Rand Paul’s Bill Frist moment

RAND PAUL’S BILL FRIST MOMENT…. For those of us covering Saturday’s events in Tucson, it’s almost unavoidable to engage is some armchair psychology. Very few people in media have professional training in mental health issues — and I certainly include myself in this media group — but we nevertheless feel comfortable characterizing Jared Lee Loughner as obviously being a deeply sick young man.

Of course, when we say this, we’re not making a medical diagnosis or claiming any kind of professional expertise. We haven’t met Loughner or conducted any first-hand psychoanalysis. We’ve just seen the publicly available information and made a commonsense judgment — this guy looks like a madman.

At a minimum, then, it’s annoying to see Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) weigh in on the subject, not as a political observer, but as a medical doctor. (thanks to reader V.S. for the tip)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sunday that, based on Internet writings attributed to a 22-year-old accused of shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), he believes Jared Lee Loughner is a paranoid schizophrenic. […]

“I looked at some of the writings of this young man, and from a medical point of view there’s a lot to suggest paranoid schizophrenia and a really sick individual,” Paul said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Look, for all I know, Loughner is a paranoid schizophrenic. This isn’t my area of expertise, but from what we saw over the weekend, that hardly seems like a stretch.

But what rankles here is Rand Paul’s comfort with offering his “medical point of view” on national television. With due respect to the freshman senator, he’s a self-accredited ophthalmologist. He’s worked as a medical professional, but has treated patients’ eyes not their mental health, and as best as I can tell, he has no background as a psychiatrist.

Rand Paul, in other words, isn’t qualified to diagnose mental disorders by reading some stuff on the Internet. He shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we saw a similar situation six years ago. Sen. Bill Frist (R), at the time the Senate Majority Leader, weighed in on the Terri Schiavo matter on the Senate floor. Relying on his background as a surgeon, Frist said he’d watched Schiavo videos in his office for about an hour, and felt comfortable telling his colleagues that the woman may not have been in a persistent vegetative state, despite the judgments of medical professionals who actually treated the patient.

I’m entirely comfortable with physicians seeking elected office, but I wish they wouldn’t do stuff like this.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.