Editors Note: I was advised against admitting publicly that I’d ever been in therapy. However, how many of us Baby Boomers in suburbia haven’t been on the couch at some point in our lives? And those of you who haven’t ... well, you probably should have been at some point in your life.


We’ve Already Done It

Before becoming the paragon of mental health I am today, I spent some time in my early 20s in therapy. Even more useful than the insights gained into the ways my mother had damaged my psyche was the simple phrase my therapist taught me to repeat to stop obsessing over my past mistakes: “You’ve already done it.”

Like many people, I compulsively ruminated over questionable choices that had turned out badly. I don’t claim to be “cured,” and in some ways it gets worse in old age, when one’s entire life can appear to be a litany of bad decisions; however, I’m now often able to say, “You’ve already done it. Move on.”

Nations can suffer from such neuroses as well. For years, Americans lamented “Vietnam syndrome” — our reticence, following our defeat in Southeast Asia, to launch optional wars. President Reagan overcame this with budget-busting defense spending that got the U.S. “walking tall” enough again to triumphantly invade the tiny island of Grenada.

However, far more dangerous than Vietnam syndrome, which lasted barely a decade, was its root cause — the inability to say “we’ve already done it” about the troops we’d lost in Vietnam in the first place. Even after leaders like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara realized the war was unwinnable, they couldn’t bring themselves to pull out, partly because they didn’t want those who’d already died to have died in vain. As a result, thousands more had to die in vain.

This tragedy was replayed in Iraq. Because we couldn’t concede that the invasion had been a mistake, we kept on fighting, then we doubled down. Senator McCain remains proud that “the surge” allowed us to declare “mission accomplished,” but, as Iraq now degenerates into murderous chaos, it’s becoming increasingly obvious we should have admitted much sooner, “We’ve already done it, but some missions just aren’t doable.”

Once Obama took office, he could have begun pulling out of Afghanistan immediately, but no president wants to be at the helm when a war is officially lost, so he launched a surge of his own. When we finally exit that primitive place, Afghanistan will again revert to a corrupt, fundamentalist, terrorist, tribal hellhole that hates women, freedom and Americans. And those with a sense of history will realize we learned nothing from Vietnam or Iraq.

Domestically, the same syndrome infects the immigration debate. Conservatives resent the hordes of illegal aliens already here, so they bridle at any path to citizenship, even though the alternative is allowing millions to wander around undocumented. Unable to say “we’ve already done it” about the years of virtually open borders permitted by the leadership of both parties, they obsess about what can’t be undone.

Incensed about the number of illegals already here, many on the Right oppose any reforms, other than sealing the border or deporting the undocumented, for which we’ll need more and bigger buses. The former isn’t practical, while the latter isn’t feasible, but both have the virtue of making proponents feel they’re advocating something productive.

Liberals have a similar difficulty with gun control. With 300 million firearms in circulation, that horse is already out of the barn. And, if the aftermath of the Newtown slaughter proved anything, it’s that we Americans love guns and the Second Amendment far more than our own children, and money is more important than all three.

The wealth and power of the gun lobby has defeated moderate measures as sensible as universal background checks, which even most Republicans favor. If we refuse to prevent criminals and the insane from buying guns, then it’s time liberals faced the reality that we’ve already decided we like being the most well-armed and murderous nation in the developed world, and there’s no going back.

House Republicans’ hatred of Obamacare has led to 41 pointless, symbolic votes for repeal. They can’t accept that it’s been enacted and could actually go into effect. If they truly believe it’s a mistake, they should fully fund it, so they could say “I told you so” once it fails. I wonder ... do they want it defunded out of concern for the middle class — which sounds out of character — or out of the fear it might succeed?

Meanwhile, the tea baggers blather on about impeaching Obama, despite the absence of any activities even remotely approaching high crimes and misdemeanors. Much of their inexhaustible vitriol seems based on the disturbing fact that the voters have twice elected a black Democrat.

Recently, another set of Nixon tapes was released. If ever a president was undone by his inability to say “I’ve already done it,” it was Richard Nixon. His political demise resulted, as they so often do, not from the crime (of Watergate), but the cover-up, just as Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about adultery, rather than the act itself.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan ordered the Marines into Beirut, where 238 servicemen were killed by terrorists. (Had Obama done that today, the House would hold 41 votes a week to demand his impeachment.) However, Reagan was able to say, “I’ve already done it” and to reverse course by taking responsibility for the tragedy and by pulling out of Lebanon. A similar retreat by our current president vis a vis the red line in Syria also sounds like a sane approach. We can always hope.


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