I’ve been asked to comment on Obama’s depression—no, not the economic kind; the psychological kind. Speculation is that the NY Times is about to do a story on the president’s growing gloom and listlessness.
So here it is: I haven’t a clue whether Obama is depressed. No one except his close associates has a clue. However, depression would be a pretty normal response to what’s going on in Obama’s life right now. Of course, there’s depression of the mild and non-incapacitating sort, and depression of the severe and disabling sort. My guess is that the allegations—if they do come out—will be that Obama is suffering from the former rather than the latter.
Presidents have been depressed before. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was famous for suffering from the malady, and he seemed to do okay at his job. In those days there were no anti-depressants, and Lincoln showed great strength in battling with what was then known as melancholy throughout his life:
With Lincoln we have a man whose depression spurred him, painfully, to examine the core of his soul; whose hard work to stay alive helped him develop crucial skills and capacities, even as his depression lingered hauntingly; and whose inimitable character took great strength from the piercing insights of depression, the creative responses to it, and a spirit of humble determination forged over decades of deep suffering and earnest longing.
Obama is not Lincoln, however much he might quote him. But Lincoln is not the only president who’s been depressed. LBJ is reported to have become depressed about the Vietnam impasse:
Moyers described Johnson to me [author Robert Dallek] as “paranoid” and “depressed,” and never more so than in 1965. Moyers attributes this dark passage to “the realization about which he was clearer than anyone — that [Vietnam] was a road from which there was no turning back.” Johnson saw the decision to send troops as potentially marking the end of his presidency. “It was a pronounced, prolonged depression,” Moyers adds. “He would just go within himself, just disappear — morose, self-pitying, angry…. He was a tormented man,” who described himself to Moyers as being in a Louisiana swamp that was “pulling me down.” “When he said it,” Moyers remembers, “he was lying in bed with the covers almost above his head.”
I asked Moyers if others in the White House were as troubled by Johnson’s behavior as he and Goodwin. Yes, Moyers replied, and “when they were deeply concerned about his behavior, they would call me — Cabinet officers and others. Rusk would call me and tell me about some exchange he just had with the President that was very disturbing, and he would say that he seemed to be very depressed.
We all know how that ended: with Johnson’s withdrawal from the 1968 presidential race, leaving Nixon and VP Humphrey to duke it out. And we all know how that ended, as well.
Although in some ways it hasn’t ended yet.
NOTE: And then there’s always this: