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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: What politicians all share: a flawed upbringing

Everyone is asking why Washington is failing us. Not George but the elected leaders in his capital. They just can't seem to get along. Tea party here, liar there, one would think the two factions don't like each other. Major critical changes in our health system, wars, immigration laws, economic recovery and finance reform all need attention. So instead of playing nice, they either bully legislation through or obstruct its passage. Being a senator isn't fun anymore. Talk to retiring Sen. Evan Bayh from Indiana. To give up all the perks and power of Congress must mean it is really bad.

Everyone has a theory about the current atmosphere of hostility. Some go back to blame the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Revolution, while others date it back to the Civil War, when there were fisticuffs and caning to win over opponents to their way of thinking.

Whatever the origin, it continues today, and civility is becoming a thing of the past. Not that caning an opponent nearly to death was civil, but they used flowerier words when they did it. Why can't Congress just get along? We all look longingly for a bipartisan approach to America's problems, but we can forget it. It won't happen. Cooperation is against biological principles of temperament, child development and survival techniques possessed by the men and women who walk the halls of power. Our elective representatives are adults by age, but they were once babies. While these leaders pretend to act grown up, they all started like the rest of us in diapers. We all passed through childhood; some just didn't get all the way.

Everyone is born with a temperament. This is a collection of characteristics many feel are hard-wired into each of us. Some of the attributes are intensity, persistence and activity. Newborns who are intense, persistent and active grow up to be intense, persistent, active adults who run for political office.

There are other developmental reasons why there is no joy inside the Beltway. It has to do with the child-rearing techniques of the parents of politicians. There is a three-way approach to dealing with crying children. You can ignore them, you can smother them with attention or you can sense what the child needs and respond consistent to the need. Then back off and let the child explore. The experts call the first two styles insecure and the last secure. Guess who goes into politics? You are right. The insecure avoidant and the insecure smothered. Who else needs the juices of power running through their veins to overcome their insecurities? The secures go about their business content with life and its simple pleasures, not needing the jolt of crowd adoration or the opiate of being in charge.

Lastly, the survival techniques and the hormones and biochemical molecules that drive them are in 180-degree opposition, so they conflict. One group is running emotionally off the survival of the fittest, and the other is thinking of the survival of the species. Here is the root cause for disharmony. It is not political, it is biological and emotional. Forget bipartisan commissions, consensus conferences or White House summits — unless there is an understanding of the underlying biology they will continue to see red and blue and call each view right. So we have intense, persistent, active (read: stubborn, head-strong) individuals all following their egos for their own emotional existence, which is opposite to their opponents' ego and their means of solving problems.

Compromise won't work because it is counter to their survival instincts; the insecure have to be right; but hybridization is doable. It is the idea of taking elements of both sides and germinating a whole new creature. It is solving the problem both for the one and the many. It is breeding two ideologies to create a new being of thought. But for now, we should be happy they won't cane each other.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for more than 25 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at