Message: I’m insecure

Rob Long, former writer for Cheers, says we’re all making the wrong analogy and provides the alternative:

I am not, let me stipulate at the outset, a licensed psychiatrist. My understanding of the works of Sigmund Freud are cursory — college psychology class; skimmed the reading, bluffed my way through the exam — and it pains me to admit that I am, still, not legally allowed to prescribe drugs.

But I know the basics. I know that we get weird in the pre-verbal stage of development. I know that we have malignant egos. I know that we end up marrying the closest approximation to our most complicated parent. And I know that when we say things, we often inadvertently reveal the truth about ourselves. A Freudian slip, for example, is when we say one thing when we mean a mother. Another. You know what I mean.

When a person — especially someone as tightly wound as our president — emphatically declares something that sounds a little too specific, watch out. He’s not making a point; he’s reading the stage directions. He’s telling you what he’s afraid you think of him, and he’s often correct.

Psychiatrists love this little trick, because it makes their work so incredibly easy. You just wait for the patient to say something weird about himself, and you pounce. Voters do the same thing. When George H. W. Bush tried to show voters the scale of his caring by barking, “Message: I care!” they all suddenly saw the president of the United States stretched out on a Mies daybed, and they scribbled in their notebooks, “Patient seems concerned re: not caring impression. Patient may lack proper sympathy.”

But psychiatrists don’t fire patients — not at $300 per session. Voters, on the other hand, positively relish it.

All of this is a little unfair, of course. A president who spent his entire working life in either a crackpot left-wing nonprofit or a law school — although when you say it like that, it’s hard to tell the difference — couldn’t be expected to know anything about the complexities of deep-water drilling, the physics of oil under pressure, the trajectory of an oil slick as it slimes its way to shore.

So, yes, it’s easy to imagine that there’s been a bit of the college seminar going on there, in the Oval Office.

But why so defensive? Or, as we might have scribbled in our notebooks as President Obama took his place on the couch: “Patient v. v. defensive re: lack of oil knowledge. Ego bruise? Anger due to inflated sense of self vs. inability to stop oil leak? Anger due to sense of self under fire from oil leak, voters, etc.? Sense that like college seminar, he is all talk, no action?”

All of which is accurate. And all of which seems to be what voters are thinking.

Especially when he added, gratuitously, that he wanted to know “whose ass to kick,” when everyone knew that what he really meant was “whose ass to sue,” which doesn’t sound very butch.

It’s been said that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is Obama’s Katrina, but that’s really not accurate. It’s Obama’s “Message: I care” moment. It’s when he started to read the stage directions.

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