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Knapp: No, it’s not just you. Politics really does drive people nuts

Before Charles Krauthammer became a political columnist capable of simultaneously endearing and enraging all comers, left and right, he studied medicine at Harvard, practiced psychiatry at Massachusetts General, and directed psychiatric research planning in the Carter administration.

For that reason I hesitate to assume that he was joking, when, in a late 2003 column, he coined the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome”: “[T]he acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.”

Memory turns tricky as one ages, but I don’t think there’s anything especially new or novel about the phenomenon Krauthammer describes.

LBJ probably had JFK killed, right? And Nixon, we all know about HIM. Carter was a little too bland and hapless to arouse Derangement Syndrome, but he seems like an exception, not the rule.

I was only 16 when Ronald Reagan began his second term, but as I recall Iran-Contra and such set quite a few people melting … or maybe it was trickling … down.

Mutterings about Bush the Elder were somewhat more muted, but I had little trouble suspending disbelief while reading Larry Beinhart’s excellent novel American Hero — upon which the hit film Wag The Dog was (to my mind too loosely) based, and which treated the first Gulf War as Lee Atwater’s masterpiece combo of feature film and re-election commercial.

And the Clintons. Oh, the Clintons. Everything either of them ever did was crooked, everyone they ever met who later died (which was almost everyone) was killed by them or for them, and they ran (together!) the most corrupt, dishonest, left-wing administration in history (until Barack Obama’s).

To my mind 1993 to 2001 is the period during which (insert name here) Derangement Syndrome metastasized from a persistent but flu-like malady into the (unfortunately not mercifully fatal) equivalent of Ebola — acute at the time, chronic ever since. Poor George W. Bush. Poor Barack Obama.

And there’s no end in sight. Even having (thankfully) set aside such questions as “is Ted Cruz the Zodiac Killer, and was his dad Lee Harvey Oswald’s sidekick?” I don’t see any future in which the next president of the United States doesn’t call forth the same emotional reactions and the same wild theories as the last three.

Is the problem them, or is it us? Well, of course it’s both, but how much of which? On reflection, I have to come down on the side of it being mostly us.

We expect too much from, give too much credit to, and place too much blame on, presidents and other politicians.

Yes, they encourage it. Politics is pretty much one part each circus, tent revival service and multi-level marketing pitch.

But we’re the ones who buy the ticket. We’re the ones who take the ride. We’re the ones who won’t change the channel. We’re addicted to the drama.

America will become a saner place when we figure out how to let politics and politicians be less important to us than their nearest relative, professional wrestling.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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