EVERY once in a while I worry about my government.
Recently I became concerned when the Washington Post dug up an older half-brother of President Clinton -- a half-brother the president didn't know he had. His name is Henry Leon Ritzenthaler. When the president was questioned about it, he said that he was checking it out. He told reporters that he had called his alleged brother, but Henry wasn't home and the president had left a message on his answering service.
The White House staff let on that the half-brother was traveling across the United States and that's why he could not be located.
What worried me when I saw all this unfold on TV was that the president of the United States, with all the resources at his disposal, could not locate a blood relative and had to leave a message on the person's answering machine.
This is how I imagine the search was conducted.
"Any news on my half-brother Henry?"
"No, sir, Mr. President. We have all our satellites focused on the major highways and, as we speak, we have AWAC planes cruising the air. We also have roadblocks in every state that voted for you in the election. So far there have been no sightings, although we have picked up two of your second cousins and an uncle you didn't know existed."
"I don't understand it. We have all the state-of-the-art detection equipment known to man. Surely he can't disappear into thin air! He has to pick up his calls on the answering machine sooner or later."
"The CIA is as perplexed as you are, sir. They had a tip from the FBI that your half-brother had been spotted on the 'Today' show, 'Good Morning America' and CBS' 'This Morning.' "
"We're checking it out now. Willard Scott, our mole at the 'Today' show, is afraid to talk about it."
"Why would my brother avoid me?"
"It's hard to fathom, Mr. President. Maybe he has all the family he wants. Also, there are some people who don't want to be connected with the White House. They figure that they have enough trouble as it is."
"What else are you doing to discover his whereabouts?"
"We obtained a court order to open his mail, and the Secret Service is building a composite sketch of him to be placed in post offices across America. The Atlantic fleet is watching for him off the coast of Haiti. Sooner or later somebody is bound to see him in a 7-Eleven or a McDonald's. Just out of curiosity, Mr. President, why are you so anxious to find him?"
"I need a standby brother -- in case the one I have now screws up. Wouldn't you think that a guy would be interested in contacting a long-lost relative who is leader of the Free World?"
"I would think so, especially after all the political victories you have had this week. I think you should send out word that if your brother turns himself in, you'll make him David Gergen's deputy."
"I'd love to catch him before he appears on 'Geraldo'."
It took more than a week before the president located Henry. Luck played a part. Mr. Ritzenthaler's whereabouts were discovered in the late Justice Thurgood Marshall's papers which had been turned over to the Library of Congress.
The president was elated, and he offered Henry a job in the administration. Henry turned it down because he hadn't paid Social Security taxes for the family help.
Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.