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Nina Burleigh Headshot

Is There a Doctor in the House?

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We narrowly missed getting involved in a nasty war and hurricane season came and went without Miami lost to the sea. We appeared to be headed for a rather calm autumn, until our adrenalin-junkie House Republicans decided to drive the nation to the edge of the fiscal cliff for the fourth time in less than three years.

They say they're doing it to save the middle class from the dire effects of Obamacare. Game-spectating pundits call this their political Hail Mary pass after losing 42 votes to defund it. But America's hard right conservatives and their political leaders in Washington are at least as in need of guaranteed affordable mental health care as the middle class they are supposedly protecting.

The brinksmanship in D.C. is yet another symptom of an untreated malady that's been worsening for years while the rest of the country politely looked away, like kids are taught not to stare at their crazy uncle at the Thanksgiving table.

The NYPD's suicide prevention team has a better chance of negotiating with them now than the Democrats or their own dwindling rational wing.

To the casual observer, just tuning in, the threat to shut down the government might seem like more toddler-ish "do it my way or I will smash the toy" political obstructionism passing for leadership we have suffered through ever since the Tea Party incubus burrowed into D.C. A few weeks ago, at the beginning, the great veteran Congressional journalist Karen Tumulty wrote that "Lurching from near-calamity to near-catastrophe has become a way of life in the capital." Tumulty (with whom I had the honor of working on the Hill around the time of the last shutdown) is well-positioned to know that verge-of-catastrophe politics has been a way of life in the capital for a very long time now, going back to the mid-90s when Gingrich first deployed the shutdown.

That stunt drained the Treasury of $1.4 billion, according to the Congressional Research. Yes, the very same U.S. Treasury that flinty Tea Partiers claim to be in Washington to secure. Since then, these men and women have exhibited an ever-increasing addiction to crises, coupled with paranoia, a cluster of symptoms that add up to DSM-IV-certified disorders.

Can we finally agree that our radical right-wing could care less about the budget, or public health and safety, and that their real motivation is an unhealthy addiction to dire events. They are perpetually sweating, wild-eyed, at the edge of doom, ever in extremis. From inside their fevered eyes, peril lurks on all sides.

I'm not the first or only person to suspect a sickness. Paul Krugman dubbed the Republicans "The Party of Crazy" and Brian Beutler at Salon described Boehner's agreeing to the fiscal cliff option as a "akin to spiking an addict's stash in the hope of hastening rock bottom." Obama administration wags have talked about "breaking the fever" of the right-wing.

But I respectfully suggest that we've passed the point of using illness as metaphor in American politics. As a devoted midnight Internet hypochondriac, I ran the Congressional Republicans' longtime symptoms -- addiction to crises and paranoia -- into WebMD, Mayo Clinic and other online health sites.

I found two diagnoses that fit their symptoms perfectly: bipolar mania and histrionic personality disorder. People with histrionic personality disorder, suffer from a group of conditions that psychiatrists classify as "dramatic" personality disorders. They generally have intense, unstable emotions and distorted self-images. Their self-esteem depends on the approval of others and does not arise from a true feeling of self-worth. They have an overwhelming desire to be noticed, and often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention. (Curiously, the literature states that this disorder is more common in women than in men, confirming another of my theories about the right's secret and very kinky proclivity for gender-bending, but that's for another column.)

Bipolar disorder affects more than 10 million Americans. Our right wingers tend to exhibit bipolar mania, more often than depression. Those symptoms include, according to WebMD:

Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity -- unrealistic beliefs in one's ability, intelligence, and powers; may be delusional. Increased reckless behaviors (such as lavish spending sprees, impulsive sexual indiscretions, abuse of alcohol or drugs, bad business decisions, or reckless driving).

If repeatedly driving the U.S. government into full shutdown does not qualify as reckless behavior, what does?

Another symptom in bipolar disorder is paranoia, a serious condition, according to the literature, in which sufferers experience "persecutory delusions" -- beliefs that other people are talking about them, plotting against them, following them. What other explanation could there be for American politicians so certain danger lurks at every turn that they refuse to put any limits at all on gun sales, allowing madmen like Aaron Alexis and the numberless deranged and dangerous men before him to get their hands on weapons with which to kill innocent Americans?

Sadly, there are no permanent cures for bipolar disorder, but medication helps. Mood stabilizers and anti-manic meds include lithium and anticonvulsant drugs, Depakote, Lamictal, or Tegretol. These help control mood swings, prevent recurrences, and reduce the risk of suicide. Patients must take them for a long time, though, perhaps indefinitely. Treatment of severe mania can require hospitalization and in severe cases, electroshock therapy.

Too bad the official House physician cannot hand out the needed meds on the floor. Short of involuntary commitment, the only doctor in the House might be found in the Republican's rational wing, someone like Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, heard recently lamenting: "It's total atrophy. We're earning our 11 percent popularity" rating." And yet, the terrible stigma of mental illness prevents even a brother from speaking openly. "It's easier to talk about Obamacare than the major sources of our problems," he said. It might be better for the gentleman from Georgia to give up on the talking cure for now, don a white coat and grab a syringe.