Why America May Need Therapy Come November

The results of the 2004 presidential election gave us, among other things, a potentially reverse-engineered acronym.

PEST, or post-election selection trauma, refers to an overwhelming dissatisfaction with and denial of election results that causes some to seek therapy. In 2004, the vitriol with which some regarded the re-election of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had become unmanageably consuming. That’s the rumor, at least. An Internet search for the condition yields conflicting results. Among the legitimate-looking news reports of therapists seeing patients are sources that point to PEST’s dubious origins.

Whether referring to a mental illness in its nascent stages (maybe we’ll see this one in the upcoming APA handbook of mental disorders) or simply describing the whiny behavior of the discontent, therapists probably won’t treat many cases of PEST in 2008. First, Bush and Cheney can’t be re-elected, so any chants of “Four more years!” will have to go unfulfilled. Second, treating what probably is a phony condition tends to be frowned upon in the psychiatry world. This shouldn’t stop the nation from suffering a mental breakdown, though.

This election cycle, people might experience something more like buyer’s remorse, the guilt that follows the purchase of a high-ticket item, along with regret that perhaps the wrong selection has been made. Maybe it’ll be called voter’s remorse. When it comes to electing a president and vice president, there is a strictly enforced no-return policy. And, like buying the perfect car, voting for a candidate can be difficult, the right reasons are not always self-evident, and actual value seems to decrease at the exact moment of selection.

Do you buy into the promises made by the Obama–Biden Prius? If so, can you still drive your kids to hockey in it, or haul a dead moose after bayoneting it with the machete strapped to the barrel of your M16? It may be good on gas, but is there enough room in the backseat to abstain from premarital sex? Or, do you go with the McCain–Palin Hummer minivan? Sure, it’s roomier, but will your gay-atheist-scientist friends still let you hug their tree, watch their pet monkey evolve, or share their arugula and Chardonnay at the next pro-post-birth abortion rally?

In the shitstorm of information out there, it can be difficult to know what our votes should be based upon. With news reports that cover a candidate’s fashion sense in the same glib tone as that person’s views on health care or the war, it is no wonder that voting can be a difficult task.

In 2004, irrelevant reporting generated useless information that we, as voters, were to seriously consider. John Kerry, we were told, liked windsurfing and perhaps spray-tanning, which was somehow telling of his ability to lead. And, so what if he looked a lot like Herman Munster, had a ketchup fetish, and disgraced himself by bravely serving our country during Vietnam? Cheney, it was said, was Satan, which was supposed to encourage midstream horse-changing—or perhaps rally the elusive Satanic-conservative base.

Voting, for the most part, has traditionally consisted of picking whichever pair of old to very old white guys best represented your values or with whom you’d like to grab a beer at your local watering hole. This time around, American electoral truths have been challenged in a major way. With Barack Obama on one side vying to be the first black president and Sarah Palin on the other positioned to be the nation’s first female vice president, there are only two white guys left in the equation; that’s 50 percent fewer old white guys. One way or the other, this year’s results will be historic, but should we even consider race and gender as we cast our votes this November?

The simple answer is yes and no. Yes, such factors can help garner supporters. The fact that there are candidates who are not white males may be motivation enough. Electing a black president or a female vice president will show progress. People who could not vote in the past because of their race or gender can now be elected. That’s powerful. As such, voting because of race and gender is responsible.

Now, again, do these factors matter? No. If one thinks that such attributes imply nothing about a person’s intelligence, abilities, or beliefs, then race and gender are irrelevant. It’s like voting against someone because he or she prefers Pepsi over Coca-Cola. Voting in this way is totally irresponsible.

With that said, you should vote the Obama–Biden ticket because they’ll give us a simpler the tax code and provide job training for the unemployed. Also, isn’t Obama from Chicago? That’s supposed to be a cool city. But, he is a terrible bowler. Also, it looks like Biden has hair plugs.

Or, vote McCain–Palin. They want to make it easier for individuals and families to get health insurance and will protect American jobs with the careful management of immigration programs. Palin, moreover, looks pretty cool holding a gun in doctored photos and is a smart dresser. You’ll never see her in a silly Hillary Clinton pantsuit. Plus, McCain is a hero; he’s fought in every American war.

If you want to stay out of therapy this November, you’d better hope that one of the candidates does something you like—wears cool shoes, overcomes the Pepsi Challenge, or even shares your beliefs. So, think long and hard about it. Or, better yet, maybe don’t think at all.

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