Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is our political discourse suffering from a psychiatric disorder?

When I was a kid in Odessa my Dad and I went to see The Sound of Music at least 17 times in the span of 3 months. Remember that song sung by the nuns when Maria is late for the vespers, "How do you solve the problem like Maria?" One nun says "She's an angel", another one counters "She's a demon", when the voice of reason from Mother Superior repositions the whole argument with "She's a girl!" I always saw this as a bit of splitting nipped effectively in the bud by the Mother Superior -- good for her!

The press are doing exactly this to President Obama: the right makes him out to be a demon promoting a big government take-over within the US while ruining our reputation abroad, and the left canonizes him as the do-no-wrong president. I am struck by how effective this borderline personality approach has been at overtaking our political discourse. A borderline personality is a psychiatric diagnosis highlighted by a black-and-white view of the world, resulting in splitting behaviors. Sound familiar? Right: Obama bad, we good! Left: Obama good, them bad! I learned in medical school that a borderline personality disorder is a psychosis. Therefore, conservative and liberal alike, in lemming-like fashion we are following a psychotic analysis of reality.

In this grey world, neither the black nor the white bent seems intellectually honest. Granted, everything I understand about politics I learned from the "West Wing", so I am by no means an expert pundit. But I have also learned some valuable lessons from my own life, including that life is all about compromises whenever possible. This, I believe, is what Obama is after, which makes him neither evil nor a saint, but a reasonable leader and diplomat.

Let's take his approach to the Middle East. Yes, he is making an effort with the Iranians, the nation perceived to carry a substantial threat to the US security. Does it not make sense to establish constructive relationships with their leaders so as to avoid a potential nuclear confrontation? You know that expression about "an eye for an eye" and being blind -- this seems like the perfect application for it: time to turn around our eight-year bully posturing on Iran and start exploring real long-term solutions.

Domestically, the biggest sticky wicket is the healthcare reform. And even here Obama is showing himself to be a compromiser. This is not appreciated by the extreme right or left (myself included), but the realist in me understands that this is a chess match with far-reaching implications. And while I would like to see quality single payer healthcare for all Americans in my lifetime, I appreciate that mine is considered to be an extreme point of view.

More important to me than getting my own way is to see our country brought together. We need to get away form the psychotic hegemony and end the divisiveness of the deliberately polarizing rhetoric. We must engage in an honest intellectual exercise and effect changes that are best for all people.    

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