It infuriates me when pundits pretend to diagnose mental illness in their political opponents, but at least it's obvious in most cases that the speaker has no psychiatric expertise. That's not true, however, with the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer, an actual psychiatrist.
Well, said David Manning, a former British ambassador to the United States, to a House of Commons committee reporting on that very relationship: "[Obama] is an American who grew up in Hawaii, whose foreign experience was of Indonesia and who had a Kenyan father. The sentimental reflexes, if you like, are not there."
I'm not personally inclined to neuropsychiatric diagnoses, but Manning's guess is as good as anyone's. How can you explain a policy toward Britain that makes no strategic or moral sense? And even if you can, how do you explain the gratuitous slaps to the Czechs, Poles, Indians and others? Perhaps when an Obama Doctrine is finally worked out, we shall learn whether it was pique, principle or mere carelessness.
Despite his claim to not be "personally inclined to neuropsychiatric diagnoses," Krauthammer has repeatedly speculated about his opponents' mental condition and joked about their need for psychiatric medications:
-"I'm a psychiatrist. I don't usually practice on camera. But this is the edge of looniness, this idea that there's a vast conspiracy, it sits in a building, it emanates, it has these tentacles, is really at the edge. [Al Gore] could use a little help." (Fox News Sunday, 12/1/02)
-"The media could use some lithium. Not since I studied bipolar disease 25 years ago have I seen such dramatic mood swings as in the coverage of the first week of the war." (Washington Post, 3/28/03)
-"Now, I cannot testify to Howard Dean's sanity before this campaign, but five terms as governor by a man with no visible tics and no history of involuntary confinement is pretty good evidence of a normal mental status. When he avers, however, that 'the most interesting' theory as to why the president is 'suppressing' the Sept. 11 report is that Bush knew about Sept. 11 in advance, it's time to check on thorazine supplies." (Washington Post, 12/5/03)
-"Well, it looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again." (Fox Special Report, 5/25/04)
-"In the face of Gore's real breach of civil political discourse, which of the following is the right corrective: (a) offer a reasoned refutation of the charge that George Bush is both Stalinist and Hitlerian; (b) suggest an increase in Gore's medication; or (c) do a Cheney." (Washington Post, 7/2/04)
-Gordon Peterson: "Charles, you're a psychiatrist: is he [former FEMA head Michael Brown] delusional?"
Krauthammer: "Well, he could use some medication." (Inside Washington, 10/2/05)
-"As we can see, some of the proponents [of immigration reform] here need an adjustment of their medication." (Fox Special Report, 5/11/06)
-"There's no way you're going to -- this is a guy [South Carolina governor Mark Sanford] who, it looks to me as a long-distance diagnosis, a guy who is committing a near intentional -- political suicide." (Inside Washington, 6/28/09)
-Mark Shields: "Charles Krauthammer, last week on this show -- no -- you said that we were watching a man [Mark Sanford] go through a public nervous breakdown...
Krauthammer: "Listen, it wasn't a hard diagnosis. (Laughter.) You don't need a license, even though I still have one." (Inside Washington, 7/5/09)
Krauthammer also defended former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's long-distance diagnosis of Terri Schaivo on the March 27, 2005 edition of Inside Washington:
MS. TOTENBERG: The cravenness - excuse me - I just think the cravenness of Bill Frist going to the floor of the Senate and saying, I have reviewed what turned out to be edited, surreptitiously recorded videotapes of this woman and I have made a diagnosis that you should all now follow. I mean, does anybody really think he would have done that when he was a doctor doctor?
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: You just commented on surreptitiously recorded tape of Tom DeLay without any hesitation. Why shouldn't a doctor use - surreptitiously used video -
MS. TOTENBERG: Because he didn't examine her.
MR. KING: But the issue is -
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: Because you go on the evidence that you have. The husband has not allowed a lot of testing in the last three years.
MR. KING: Bill Frist -
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: And we don't know a damn thing. We ought to have a functional MRI and a PET scan and that hasn't been done and in the absence of that you have no way of knowing...
What's so bizarre is that at other times Krauthammer has condemned ad hoc psychologizing. For instance, in 2007, he correctly denounced a speculative column attempting to diagnose Dick Cheney with dementia. And back in 1999, he described such long-distance diagnoses as psychiatric malpractice:
As a former psychiatrist, I know how difficult it is to try to understand the soul of even someone you have spent hundreds of hours alone with in therapy. To think that one can decipher the inner life of some distant public figure is folly.
Even the experts haven't a clue. Remember that group of psychiatrists, 1,189 strong, who in 1964 signed a statement asserting their professional judgment that Barry Goldwater was psychologically unfit to be president? The very attempt to make such a diagnosis at a distance is malpractice.
Indeed. Does the American Psychiatric Association have a professional misconduct policy?