Keith Ablow and the Terri Schiavo Syndrome

Keith AblowLet us return to 2005, the year the American voter realized it had made a terrible mistake in the election the year before. You remember, if 2004, the voters were promised that Bush would “Get the fags!” But once re-elected, the voters found they had voted to “Privatize Social Security!” If ever there was a simple example of What’s the Matter With Kansas? it was Bush and his craven use of a conservative social issue to push a conservative economic wet dream. But 2005 also stands as the ultimate example of conservative overreach: Terri Schiavo.

As you may remember, Schiavo was an unfortunate woman in Florida who had a heart attack in her home. Due to lack of oxygen, she had massive brain damage. After 15 years, doctors had diagnosed that she was in a persistent vegetative state — that is to say, she was more or less what we think of as a zombie; she was no longer Terri Schiavo but rather just a body with a functioning brain stem. It was a tragic situation. Her husband wanted to end her suffering and move on with his life; her parents understandably wanted to hang on.

So the parents put together a video tape of their interactions with her. It was cut together from hours of tape, throwing together all the moments when it seemed as though Schiavo was responding to them. I don’t think they were meaning to be dishonest. When the will to believe is strong, one can be convinced of just about anything. I see no villains in the actions of any of the people directly involved. But the Terri Schiavo case did not stay confined with those directly involved.

Bill FristFirst, the Florida Republicans got involved. It passed “Terri’s Law” that allowed Jeb Bush to take control and have Schiavo’s feeding tub reinserted. When the law was found to be unconstitutional, the case ended up at the Federal Level. And that’s when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist got involved. You see, he is a physician — a heart surgeon. And in one of the great acts of hubris, he countered the doctors’ diagnosis, even though they had actually spent time with Schiavo to determined her condition, “I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office.” It was also, of course, an ethical breach. It was clear that he was just saying what was politically expedient and using his medical degree to provide a patina of legitimacy. It amazes me that such actions do not cause doctors to lose their licenses.

But as bad as the 2005 Republican Party was, it really doesn’t hold a candle to the modern Republican Party. And this is especially evident on the RNC propaganda channel known as Fox News. I’ve been reminded a lot of Dr Frist when I’ve heard psychiatrist Keith Ablow who has been on the station for years as part of its “Medical A-Team.” (God help those treated by the “B-Team”!) And in that capacity, he has been psychoanalyzing President Obama, who he has determined has abandonment issues that cause him to hate white people. Here’s a good collection put together by Madia Matters for America:

Remember: this is the kind of stuff coming from the authoritarian conservatives. They have absolute respect for their own leaders and are shocked (“Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”) that anyone would even disagree with them. But they automatically treat opposing leaders as though they were common criminals. And Ablow is about the worst that they come. He is more than willing to prostitute his psychiatric degree for political gain. It is hard not to conclude that Ablow would have been one of those Nazi doctors doing “experiments” at the concentration camps. But I can’t say for sure, because just as with Ablow regarding President Obama and Frist regarding Schiavo, I have never met the man.

On Thursday, David Bauder at the Associate Press reported on a little push back, Fox‘s Ablow Regularly “Diagnoses” Obama. It contains a number of quotes from psychiatrists who are bothered by what Ablow does and how it reflects on the profession — something Ablow certainly doesn’t care about. But I was struck with the fact that even people at the crazy Media Research Center have a problem with him. Tim Graham criticized the whole issue of psychoanalyzing the president.

But he bugged me by noting that people on the left said that Bush the younger had “daddy issues.” This is false equivalence. To begin with, people were making a common observation, not a psychological diagnosis. Regardless, it was not psychiatrists coming on television claiming that they were objective scientists and they knew that Bush was invading Iraq because he was trying to prove to the world that his penis was bigger than his father’s.

It speaks poorly of our society that Ablow is not just considered unacceptable. Certainly he would have been at any time before the creation of Fox News. And I really do think that this is an important event. I doubt that Terri Schiavo would have been such a big deal without Fox News and all the rest of the right wing echo chamber. It creates a place where they can all get together and talk themselves into believing anything. And the nation is far worse off as a result.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “Keith Ablow and the Terri Schiavo Syndrome

  1. Also — what on Earth has Obama done to harm “white people”? (Unless you count his embrace of neoliberal economics, which hurts everyone, and there are more white people than Black ones in America.) I can’t think of a single thing that even singles out Black Americans for assistance, much less harms whites.

    Whereas Bush II did certainly re-invade Iraq, and even if one ignores the reporting by Jacob Weisberg in “The Bush Tragedy” that W was considerably trying to escape his family’s estimation of him as a lesser installment, it’s a reasonable speculation. Of the sort we engage in about all our Presidents. How much was FDR influenced by Eleanor? Was LBJ haunted by the ghost of living up to JFK? Did Nixon want to prove his doubters wrong, how much did Reagan’s idealism (or naiveté, depending on your political persuasion) come from escaping an alcoholic father and creating himself anew? For Chrissakes, you can write books and make boring HBO miniseries (or tuneful, fairly accurate musicals) about John and Abigail and nobody thinks it’s wrong to do so.

    It’s within the realm of normal to wonder if W was daddy-motivated (you can even say this was a good thing, if you’re so inclined.) It’s racist gibberish to say Obama has anything in his mind about white people — except a bit too much respect for them, possibly.

    • I think you have to start with the acknowledgement that Ablow is a bigot and then everything makes sense. He is a truly vile person who seems to me to have anger problems. It’s funny that Glenn Beck got so much grief about what he said about Obama, but Ablow has really run with it.

      You are right: we speculate about all presidents — about all public figures who we care about enough to speculate. I was just reading something I wrote last year in which I argued that any adult who even wanted to be president was deeply screwed up. Bush begged for the father issue when he mentioned that Saddam Hussein tried to kill his father during the lead-up to the Iraq War. How exactly was that relevant? Tens of thousands of murdered Kurds don’t matter but Bush is there to avenge a failed plot against daddy?!

      What’s most interesting about Ablow is how most of his examples aren’t even true. There was, for example, no “apology tour.” That’s just a conservative fairy tale.

      • “President” is nutball territory. There are a handful of relatively sane senators and congressional representatives. Something about being “the executive” is crazy-making (and note how candidates for president are given more experience points if they have “executive” backgrounds as governors.) Of course we’ve had relatively good governors like Brown and relatively good presidents but they are a bubble off plum. I don’t know that power corrupts (some of our worst “executives” had tremendous personal integrity, I don’t think Reagan would have taken bribes in brown bags like Agnew), but it does seem to make you a bit of a lunatic when you are placed in an enormous position of power.

        Who would want that? Who would want to be in charge of the military, and decide which foreigners get killed? In my fantasy life, I could imagine being a senator like Franken/Warren/Sanders. I’d never put in the work that it takes to get there, I could just imagine that job wouldn’t make me sick to my core.

        US presidents are madmen. Interestingly enough, they’ve always been madmen, not lunatic women. We’re quite behind the rest of the planet on this!

        • There’s something very authoritarian about the whole thing. It is a problem. Someone like me would never want to do it and if I did it, I would be terrible at it. So we need people who are willing to do the job. As for the Senators, note that they are (1) from small states and (2) from liberal states. That allows them all to be more authentic than other Senators. There are, by the way, Republicans I think are authentic. I think that Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are pretty authentic. They really do believe all the nonsense they spout.

          Yes, no women yet. The truth is that we are just a more prejudiced and limited people than in other advanced economies. It’s sad. It will be our downfall. In fact, it already is.

          • Whomever’s in charge of the GOP in 2016 has to pull out all the stops and wave the big groveling flag to get Condoleeza as the VP nominee. She’s possibly too ambitious for such a second-tier job, but she’s certainly capable of putting her capable brain into “sleep mode” and signing on to hobnob with dingbats; she’s done it before.

  2. @JMF – It doesn’t matter; they will find someone. Recently, I heard people talking about Carly Fiorina running for president. Her accomplishments? She drove Hewlett-Packard into the ground and then skated away with millions because the rich are not allowed to fail. And then she lost by 10 percentage points to Barbara Boxer in 2010. This is how pathetic the female bench of the Republican Party is. Consider Rice: she’s never won any election. Of course, that doesn’t mean that a good financial crisis wouldn’t put either women in the White House. It might not even take that much. I’ve come to think that middle class Americans suffer from a kind of Helsinki syndrome regarding the rich. Or maybe it is just learned helplessness. There is something they can do to make the pain go away but they don’t even try.

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