My mind was wandering the other day when I saw a TV ad that said I should see a mental health professional if my mind was wandering.
The ad said I might have adult attention deficit disorder. I did have a friend who got a diagnosis of AADD. His wife had complained he wasn't paying enough attention to her and sent him to a doctor, who prescribed Ritalin for spousal attention deficit disorder. My friend lost weight, became more focused on his work and left his complaining wife.
The law of unintended side effects.
Ritalin abuse is rampant with children, as well as teenagers and college students, who like the extra stamina to study for exams, lose weight, ramp up performance to get in an Ivy League college or stay awake while getting drunk. When I grew up, there was no Ritalin; just a big nun with a ruler, warning you not to be "dreamy" or "a bold, brazen piece."
If you think about it, a lot of characters in literature probably had AADD. If Biff had been on Ritalin, he could have passed those math tests, and Willy Loman would not have got into the despondence that led to his fatal car crash. This gives new meaning to the maternal admonition, "Attention must be paid."
I went online to take "Dr. Grohol's Psych Central Adult ADD Quiz." The questionnaire asked if "My moods have high and lows." Well, yes.
It asked if "I am distressed by the disorganized way my brain works." You bet.
Reading over the questions, I realized America has AADD. The country has always had a pinball attention span, even before the Internet and cable TV accelerated it.
The New Republic recently dubbed this "historical attention deficit disorder," when a country gets distracted from focusing on any one place for very long. Our scattered consciousness is the reason we're so bad at empire, too impatient to hang around hot climes trying to force cold natives to like us.
Let's apply the AADD quiz to our fidgety president and his foreign policy team:
"I find my mind wandering from tasks that are uninteresting or difficult." (Like nation-building, which we said we'd never do but are muddling through now, with no coherent strategy, in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, and soon in Liberia.)
"I say things without thinking and later regret having said them." (Such as declaring we have "prevailed" in Iraq two months before the commander there admits, "We're still at war." Or saying we'd already found the weapons when all we'd found was some trashed trailer. Or saying we'd get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" and al-Qaida was "on the run.")
"I make quick decisions without thinking enough about their possible bad results." (Such as how our troops will be targets in hostile, dangerous territory, stuck there for years sorting out tribal and sectarian warfare.)
"I have a quick temper, a short fuse." (Like the president, taunting the Iraqi militants, saying, "Bring 'em on." Shouldn't that sort of trash talking be reserved for football and Schwarzenegger sequels?)
"I have trouble planning in what order to do a series of tasks or activities." (Such as threatening to rumble with North Korea and Iran while we're still prone to stumble in Afghanistan and Iraq.)
"In group activities it is hard for me to wait my turn." (Why wait for the pansy allies, even if you'll need their help after?)
"I usually work on more than one project at a time, and fail to finish many of them." (Yes, al-Qaida is recrudescing. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is coming back, warlords rule, and the vice and virtue police are at it again. Iran and North Korea are defying us. Saddam Hussein is still lurking, even as we struggle in Iraq to get the lights on, the oil industry up and the violence down. We say everything is okay while the senators who went to Iraq last week say we're stretched thin in the face of more and more attacks by Hussein loyalists.)
Yep. These guys definitely have EADD _ empire attention deficit disorder.
Maureen Dowd is a New York Times columnist.
New York Times News Service