Magazine | August 25, 2014, Issue

Bethesda Mental-Health Clinic


Session One:

The group assembles in the small conference room. Although anonymity is preferred for this kind of therapy, the qualities of this particular therapy and this specific client group make that impossible. Therapist notes, however, that despite their familiarity with one another, the patients quickly let down their guard. Initial introductions become highly emotional “confessional” sessions. All are Republican members of Congress deeply conflicted about their own secret, shameful proclivities. All feel that the electorate in November, despite a cultural shift to openness and tolerance, will reject them if it learns the truth. All are here, in this intensive workshop, to “cure” themselves of what they feel are “unnatural” and “morally wrong” tendencies. There are some tears, especially from some of the older gentlemen. The mood is somber but enthusiastic.

They are reminded that this kind of aversion therapy is highly controversial. They are provided with literature that suggests that these kinds of impulses are deeply rooted in a person’s identity and cannot be “cured” or “prayed away.” They all acknowledge this and remain in the group.

Once the personal-injury and malpractice waivers are signed and dated, the first session gets under way.

When the patients are all strapped to their individual electric-shock wands, the aversion therapy begins in earnest. Video of attractive young people discussing comprehensive immigration reform is projected onto the screen. Each patient is encouraged to talk through his own feelings about this issue. As each uses certain “trigger words” — “pathway to citizenship,” “e-verify,” “multi-point reform” — electric impulses are sent through the wands, delivering what we hope are sharp mental-retraining incentives.

Voltage increases as necessary. There is some scorching. Several members from “bluer” districts require the application of additional wands. By session’s end, all patients still conscious instantly recoil from any discussion of comprehensive immigration reform. When asked, they respond with a uniformly dazed — but “on message” — call for border security.

The therapy seems effective.

Session Two:

The RINO Aversion-Therapy Group assembles — minus two members who remain hospitalized after Session One — and quickly gets down to business. The current federal budget is placed in front of each patient, along with a glass of soluble thallium salts, a powerful and debilitating poison.

As the conversation naturally turns to “revenue options” and possible tax and fee hikes, each patient is required to drink from the glass in front of him. One of the older senators refuses at one point, claiming that “unless we talk about the revenue side of the budget equation, we’ll never get this debt under control,” but he is held down by the others and forced to drink his entire allotment of liquid. It is only when he stops struggling and appears momentarily lifeless that the therapist intervenes.

By session’s end, all patients still upright and conscious are sickened at the thought of tax increases.

Session Three:

Of the original 16 patients, ten remain. Three have dropped out and three remain hospitalized: one with electrical burns (a senator facing an independent tea-party challenge) and two with severe thallium poisoning.

For this final session, the patients have elected to retrain their impulses toward “fixing” Obamacare. All confess that when alone and unmonitored, their desires inexorably turn toward some kind of “adjustment” of Obamacare rather than an outright repeal of it. All of them are filled with shame and self-loathing.

Ten orderlies are led into the room, each carrying a sack of oranges. The orderlies and the patients stand facing each other. As the patients begin describing the seductive power of specific Obamacare fixes — interstate insurance reform, for instance, or loosening the regulatory definitions of certain health-insurance policies — the orderlies beat them about the torso with the sacks of oranges. Outwardly, of course, the beatings show no effect. But the internal damage and the pain that results is excruciating.

As the ashamed RINOs fall, the orderlies turn their attentions to the RINOs who remain standing, until only one holdout remains, bravely describing how certain federally administered marketplace exchanges can work within the context of a state-by-state voucher system. Finally the rain of blows becomes too much and he collapses. The room is filled with the smell of oranges.

All patients are unconscious or close to it, so it’s impossible for the therapist to judge the effectiveness of this final aversion-therapy technique.

Final Wrap-Up:

Two weeks later, the original group gathers “off-site” in a private room at the Hay-Adams Hotel. Some have trouble walking, but all report “no backsliding.” There is some earnest and bitter conversation about the “Republican-party elite” and the “D.C. establishment” and “Georgetown cocktail parties,” all of which suggests that the therapy has been successful. When trigger subjects are raised — therapist casually mentions immigration reform early in the meeting — all members display trauma-reactions consistent with successful aversion therapy: hand tremors, nausea, and in one case actual barking.

Suggest this therapy be refined and offered, as needed, to both parties.

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