Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A psychotic weasel, in the nonscientific sense

See if you can guess where Dr.  Krauthammer is going with this one:

HUGH HEWITT, HOST: ... I know you’ve said before you no longer practice psychiatry. You’ve given that up. But I want to tempt you to do a little armchair diagnosis here. On the New York Times front page yesterday, Peter Baker wrote about a series of dinners the President’s been having, and our friend John Hinderaker at Powerline says he sounds whiny. He sounds depressed to me. What do you think is his mental state?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: That’s very funny, because my specialty when I was a psychiatrist was bipolar disease. And I wrote some papers on manic disease. He’s not manic, and I don’t think he’s depressed. And I, you know, look. I’ve foresworn psychiatry simply because you really can’t do it at a distance. And one other thing is that you remember 1964 when about 500 psychiatrist signed a statement that Barry Goldwater was psychically unfit for the presidency?

HH: Well, I’ve read about it. I don’t remember it.

CK: Oh, you’re not young enough. Actually, I probably got it second-hand, for all I know.

I expect that's true. Chuckles was born in 1950, the article that made the matter famous was published in '64, and the last appeal of the resulting lawsuit was rejected in 1969. (The Supreme Court declined to hear it the following January, with Black and Douglas dissenting.)

Short version: Fact magazine, one of Ralph Ginzburg's gifts to the free-speech world, had run a special Goldwater issue -- "The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater" -- the month before the 1964 election, including among other things an ill-concocted "poll" of psychiatrists. Goldwater sued. Ginzburg more or less admitted at trial that several assertions in the issue were, well, you know, kinda-sorta made up despite evidence that contradicted them. So Goldwater remains one of the rare public officials to win a libel case under the Sullivan standard. Anyway, continue:
But that’s a real abuse. Psychiatrists, doctors and others who use their science, or even the global warming folks, you know, you have your expertise, and some people just use it to try to bludgeon other people with their authority. 

Yes. That seems to be kind of what the American Psychiatric Association had in mind a few years later when it banned jackleg pseudo-diagnosis for the media.

So I decided when I left psychiatry never to use my authority. But let me just say as a layman, without invoking any expertise, Obama is clearly a narcissist in the non-scientific use of the word.

Which is sort of like having a former judge call you an embezzler, in the non-legal sense of the term. Sorry, but having just listed your credentials, you don't get to say "and now I'm going to use a technical term in the nontechnical sense." The look-ma-no-expertise bit is a Royal Nonesuch; some of the locals might buy it, but don't take their money in the same town too often. But the little doctor has a bigger point:

HH: ... It’s, the world’s on fire, and he’s worried that the second-hand smoke is drifting his way.

CK: This is all because, I mean, count the number of times he uses the word I in any speech, and compare that to any other president. Remember when he announced the killing of bin Laden? That speech I believe had 29 references to I – on my command, I ordered, as commander-in-chief, I was then told, I this. You’d think he’d pulled the trigger out there in Abbottabad. You know, this is a guy, you look at every one of his speeches, even the way he introduces high officials – I’d like to introduce my secretary of State. He once referred to ‘my intelligence community’. And in one speech, I no longer remember it, ‘my military’. For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor, Napoleon.

At this point, the question isn't whether Krauthammer could return to the profession whose standards he traduced; it's whether he should have passed his coursework in the first place. The pronoun-counting thing? It's been done, repeatedly, and the results consistently give the lie to Krauthammer and friends. (The reader is referred to Language Log's assiduous tally of the modern right's bizarre obsession with the Kenyan usurper's FPS pronoun frequency.) Nor has it been a challenge to find a Bush saying "on my orders," or Ike referring to "my administration" or "my Cabinet," or Reagan entering low-pronoun orbit in explaining Iran-contra to the public.

Chuckles Krauthammer is a lying, psychotic weasel -- in the nonscientific sense, of course. And given his approach-avoidance issues with the mantle of authority, notionally responsible news outlets (say, the Washington Post) might want to look again at those Goldwater rules when they consider whether to circulate his column.

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