Blogs > Cliopatria > Dr. Phil's Misguided Advice to Voters

Sep 22, 2004 5:26 am


Dr. Phil's Misguided Advice to Voters



Dr. Phil is ubiquitous on TV these days promoting a new book that celebrates families. I caught him on the Today Show on Monday. It turns out he is not only doing his usual family counseling schtick, but giving voters advice on how to select a president.

Having just interviewed both George and Laura and John and Teresa for a special on TV, he seemed to have a reason for talking about politics. He should stick to broken families.

He said what Americans want to know about their candidates is how they run their families. Are they good parents? How do they discipline their kids. Who plays the heavy, mom or dad? What BS. The candidates aren't auditioning for Father Knows Best. It doesn't matter if dad is a lousy father or not. Few presidents have been model fathers. The greatest president of the twentieth century--FDR--was a terrible father. His sons went off to fight in WW II but they came home and succumbed to alcoholism, ran thru marriage after marriage, and amounted to little in life, bickering with each other and with their parents. In the 1960s they became involved in an unseemly struggle with Eleanor over the family estate at Hyde Park.

Reagan, also regarded as a great president by some, shared FDR's indifference to his children.

I would have thought we were beyond this kind of jejune analysis. But then just today a student came up to me and asked me if I really believed what I had said that it doesn't matter if a president is a good father (or mother). I said I did. She looked distraught and managed to smile weakly. I could see she resisted believing what I was saying. She is entitled to her opinion. Dr. Phil is entiled to his. But they are wrong nonetheless about this particular issue.


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Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

"How can an Emperor rule the nation if he cannot rule his own family?"

What is a good father or a bad father? You seem to think that the answer to this is simple, but the parables of the Bible suggest that the answers are extremely complex and contradictory. Think of what God demands from Abraham, or the parable of the Prodigal Son.

My own take: the measure of a good father is that he does what is best for the family and the child, and what is best is often mysterious and not easily understood. In short, the role of the father is by and large a spiritual role. And the statements of children are probably least enlightening as to the nature of the father. One child might need extensive discipline, another may not. Since it is almost impossible to see inside the mystery of the father-child relationship, it is difficult to use it for the purposes of defining an election.

The shrink piece on Bush is nonsense that no sane person should take seriously.

The differences in the Bush and Kerry marriages are, however, certainly revealing, and leave little doubt as to their respective values.

Richard Nixon is another story altogether. Whether he was amoral or vicious is hard to say. As somebody who worked in the Vietnam anti-war movement, I have changed my mind a 1,000 times about Mr. Nixon. He did, however, exactly what the left suggested in terms of ending the war. He literally declared the war won, after a campaign of mostly useless bombing from 30,000 feet, and brought everybody home.

Mr. Nixon did what presidents, Kennedy and Johnson were powerless to do. He brought the war to an end.

What matters is the end result, isn't it?


Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

A shrink who purports to analyze a patient without having ever been consulted by that patient is a quack, not a qualified expert. You'd have to be out of your mind (pun intended) to consult such a person.

You seem to know what I meant by the differences in the Bush and Kerry marriages, although I didn't say what they were. Nor did I say that one is preferable to the other. It is, however, obvious, that the Bushes prefer the traditional Christian concept of marriage, and that the Kerries prefer the feminist concept.

If you want to know where the electorate stands, I'll bet the Bush style of marriage resonates with the majority.

So, what in the world are you talking about?

You are having a great deal of difficult understanding most of what I am saying to you. You see, I am an adult. I don't belong to any clique, as you do. In traditional Freudian terms, this is called "individuation." I'm not relying on abstract evidence here. It is your slavish obedience to every tenet of the clique that tells me that this is true. The fact that you are an obedient member of a clique leads you to believe that all other people function in this manner. You are incorrect.

You really don't know who you are yet. I highly recommended a book by Alan Watts, with the explanatory title "The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are."


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 9/29/2004

Shenkman is right about one thing: The greatest president of the 20th century was a terrible father. But he wasn't Franklin D. Roosevlt!


Jonathan Dresner - 9/25/2004

"It is, however, obvious, that the Bushes prefer the traditional Christian concept of marriage, and that the Kerries prefer the feminist concept. If you want to know where the electorate stands, I'll bet the Bush style of marriage resonates with the majority."

Remind me again what kind of divorce laws we have in this country? Have the "covenant marriage" movements made a significant impact on anything? Why is it that "Christians" have higher divorce rates than urbanites?

I know what you mean because I follow the press, shallow and reactive as it is. I reject what you mean deliberately and specifically, because it is shallow and reactive.

I don't need a pseudo-Buddhist self-help guru to find a path and feel comfortable in my identity and actions.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2004

The Great Teaching is a powerful argument, but one which is ultimately simplistic.

Actually, though I can't speak for Rick Shenkman, I certainly think that it's 'Dr. Phil' who is oversimplifying both the family and political processes.

And "The differences in the Bush and Kerry marriages are, however, certainly revealing, and leave little doubt as to their respective values" leaves less doubt about your hypocrisy -- claiming certain knowledge from minimal data while denigrating a carefully constructed expert opinion -- than it does about the candidates values.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2004

I agree. Even Nixon was a fantastic president in many ways, even if he was an amoral, vicious man.

I was just trying to put the media flackage into a semi-coherent framework.


HNN - 9/23/2004

Keep picking presidents bcause you think they are good role models and you're likely to pick wrong presidents. Because the fact is there's no demonstrated relationship between a president's ability to raise a family and a president's ability to wield the levers of power.

Character is important. But how to determine character? That's the job of a biography. Voters can't be expected to make a careful judgment about a president's character. Nothing is more complicated than character. But we discuss character as if it were easily discernable. It ain't.

Look at the work done by psychiatrist Justin Frank (see http://hnn.us/articles/7106.html), who has delved deeply into the character of George W. Voters haven't a clue as to Bush's complicated emotional make-up. But because it's easy to have an opinion about someone's character people instantly think they know a man's character based on a few seconds exposure to him on television. Nonsense. It's as ridiculous as Bush's looking into Putin's eyes and learning somehow that he is a man who is trustworthy.

Character in any case is, like intelligence, an extremely complicated business. Some people who can't be trusted to keep their fly zipped up can be trusted to devise policies for the benefit of the common man. Someone else can be trusted to be resolute in a crisis. Still another person may not be resolute but bring other qualities to the office.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/22/2004

... in the sense that the president is indeed a 'father figure' to many in the nation (and the first lady is the closest thing we have to a queen).

For what it's worth, the president sets an example -- not the only example, but one which gets a lot of attention from a lot of people -- by his (for the foreseeable future) public persona which is a presence in our national culture. And if you look at this campaign the degree to which it is about 'character' (and this isn't the first time, either) suggests that all the available evidence, including family relation systems, on character is worth consideration. (The campaign shouldn't be about character, and 'Dr. Phil' is not a terribly good judge of it, anyway).

This is terribly vague, and 'Dr. Phil' is wrong to make it more specific than it is. That I agree with. But the reality of our national culture is that the President is a part of our emotional lives.

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