The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, January 30, 2004  

Giving the Doctor the Eagleton Treatment

There’s something about Howard Dean, and his wife, that makes some people crazy. I have no idea what it is, because I don’t see it. Dean and his wife seem to me to be perfectly normal adults, though with above-average sets of accomplishments and more ambition than most people. Good for them.

So why is it that so many in the media are all too happy, all too eager, to paint Dean as a man possessed? Could it be . . . projection?

Case in point: Michael Smerconish, a local talk radio personality and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Smerconish, as befits his profession, is more blunt than most Dean critics. He apparently thinks Howard Dean is crazy, or unbalanced, or of unsound mind, and he wants you to think that to. (“When Dr. Dean Met Dr. Freud”)

Smerconish this week raised the subject of Dean’s mental health, not in relation to the post-Iowa caucus rally, but because of what, best I can tell, was a brief period of generalized anxiety many years ago. The talk-radio personality writes:

In a[n] . . interview with People, Dean confirmed having anxiety attacks later in Vermont. He explained that he “was just anxious, and I didn’t know why.”

Dean said that, through counseling, he traced his anxiety attacks to his brother Charlie, whose remains were recently discovered in central Laos.

His counseling? I don’t recall that coming up in the debates. Never in all the negative campaigning. And Diane Sawyer didn’t raise it in her recent interview with the Deans.

When asked by People if the counseling was hard, he said, “No, it actually was great. It was really helpful. I mean, I like that kind of stuff. I had done a lot of it -- I learned a lot about it in medical school. I had done some during my psychiatry rotations, so it was actually a terrific experience. It wasn’t easy. You’ve got to work and you’ve got to uncover things that matter to you. And of course we talked a lot about my father an all that other stuff.”

Sounds to me like Dean was lying on somebody’s couch. Which makes him no different from many Americans. Except, of course, that he’s running for president. (Dean said that he wasn’t medicated.) […]

A “little anxiety” from a man who would be commander-in-chief? […]

Maybe, in light of his losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, this is an irrelevancy. But to the extent that the campaign of Dr. Dean is resuscitated over the next few weeks, here’s what he should be asked:

When have you required professional counseling? What events in your life gave rise to such a need? Exactly what type of professional help did you require?

Is this what it’s come to? You know, beginning nearly four years ago and continuing right up to the present day, it was and is considered impolite, unseemly, inappropriate, and yes, impolitic, to ask questions about the health of the heart of our post-operative vice president, Dick Cheney.

But now, suddenly, it’s supposed to be fair and proper to submit to a presidential aspirant, during primary season, a request for a full detailing of his mental health. One would think we all outgrew this a long time ago, but the likes of Smerconish would drag us all back to 1972.

I, for one, am pleased to learn Dean sought appropriate and professional treatment for his extraordinarily common -- almost mundane -- problem, unlike a certain president we all know who, if he’s been sticking to his pledge against drinking, has likely been gnawing his knuckles for more than 15 years.

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