Maybe state government and her leaders have Cluster A disorders, which according to the American Psychiatric Association include odd or eccentric behaviors such as the fear of social relation:
- Paranoia, or irrational suspicions and mistrust of others, perhaps such as the state’s fear that more federal government money to expand Medicaid to help hundreds of thousands of poor South Carolinians get health care is a bad thing.
- Schizoid personality disorder, which involves the lack of interest in social relationships or sharing time with others. Maybe this would explain the state’s seemingly continuing desire to secede based on an overzealous interpretation of the notion of individual liberty.
- Schizotypal personality disorder, which is behavior or thinking that is just odd, such as lawmakers’ proposals to allow people to carry concealed guns in schools, college campuses or, of all things, bars.
Perhaps, though, the state could better be classified as having Cluster B disorders for dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior:
- Antisocial disorder, a diagnosis that features disregard for the rights of others and lack of empathy. Although often associated with criminals, might it not also be associated with politicians who want to tell people on food stamps what they can and can’t eat?
- Borderline personality disorder, which often is defined by thinking about things as one way or the other. In the legislature, this might be characterized by increasing partisanship and how compromise — thinking about alternatives in the middle — seems to be dying.
- Histrionic personality disorder, which often appears as attention-seeking behavior and exaggeration. There are a few politicians who you can probably think of that fit in here.
- Narcissistic disorder, defined as those who have a pattern of grandiose behavior, lack of empathy and need to be admired. There’s no lack of candidates here either.
Other disorders that might be part of the state’s diagnosis include obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (abortion politics) and passive-aggressive personality disorder (refusal to deal with growing education funding problems despite generations being lost). Regardless, whatever is wrong with South Carolina may take years of therapy.
More than anything, the Palmetto State seems to be going through an identity crisis. Does it want to be an overzealous nanny and tell people what they can do (what to eat on food stamps) or can’t do (get access to health care through Medicaid expansion)? Or does it want to be a Petri dish of government experimentation, such as when rich guys like Howard Rich pump in gazillions of dollars to fuel voucher efforts or U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham talks about how he can sell immigration reform anywhere if he can sell it in South Carolina?
Or does South Carolina want to be a bastion of individual liberty where libertarian philosophy galvanizes what government does to the point of absurdity, such as all of the crazy efforts to try to nullify what the federal government is doing or continue to craft laws to protect gun rights — even though nobody is really talking about taking away the guns that people have now?
When you think about South Carolina from the perspective of a psychiatrist or from somebody who is on the outside looking in, it’s pretty clear what the prescription is for any or all of the disorders above (and no, the answer isn’t to put state lawmakers on drugs to calm them down). The answer is engaged leadership — leadership that will bring people together to form a common vision to improve the state and then work to achieve common goals.
It’s time that South Carolina gets off the autopilot of the way we’ve done things in the past. It’s time for us to wake up, put on our big kid underpants and craft a future where children have real opportunity and adults can live in dignity. It’s time to stop the politics of “us” and “them,” and remember that “we” are in this together.
Yes, it’s time for South Carolina to listen attentively to the lesson in Proverbs 29: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”