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Psychoanalyst urges Obama to 'synthesize your broken self'

You had to know a book like "Obama on the Couch" was coming. In it, psychoanalyst Justin A. Frank at George Washington University Medical Center informs us that anyone with good manners, such as President Obama, may be exhibiting unexpressed hostility against his parents.

At the same time, Frank tells us that Obama is "an admirable and down-to-earth individual who is generally in excellent mental health."

What are we to make of this dual analysis: Is it psycho-babble, a crock, or has he got something there?

"Obama on the Couch" contains analysis that has a sufficiency of credit among intelligent people, but there's no broad agreement on its efficacy.

It's well-written and balanced, persuasive but not compelling.

"Psychiatry" has been abused in the past. In fact, some readers may even see "Obama on the Couch" as an abuse. The Soviets and Chinese have used far more crude psychoanalysis and drugs. The CIA has a cadre of those it can call upon for psychiatric portraits of world leaders.

Frankly, the United States needs a good jobs bill more than applied psychoanalysis right now, but this does not deter our author, who put George W. Bush under scrutiny in his 2004 book, "Bush on the Couch."

What's the problem with Obama, Frank asks? He tells us that his performance is inconsistent and uneven, adding, "As a psychoanalyst I'm fascinated by someone who can be so present yet so absent. His supporters are stuck in the position of cycling between hope and disappointment."

According to Frank, if one were to put together factors in Obama's case including the psychic consequences of a mixed-race, black child of a white mother who was raised in a home without a father, you'd have trouble.

Frank asserts that Obama shifts between a paranoid-schizoid position and a depressive position, "alternating as he seems to modify his fears that hate or aggression will destroy what he values as good."

I'm afraid that I see things on a much simpler level. It may be that Obama has unresolved conflicts -- even plenty of them -- in his life. We all do. That he's overcome a good deal is to his credit.

As someone who spent more than 20 years in Washington, D.C., I think I have a sense of Obama's problem, and it's not that he's shifting between a paranoid-schizoid position and a depressive one. In fact, just about everyone in the country has an answer and that's not it.

More likely, it is this: Obama the Candidate did what candidates always do -- he preached change, specifically, "Change we can believe in." Obama the President ran up against the hard reality that Washington is an overwhelmingly unlikely place to change. Venality, corruption and plain old opportunity for sins like envy, hatred, fear of the other and racism abound.

Obama the President knows this and asks for patience and a longer time line to finish the job of healing national fractures.

But would it make a difference if he got more time? It's hard to say.

Nobody wants to cooperate. Why should they? Staying in office is the only constant for almost all politicians. If their re-election is threatened, even Democrats disappear from Obama fundraisers. The system is broken for a lot of reasons and has been for some time. Nonstop anonymous fundraising is a fundamental problem.

Lyndon Johnson's mentor, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, used to tell new members of Congress, "If you want to get along, you've got to go along."

That advice worked because politicians knew they had to return favors. Now, especially with the Tea Party, there seems no reciprocity of any kind.

The Republicans smell victory next year. They won't help Obama back on the radish truck from which he's fallen. Forget bipartisanship.

So if you were advising the president, what would you tell him? Those doing this for a living have already given him the message: "Get tough."

They are not telling him to "synthesize his broken self," as Frank recommends. Obama will be less concerned about what Frank calls his "Obsessive Bipartisan Disorder" as the country heads into next year's presidential election.

Obama will maintain a cultivated civility. Look for more self-protection by the president -- quick elbows -- in those White House basketball games and tougher talk to opponents.

Michael D. Langan formerly worked in both the U.S. Labor and Treasury departments.


Obama on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President

By Justin A. Frank

Free Press

288 pages $26