According to five clinical psychiatrists who describe themselves as being politically aware, Joe Lieberman’s behaviour over the last few weeks of the Senate health care debate reveals numerous signs that he is increasingly “unbalanced.”
All five caution that, while it is difficult to make a specific diagnosis without seeing a patient in their office, Lieberman’s public statements show growing evidence of an individual who is disconnected with pieces of the reality around them.
“If somebody called me and described the symptoms in their spouse that Joe Lieberman is displaying, I’d recommend they come in for an appointment or two so an initial assessment could be made,” says Dr. Stanley Shapiro, who retired recently from his practice and says he is a lifelong Democrat. “From what I’ve watched on television and read in the papers, he’s acting clinically unbalanced.”
At the same time, senior Senate aides from both sides of the aisle report that while Lieberman has always been unpredictable and difficult to work with, it’s a trait that became magnified after he lost his primary challenge to Ned Lamont in 2006.
The psychiatrists all spoke in their professional capacity and, to ensure I wasn’t inadvertently interviewing only doctors who tilt left, I asked each to identify their political views. Of the five, one described their views as progressive or Democratic, two say they lean towards “conservative” or “Republican” and one refused to indicate their political position. Some would speak for attribution but others requested anonymity, citing professional concerns.
“He contradicts himself from day to day,” notes Dr. Irvin Wolkoff, citing as an example Lieberman’s statement last Friday that he would wait for the Congressional Budget Office to “score” the then-compromise version of the Senate health care bill before deciding whether to support the bill – and then appearing on Face the Nation two days later voicing die-hard opposition.
Dr. Wolkoff, a self-described conservative, summed up Lieberman in two words.
“He’s meshugener,” the psychiatrist stated matter-of-factly, using the Yiddish word for “crazy person.” Asked if this is a personal or professional opinion, Dr. Wolkoff replied half-jokingly, “maybe a bit of both.”
In other words, no one – people working on the Hill, Pres. Obama or people in The White House, voters back in Connecticut or cable news’ talking heads – should be surprised that it’s impossible to negotiate with Lieberman on health care or anything else substantive. He’s simply acting crazy.
The Beytrayed’s Revenge
The question is why; what might explain Lieberman’s behaviour?
“No doubt, Lieberman felt betrayed by voters in 2006,” says a Boston analyst who does not want her name used, “and this is his unconscious acting out a sort of ‘revenge of the betrayed.’ I see it frequently in my practice with patients who are angry that their spouse had an affair or who lost their job in circumstances they consider unfair.”
Several other psychiatrists echo her judgment.
“When he felt cornered, he even abandoned his own long-held policies,” states a Chicago psychiatrist under assurances of anonymity. “He’s favoured a Medicare buy-in since 2000 but dropped (his support) in a day because a liberal Democrat in the House said it was a good idea.
“This is the mark of someone grappling with major psychological issues,” the politically independent doctor concludes. “He needs help and, meantime, he’s damaging himself and the nation.”
Senate staffers are as worried about Sen. Lieberman as are mental health professionals.
A half-dozen senior aides interviewed for this article expressed varying degrees of frustration and despair in dealing with the Senator and his staff. None allowed their name to be used because they’re not authorised to speak to the media on-the-record.
“He’s always been a problem child,” says a senior staff member of a Republican senator, “but in the last few years Sen. Lieberman often seems disconnected with what is happening around him.”
When that occurs, said another who works for a long-time Democratic senator, “he lashes out.”
In her Friday column in the New York Times, Gail Collins, who has covered Lieberman since the days when he was a Connecticut state senator, is more colourfully blunt:
“Observers who have known him for a long time feel as though they’re living out a scene in a science-fiction movie when the guy who’s just been bitten by the vampire-moose comes home and sits down to dinner, unaware that he’s sprouting antlers.”
*This reminds me of an uncomfortable political situation that existed nearly eighty years ago. In 1935, just prior to Franklin Roosevelt's Social Securit...