LOS ANGELES -- Picture it -- thousands of people standing in front of the Capitol, millions glued to their television sets, all waiting patiently for Bill Clinton to arrive and be sworn in as president . . . and waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting . . .
Mr. Clinton seems prone to habitual tardiness, a trait he shares with thousands of Americans and one that can mean a deep-rooted problem. Or it can mean he just can't tell time. Or that he's a narcissist or overly authoritative. Or any number of other motives.
"It is possible for anybody to be late," said Dr. Roderic Gorney, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital. "But there is a major difference between a person who has the occasional mishap of tardiness and the person who is habitually late and has a rash of excuses."
Whatever the case, experts have said that chronic latecomers typically intend to be unpunctual and come armed with excuses -- often used to conceal another problem from others or from themselves.
Dr. Gorney said the behavior can have a range of conscious or unconscious sources. Sometimes it is the result of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, while most often it is a peculiar trait of otherwise ordinary behavior, he added.
"It is one manifestation that a person has learned to express by always being late," Dr. Gorney said.
For example, he said, an employee who arrives late to work may be unconsciously expressing resentment, anger, rebellion or a resistance to authority.
Tardiness can be a way to punish the boss or other power figure.
An employee who is easily intimidated may be tardy to avoid confrontations with co-workers. One who fears temptation may be late as a way to lessen the risk of seeing a person they are attracted to.
Other reasons for chronic tardiness include fears of crowds, rejection, inferior work or inadequate appearance.
Lateness also can be a learned behavior.
"Very commonly it's modeled by somebody who is an authority or is admired, like a parent or a boss," Dr. Gorney said.
But, most commonly, according to Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. William Power, tardiness is based on a need for attention or recognition, even in a negative context.
"Think about going to a party. If you arrive on time, you see all the people who come late and get noticed," Dr. Power said. "Those who are late to work want to show that they are different and don't follow the regular set of rules.
"Unfortunately, it's self-defeating because they tend to alienate others by their behavior."
Since Election Day, Mr. Clinton has made Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wait 45 minutes before a scheduled afternoon tea, required more than 1,000 guests to wait 1 1/2 hours for a gala dinner and made journalists cool their heels up to an hour for news conferences, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Last week, he was even late for his own vacation, forcing the rescheduling of a chartered flight and cancellation of dozens of hotel rooms for his entourage.