Obama and Munchausen's Syndrome By Proxy

There is a peculiar and rare form of mental illness called Munchausen's syndrome by proxy (MSBP). The afflicted is generally a parent, and in the vast majority of cases the biological mother.

But the person really afflicted is the child of the parent, because the syndrome causes the parent to make the child appear to be sick. In more extreme cases, the parent actually make the child sick by poison or other means, often to the point of killing it. (A famous example of it in popular culture is shown in the movie The Sixth Sense, in which a mother repeatedly gives poison to her child, who later provides video evidence of her slow murder from beyond the grave.)

Doctors are taught to watch for the syndrome in medical school. Among the signs are:

  • Illness is multisystemic, prolonged, unusual, or rare.
  • Symptoms are inappropriate or incongruent.
  • Symptoms disappear when parent or caretaker is absent.
  • Parent is overly attached to the patient.
  • Patient has poor tolerance of treatment (e.g., frequent vomiting, rash, problems with intravenous lines).
  • Parent encourages medical staff to perform numerous tests and studies.
  • General health of the patient is inconsistent with results of laboratory tests.
  • Parent shows inordinate concern for feelings of the medical staff.

Another key feature is that the fabricated symptoms are observed only by the mother. It remains unclear what motivates sufferers of MSBP to harm their children in this way, or what benefit they derive from it. Perhaps it's a means of gaining attention.

But what should we think when we see the same phenomenon on a much grander scale -- when instead of a mother fabulizing symptoms or poisoning her child, an entire political class in power spouts nonsense about the state of a great nation's economy and the causes for it, and then treats it with long-failed nostrums almost guaranteed to make the situation worse by any rational economic analysis? What to think when the stock market rises when the president is out of the country ("the patient improves in the absence of the parent")?

All through last year, the Democrats insisted that the economy was tanking as a result of "tax cuts" and "deregulation," though there's not a single instance in the history of the world in which reducing tax rates caused a recession. They could never point to any particular thing that was "deregulated" during the Bush presidency (and they in fact fought against administration suggestions of stricter regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). They started talking down the economy last summer, and Senator Schumer almost singlehandedly caused the collapse of IndyMac, a key harbinger of what was to come, with some ill-chosen words a year ago.

The president continues to insist that private health care is a root cause of our problems, and that the economy cannot recover properly until the health insurance industry is overhauled to his specifications. This ignores the healthy economy we've enjoyed over much of the past three decades with the current system. He claims that we can somehow spend our way out of national penury with plans to vastly explode the federal debt over the next several years. This would make budget surpluses a quaint artifact of history and surely result in higher interest rates, more inflation, or (as we saw in the late seventies) both simultaneously. In other words, the symptoms are "inappropriate" and "not congruent" with the diagnosis.