Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD

Why is this? In part, because it is simply natural for us humans to carry childhood longings into adult life and inject them into the political world we create. But the extent to which we let ourselves do this depends on how mature and reasonable we are. It is a mark of maturity to be able to temper primitive longings with reason and realism, to make important choices based on the way things are, not the way we would like them to be. Unfortunately, voter maturity seems to be in short supply these days. Parker observes “the undertow of hysteria” in crowds chanting “O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma!” He is the embodiment of hope, she notes, and that belief makes us feel better, even if it’s just good imagery for the kids among us.

But if Obama is the new man of hope in our lives, Hillary is the new embodiment of parental government in our lives. In her December campaign ad, we saw mother Hillary reviewing her Christmas presents for Americans to be sure she hadn’t forgotten anyone. Again, two weeks ago in the New Hampshire primary, she was all maternal concern: she tearfully fretted that America will “slip back” (i.e., not vote for her) before she can give us all the “opportunities” she has for us.

All of this plays to the needy–and greedy--child in us. The mommy or daddy candidate who promises the most goodies is likely to get the most votes -- and this despite warnings from the few adults still hanging around. Art critic Robert Hughes’ admonished us several years ago that Americans had better stop looking for their inner child and start looking for their inner adult … and stop acting like the former.

Hughes was right. When reason controls our childish fears, our inner adult tells us that what we ought to want in a candidate is a wise man or woman who will defend our country and protect our freedoms, not an indulgent parent who will promise us the moon. Hillary Clinton promises us big mothering through big government healthcare. Barack Obama promises us a new world of hope, unity and brotherhood.

But “hope is not a policy,” as Kathleen Parker observes, and neither is wishful thinking. In the real world, Obama cannot be our savior (chants or no chants), Hillary cannot be Earth Mother (presents or no presents), and Government cannot be our longed for parent providing everything for everyone (good intentions or not). A government committed to individual liberty cannot at the same time be a nanny state; the two functions are mutually exclusive. The word “change,” which has become the dominant buzzword of the 2008 campaign, needs a change of its own: it had better mean a return to the original principles that made America great. Those principles, designed for adults, not children, imply limited government with limited control over limited domains, not unlimited government with extensive control over most domains. To the child-voters going to the polls this year with images of big-government sugar plums dancing in their heads, let’s ask Dr. Phil to trot out his favorite mantra one more time: “Get Real!”

Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD

Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD is the author of The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness. He received his medical and psychiatric training at the University of Chicago and served for two years as a psychiatrist in the United States Army. He is currently in private practice in the Chicago area.
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