other members of that group without doing harm. Black people can refer to each other in ways white people cannot refer to them. Jews can tell jokes about Jews, the Irish can joke about the Irish, etc.
And it must be remembered that Schaefer, like George Bush, has more residences than some people have suits. He has a residence in Baltimore. He has the governor's mansion and a private residence in Anne Arundel County. And he has a residence in Ocean City.
Which makes him a resident of the Eastern Shore and, therefore, he might feel he can joke about it as an insider.
Not everybody agrees with this. And some very angry Eastern Shore legislators went to see the governor the other day. They were very angry when they walked into his office, that is. But they were not angry when they came out.
They were mollified. Non-combative.
Does that mean they got an apology from the governor? They did not.
Does that mean they still want an apology from the governor? They do not.
So what happened in that meeting? Well, we can only speculate based on an intriguing comment the governor made later that same day. He said some people from the Eastern Shore had made comments "about Baltimore and the people in the urban area" that were similar in tone to his own comment about the Shore.
We can only speculate on what some Eastern Shore residents might have called some people in the "urban area" of Baltimore.
And we can only speculate that Schaefer, in his meeting with those Eastern Shore legislators, might have hinted that if they wanted to keep talking about his comments, maybe he would start talking about some of their comments or the comments of their constituents.
Just speculation, mind you. But the delegation sure didn't look as if it wanted to continue the fight when it got out.
This, however, is not a sign of the governor's nuttiness. Just the opposite. It is a sign the governor knows how to punch in the clinches.
And when Schaefer wrote a rude letter to a woman who he says gave him the finger (she says she gave him a "thumbs-down" sign. Yeah. Right. You see that every day), I didn't think he was being crazy. I thought he was being restrained.
He could have had her shot. (There is no point in being commander in chief of the state militia unless you use the state militia.)
Following these episodes, all the old stories about Schaefer were resurrected. In September 1985, for instance, he called a member of the Baltimore City Council a "dumb bastard."
But that's not crazy. That's truth in labeling.
Much of Schaefer's recent behavior is no mystery. It is a direct result of the state constitution, which very foolishly limits Schaefer to two terms in office. (He could wait out a term and run again, but he would be 77 by then.)
Which means Schaefer, in his second term, is now liberated. He doesn't have to keep anybody in the state happy. He wants to write you a letter and call you a name? So what? He wants to insult a region of the state? What is that region going to do about it?
This is not nuts; this is understandable. And next week, I fully expect him to go up to some delegate and say: "Hey, Montgomery County sucks big wind!"
No, this is not why I fear for the governor's sanity. I fear for him because he is now talking about running for president.
I can think of three reasons why he would be crazy for wanting the job:
1. He would have to live in Washington.
2. He would have to deal with traffic circles.
3. It would take him an hour longer to reach the beach.
Not that winning the presidency is out of the question. Schaefer is no worse a long shot than Jimmy Carter was in 1976.
And Schaefer knows that in these troubled times America is looking for toughness in its leaders. America wants a president who can stand up for himself and stand up to others.
Which is why all of Schaefer's recent behavior points to a run for the presidency.
"William Donald Schaefer," his campaign motto will read. "He Doesn't Kiss Butt; He Kicks It."