It's that time of year again, Mr. President.
Time to celebrate the lingering Yuletide spirit and the bright promise of the year to come. Time to savor the companionship of friends and family.
Time to donate your underpants to a charitable organization so you can later claim a deduction on your 1993 tax return.
If the recent past is any guide, Bill Clinton and his wife, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, have been spending the past few months gathering up unwanted belongings -- from old shoes to shower curtains to jogging shorts to, yes, apparently used underwear -- carefully enumerating each item alongside dollar amounts on handwritten lists, and giving the lot to such worthy causes as the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries.
The Clintons' tax returns over the past decade -- which "obviously were prepared with an eye toward being released," according to White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers -- are rife with detailed supporting documents that may someday prove a rich boon to historians and psychohistorians studying the forces that shaped the Clinton presidency.
As political figures are wont to do, particularly those with White House aspirations, the Clintons have over the past few years thoughtfully disclosed their tax returns, providing citizens with a fascinating window on a heretofore unexamined aspect of their lives.
Several experts were consulted about Clinton's tax-deductible donations, especially of underwear. Paul Offenbacher, a longtime Washington-area tax accountant, said it is highly unusual to take an itemized deduction on donated underwear; indeed, he had never heard of such a thing. Adelphi University psychology professor George D. Goldman, a New York-based psychoanalyst who studies the unconscious symbolic meanings in human behavior, said the donations are, at the very least, fodder for intriguing speculation.
"Obviously I can't tell you what Clinton's individual symbols mean; all I can do is give you my own analysis -- which is that he's airing his dirty wash or maybe trying to take his dirty wash and make it cleaner," Goldman said. "I'm a lifelong Democrat, and I voted for him, but there's something, let's say, grandiose, both too personal and a bit inappropriately intimate, to give your underwear away for someone else to wear, and then to think that your underwear is worth giving this sort of a valuation to."
But another clinician, psychologist John Marr, pooh-poohed as fanciful such theorizing about a guy who donates underwear, itemizes the donation, and then discloses it to the public.
"Whether you're a Freudian, a Jungian or a behaviorist, you always have to look for the simplest explanation first," said Marr, who practices in Fayetteville, Ark., where, coincidentally, he has played poker with Clinton. "If you donate, you have to itemize what you donate."
"We don't get too much underwear here; I don't think people want that too much," said Joe Cheslow, a senior resident at the Union Rescue Mission, a haven for homeless people in Little Rock, Ark., that has been a frequent beneficiary of the Clintons' tax-deductible largess. The mission thrift shop has been known to sell used underwear, displayed in bins, at 95 cents a pair.
"We don't get it very often, but usually it will be sorted through to see what's usable and the rest sold as rags," said Salvation Army Maj. Dewey Alderson, the Little Rock area commander. The market price for rags, several Little Rock charity directors said, is 5 cents to 6 cents a pound.
Clinton, on the other hand, has valued his underwear as high as $2 a pair. And a pair of long underwear, per Clinton on his 1988 return, is worth $15.
A typically extensive document -- which apparently Clinton wrote out in his own hand for the tax return filed for 1986, when he was serving his third term as governor of Arkansas -- is titled "Salvation Army 12/27" and lists items numbered 1 through 17, for which Clinton took a deduction of $555.
Item No. 1 is "Gabardine Suit=Ripped pants -- $75." No. 8 is "Brown Sportscoat -- 100." No. 10 is "6 pr. socks -- 9." And No. 12 is "3 pr. underwear -- 6."
But itemized 1988 deductions that appear to be written in Hillary Clinton's hand -- for clothes given to Dorcas House, a Little Rock shelter for battered women and their children -- are far less extravagantly priced. A striped cotton dress is $2, gloves $1, and 5 "long warm pajamas" belonging to Chelsea are valued at $1 a pair.
Those prices are seemingly on a different planet from Clinton's "Blue suit-wool -- 100" and "Green sweater -- 25" on their 1987 joint return, or his tan jacket -- listed as given to the rescue mission on the 1984 return -- that he appears to have appraised initially at $30, a figure he seems to have crossed out and raised to $50.
"It is incumbent upon the taxpayer to prove the fair market value of the items given, and in an audit they could be disallowed," said an IRS spokesman, when asked generally about deductions on donations of secondhand clothes. "It's kind of a judgment thing."
Historians studying these and other lists (such as one in the 1988 return itemizing "Running shoes -- near new -- $40") will no doubt have a raft of mysteries to ponder, analyze and attempt to resolve: Why, for instance, does Clinton in the 1980s consistently value his donated secondhand clothes at prices significantly higher than those called for in current guidelines published by the Salvation Army and Goodwill? (The 1992 guidelines value men's jackets in good condition, for instance, at $10 to $45, a far cry from Clinton's $100 sport coat.) Why does Clinton value 1984 underwear at $1 a pair, while putting 1986 underwear at twice the price? Why so many cross-outs and apparently revised valuations? What does "near new" mean, anyway? Is that, indeed, Clinton's handwriting? (It sure does look like it.)
After a cursory initial discussion about this story with presidential press secretary Myers ("What did I do to deserve this?" she sighed), a written list of questions concerning the Clintons' tax-deductible donations of personal belongings was submitted to the White House, and Myers over the course of a week didn't respond to repeated phone calls seeking answers.
Thus leaving unsettled the cosmic question: Does Bill Clinton wear briefs or boxer shorts?