President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night symbolically kicked off the 2012 Presidential campaign. I tuned in with what psychiatrists call a “third ear”—listening to myself listening, polling my gut for when it alerted me to true or false notes. In my office, it is this “third ear” that allows me to ask questions that get past a person’s more superficial stories, to the heart of that person. In other words, I was paying as much attention to whether I sensed the President believed what he was saying, as to whether I agreed with what he was saying.
I loathe lip service. I am more than two decades into a career based on detecting it and opposing it. Much of what I can offer patients is help finding the courage and faith to stop running from who they really are and what they really believe—to say what they mean and mean what they say. Authenticity is quite literally part of the cure for depression and anxiety, because self-deception and the manipulation of others are so dispiriting. They literally remove us from the healing power of God.
So, here’s what I heard Tuesday night: I heard a man reading a script, acting out a part. The words the President spoke about reducing our national debt, reining in the size of government and working collaboratively with both Republicans and Democrats sounded—to my third ear—like the words of an alcoholic who tells me that he won’t drink, that I should just believe him, even though that he can’t share any compelling insight (let alone a true moment of epiphany) as to why he started anesthetizing himself with booze to begin with, nor any compelling narrative as to why he now believes he has to be sober to walk the path ahead. In short, he sounded like a man with new words, but without the new perspective that would make them his own, and, thereby, make them either credible or moving.
It was all too "add-water-and-stir" for me. I would have had to be drunk myself to believe it.
This new fiscally-disciplined, job-focused, centrist, collaborative, entrepreneurial president arrives on the stage with no back story to explain the character “arc” he has traveled on the national stage.
How did a man who used every iota of power at his disposal to champion bailouts, stimulus packages, 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, unions and health care reform, without accepting any real input from conservative voices, suddenly morph into a deficit hawk who believes we can’t get anywhere as a nation unless we get there together? How did a man who apologized for our nation’s shortcomings on trips abroad and who attended a church run by a man who said, “God damn America!” come to believe that we are a people that should embrace the core ideas of our Founding Fathers?
How did this happen? Why did it happen? When did it happen? If these questions cannot be answered clearly, then the only question that really matters is this: Did any of it really happen?
Might it be, instead, that the president is the same man he was two years ago? Might he be a politician who doesn’t feel compelled to share his genuine thoughts and beliefs with the electorate? Might he have assessed the mid-term elections and decided that the best chance he would have at maintaining power would be to repackage himself—for now? Isn’t the whole progressive agenda defined, in part, by taking steps toward government control of individuals, solidifying gains, taking cover when necessary, then taking more steps toward government control? Couldn’t that explain this add-water-and-stir conversion?
How can a leader who vows to veto any bill containing earmarks, say in the same speech that he will not retreat from his health reform legislation—which earmarks the disposable income of every American and directs it to the mandatory purchase of health insurance?
Why would he forecast in his speech that he intends to reorganize many government agencies, to make them more efficient, when he ballooned the TSA into the an inefficient collosus? Could it be that the reorganization he spoke of will be an opportunity for him to take one or two more steps in a direction consistent with the true divining rod that guides him?
As a psychiatrist, here’s my unsolicited advice to the president: Explain to the American people how and why you have changed your tone and agenda so dramatically. Share with us the moments of epiphany that convinced you that the path you so boldly took us on for two years was ill conceived. Make yourself believable so that we can believe we are worthy of more than manipulation.
Uh, one other thing. It’s really an aside, but I want to mention it. Stop appropriating Bill Clinton’s facial expressions and trying to make them your own. It can be distracting when one man tries to channel another, especially when the mask isn’t held perfectly in place.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. He is a New York Times best-selling author, and co-author, with Glenn Beck, of the upcoming book “The 7: Seven Wonders that Will Change Your Life.” Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.