Time Turns to Psychoanalyst: GOP Candidates Are Sharks, And Yet 'Childish'

Time's Ideas blog turned to psychoanalyst Dr. Justin Frank on Wednesday to explain "What Attacks on Obama Say About the Republican Candidates." He needed to explain "why Republicans are being driven to such rhetorical extremes."

"While they may target 'Obamacare' or something else, what they are really attacking is Obama’s capacity to tolerate complexity, on which he thrives," he lectured. "Unconsciously, the Republican candidates – fueled by the party’s fringe voters – find Obama’s comfort with nuance so anxiety provoking that they lash out against his positions that require more than the simplified certainty on which their collective sense of security is based."

Dr. Frank's first sentence was "Like the last survivors of a school of sharks looking for prey, the remaining candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination are now turning their attacks from each other towards President Obama."

Blaming Obama for high gas prices is clearly childish:

Historians call this mindset the “devil theory” of history, reducing a complex series of interrelated circumstances into a single cause and a lone bad guy who caused it.

In psychoanalytic terms, we are dealing with a childish need to explain mystery — especially to blame someone else for any personal discomfort or stress. With his exotic “other”-ness, and his mysterious capacity to tolerate mystery, Obama is an appealing recipient of that blame. Sharks are most likely to attack when they are circling prey that are bleeding, so to sustain their focus on Obama they will first need to draw blood.

They seize upon his support for wind and solar power and opposition to quick fixes like the Keystone pipeline, equating a pro-environment position with being anti-oil. By simplifying things yet again, the Right is once more demonstrating that our both/and president is incompatible with their either/or approach to life.

Back in January, in a column called "Obama Builds On His Mojo," Frank argued that Obama's non-recess "recess appointment" of financial regulator Richard Cordray showed his growing mental health, because somehow "confronting aggression doesn't destroy his drive to be bipartisan — it strengthens it." It was bipartisan to skip the confirmation process? Who needs an evaluation here? But this proves Obama's getting over his childhood:

Facing internal psychological facts — that his parents were destructive and not simply loving — helps him recognize external facts as well, that his attempts to reason with opponents about the appointment of Cordray were also a defense against his fear of facing the destructiveness of Republicans like Mitch McConnell. With that realization, Obama can express his aggression more directly at people he actually knows — beyond Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

He first said, “We were pretty patient. I mean, we kept on saying to Mitch McConnell and the other folks, let’s go ahead and confirm him.”  Later on, he followed with, “We know what would happen if Republicans in Congress were allowed to keep holding Richard’s nomination hostage. More of our loved ones would be tricked into making bad financial decisions … We cannot allow people to be taken advantage of.”

Dilemmas like making recess appointments in the face of hatred are always risky, let alone scary: just look at the belligerent reactions of many Republicans and the US Chamber of Commerce. But Obama is learning that confrontation with destructive forces need not destroy his drive to be bipartisan; it strengthens it. After all, he already knows full well that Republicans love America too. Now he sees how destructive they can also be.

Tim Graham's picture