December 8, 2010
In 2003, Charles Krauthammer, a columnist and psychiatrist, coined a new term. Noting what he said was “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush,” Krauthammer identified a previously unknown malady he called Bush Derangement Syndrome.
No shrink am I, but it seems obvious to this untrained eye that B.D.S. has lately been supplanted by a new disorder. Call it Obama Dementia, the onset of acute cognitive dissonance in otherwise normal people upon exposure to the policies, presidency or existence of President Barack Obama. And let us pray it’s not fatal because if it is, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are not long for this world.
The former railed against the recently passed and Obama-supported Food Safety Modernization Act that, among other things, gives the Food and Drug Administration power to order food recalls and increases inspections at food-processing facilities. You may wonder how anyone could oppose that, but in Beck World, “This is about control and, in the end, starvation.”
Silly me. I had thought it was about fixing a lax food safety system that, in just the last few years, has seen recalls of spinach, tomatoes, peanuts, batter, cheese, chocolate, eggs, crab meat, alfalfa sprouts and Froot Loops.
As for the former governor of Alaska: Palin has repeatedly ripped Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to combat childhood obesity, calling it the “nanny state run amok.” She even underlined her opposition by taking cookies to a school.
From Lady Bird Johnson’s campaign to beautify the highways to Laura Bush’s work on behalf of literacy, there is a long tradition of the first lady undertaking some apolitical project for the common good. But because Michelle Obama now holds that unofficial office, we’re supposed to believe there’s something sinister in encouraging American kids to put down the video controllers and get off their fat behinds?
Say what you will about the sufferers of B.D.S. — and Krauthammer was correct that “some” criticism of the former president was couched in rhetorical excesses that bordered on lunacy — but at least they were arguing about issues of momentous controversy: war, terror, torture. These most prominent of President Barack Obama’s critics are arguing about (arguing “against”!) food safety and childhood health.
It’s like they’re not even trying anymore, as if they know they are playing to an audience so primed and Pavlovian they don’t have to work too hard. There is a lazy reflexiveness here that suggests that if Obama came out against brain cancer, they would announce their support for the disease.
Not that Beck and Palin are unique. To the contrary, from Rep. Michele Bachmann’s claim that a presidential trip to India would cost $200 million a day to Rush Limbaugh saying the president was on the verge of outlawing fishing to Army Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin facing court-martial because he believes the president is foreign-born and his orders thus invalid, Obama Dementia has reached epidemic levels the last two years.
Still, it’s a mistake to define this malady simply in terms of a given president. This dissonance, this divorce of rhetoric from reason, from reality, says less about them than about us.
It says we are infected by a view that we are not a nation with a nation’s sense of mission but a loosely affiliated collection of interests willing to do anything to advance themselves. It says we are afflicted by an acute tendency to regard difference of opinion as defect of humanity. It says we are suffering a false belief that argument is its own reward.
I have no cute name for the disorder, just one earnest wish for all of us.
Get well soon.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.