Kitty-killer label litters Frist resume for president
There's a potential pothole in U.S. Sen. Bill Frist's road to the White House: He's a confessed kitty killer.
He fessed up in his 1989 book, "Transplant," to adopting cats from shelters when he was in medical school, treating them like pets for a while, and then using them in his research experiments. Maybe in hindsight, Trent Lott should have seen it coming.
To his credit, the future senator wrote that it was a "heinous and dishonest thing to do."
Last week, Frist started shopping around a new memoir to New York and Tennessee publishers. Here's the burning question: How will he spin the cat tale?
It came up in Tennessee's 1994 Republican primary, when Frist faced five opponents for the nomination. It was Chattanooga's Bob Corker (he's in a similar cat fight for Frist's seat now) who tried to inflame the feline furor. Corker sent beef-and-bacon-flavored
9 Lives Cat Treats to reporters and put out a press release saying Frist had lost the Garfield vote.
It was a short-lived local story that briefly flared in the national press. Yes, what Frist did was odd and rather icky, but he also saved a lot of lives as a heart surgeon. The kitty killer charges were widely dismissed, and Frist won the primary.
But running a national race is a different animal from running a statewide one. He'd better have an answer ready on the cat thing before he can even think about winning the GOP nomination. Running for president requires candidates to dump out their underwear drawer for all to see, answer questions about what color eye shadow their prom date wore, and explain any cross word ever said to their dry cleaner.
In other words, it'll be brutal.
Bet Frist wishes now he'd refrained from giving out too much information in his first book. He made his case in "Transplant" for saving lives by learning through experiments with animals while at Harvard. It's the part where he kept them as pets first that is bothersome.
"Desperate, obsessed with my work, I visited the various animal shelters in the Boston suburbs, collecting cats, taking them home, treating them as pets for a few days, then carting them off to the lab to die in the interests of science. And medicine. And health care. And treatment of disease. And my project.
"It was, of course, a heinous and dishonest thing to do, and I was totally schizoid about the entire matter. By day, I was little Billy Frist, the boy who lived on Bowling Avenue in Nashville and had decided to become a doctor because of his gentle father and a dog named Scratchy. By night, I was Dr. William Harrison Frist, future cardiothoracic surgeon, who was not going to let a few sentiments about cute, furry little creatures stand in the way of his career. In short, I was going a little crazy."
Frist recently commented about the power he felt when holding the last beats of a dog's heart in his hand. Good thing little Scratchy had a decent hiding place while Frist was in med school.
This will be media catnip. Think of the potential for protests and endorsements. A "Saturday Night Live" skit would be a no-brainer: "Toonces, look out! It's the kitty-killing gentlemen from the state of Tennessee!"
Maybe Frist should title his coming memoir "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
Because, as Big Daddy would say, there's great potential here for mendacity. And he better get ready to dance on some hot shingles.
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