Sat 28 Jan, 2012 10:51 am
January 24, 2012
Newt the Borderpath: Making the Case that Psychiatry is Not Allowed to Make
Thanks to “the Goldwater Rule” embedded into the code of ethics of the American Psychiatric Association, it is unethical for psychiatrists to “offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
The rule was the direct outcome of more than a thousand psychiatrists venturing negative (totally un)professional opinions about 1964 Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in response to a Fact magazine survey.
The rule effectively precludes psychiatrists from publicly stating the obvious, namely that current Republican Presidential front-runner Newt Gingrinch is “a walking-talking DSM-IV Axis II, Cluster B special, displaying a suite of bizarre behaviors distributed along at least three diagnoses, including borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and antisocial personality disorder.”
Of all the crazy things, the framers of the Goldwater Rule almost certainly never envisioned the bizarre possibility of one of its own reaching exactly the opposite conclusion, namely how Newt’s abundant character flaws might actually make him a better President. This happened last week when psychiatrist Keith Ablow scribbled an over-the-top commentary to that effect on Fox News. The gist of his thesis was that the cold-blooded indifference Newt displayed in dumping his first two wives is precisely the quality required of our next President in being “direct and unsparing with the Congress, the American people and our allies.”
Ironically, any psychiatrist jumping in to refute Ablow’s nonsense can only do so at the risk of incurring disciplinary action by the APA. Okay, we know the dangers of judging people we have never met, but what about public figures we may know better than members of our own family? Clearly, the public interest demands critical evaluation from the psychiatric profession.
With Newt Gingrich, it turns out, the exercise is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. To focus on just one incident:
In 1995, Newt Gingrich as House Speaker initiated a 22-day federal government shutdown. In the midst of the crisis, Gingrich attributed his hardline stance to a perceived “snub” from President Clinton, who purportedly did not talk to him during a flight on Air Force One to Israel for the funeral of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
I’m not sure which is worse: A man putting millions of Americans in jeopardy as a result over his own damaged ego, in total disregard for their concerns, or expecting his victims (the American public) to identify with his pain. It turns out that Clinton had photos of the two talking on the trip.
In an op-ed piece in the Feb 25, 2011 Washington Post, Gingrich recast his outrageous conduct as a stand on principle, blaming President Clinton for vetoing a Republican budget and the “liberal media” for misreporting the issue, claiming that the short-term pain of the shutdown set the stage for later budget deals.
“So, we faced a choice,” he wrote. “We could cave in and be accepted by the Washington establishment, or we could stand firm for a balanced budget for the American people.”
There really is no issue here: The only thing that psychiatrists should be arguing about is which diagnostic category to stick Newt in. Three of the Cluster B personality disorders come immediately to mind - narcissism, borderline, and antisocial - with some element of paranoia thrown in. But as psychiatrists and psychologists are quick to point out, personal pathology is far more fluid and subtle, not amenable to diagnostic boxes.
So let’s dispense with choosing between this diagnosis or that diagnosis and going with a bit of each. This is the approach Barbara Oakley took in her 2007 book “Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend,” which has received considerable play on this blog.
As you recall, Dr Oakley characterized certain individuals as “successfully sinister,” your classic Machiavellians - charismatic and ruthless - out for themselves at the expense of anyone unfortunate enough to happen to breathe the same air. Her Machiavellian poster boy is Chairman Mao, whom she describes as “the perfect borderpath,” exhibiting clear elements of borderline and psycho/sociopathy (plus generous helpings of narcissism and paranoia).
In the chaos of China, to the considerable detriment of a quarter of the world’s population, Mao was able to exploit his pathology to attain a position of absolute power for more than three decades. In a democracy, a borderpath is inclined to reach a more modest pinnacle. To quote from one of my earlier pieces:
In politics, says Dr Oakley, an American-born Mao might have become a populist demagogue in the 1930s Huey Long mold (I will leave the obvious contemporary examples to others) ...
Do you detect an obvious contemporary example? With the stakes much higher? Pity that psychiatry can’t talk about it.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder generally believe that the world revolves around them. This condition is characterized by a lack of ability to empathize with others and a desire to keep the focus on themselves at all times.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder involves arrogant behavior, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration-all of which must be consistently evident at work and in relationships. People who are narcissistic are frequently described as cocky, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. Narcissists may concentrate on unlikely personal outcomes (e.g., fame) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. Related Personality Disorders: Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic. Narcissism is a less extreme version of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissism involves cockiness, manipulativeness, selfishness, power motives, and vanity-a love of mirrors. Related personality traits include: Psychopathy, Machiavellianism.
Narcissists tend to have high self-esteem. However, narcissism is not the same thing as self-esteem; people who have high self-esteem are often humble, whereas narcissists rarely are. It was once thought that narcissists have high self-esteem on the surface, but deep down they are insecure. However, the latest evidence indicates that narcissists are actually secure or grandiose at both levels. Onlookers may infer that insecurity is there because narcissists tend to be defensive when their self-esteem is threatened (e.g., being ridiculed); narcissists can be aggressive. The sometimes dangerous lifestyle may more generally reflect sensation-seeking or impulsivity (e.g., risky sex, bold financial decisions).
This seems to apply to just about everyone to some degree. If something is normal, is it a disorder? Shouldn't the disorder be anti-narcissism or excessively social personality disorder? It seems like every time someone breaks up their former partner must suffer from narcissism. Amateur psychologists abound when they are looking for an excuse for someone's bad behavior but sometimes the real disorder is "being an ass" and that is also way too common to be called a disorder. I think the rule about not making a diagnosis without a real in-person clinical evaluation is an outstanding one. We may all think Lindsey Lohan is a nut case, but it is unfair to her to diagnose something off the top of our heads with little or no knowledge of what we are talking about and less knowledge about her. Same with Newt. For all I know he secretly funds shelters for unwed manatees. I don't think I'm qualified to make any sort of medical opinion about him and I'm glad those with the training know better than to speculate.
Sounds somewhat similar to what the Tea Party (and Boehner) did with the debt ceiling debacle that resulted in the downgrade of US treasuries.
I think you're missing the point; why do something that harms a whole country based on personal judgment on anything? Shut the whole government down on principles? Come on!
I agree with Engineer. We all would find some condition in the DSM that describes ourselves (if we were honest). Seeing other people in the DSM is even easier.
Newt Gingrich is successful in every area in his life. He is financially secure, has a supportive family, has respect from many Americans and even has a shot at being the next president.
Shouldn't the term "disorder" be reserved for things that prevent someone from being successful?
Madoff was succesful - for awhile. So were those guys who ran Enron.
Declaring that everyone who does something that you don't like has a "personality disorder" rather diminishes the idea of "personality disorder".
But I doubt Madoff or the Enron guys were suffering from any disorder - they were merely crooks on a big scale. Would you let them off the hook by saying they had some disorder and couldn't help themselves?
wouldn't newt have to have a personality in order for it to be disordered, when i see him and hear him i just think of some kind of larvae that's lived its life under a log, a sort of greyish white pulpy mass, a simple minded creature with only its own self preservation and advancement in it's simple mind (or equivalent sensory organism)
"Newt Gingrich is successful in every area in his life."
This is a highly subjective statement that doesn't reflect the damage Gingrich has wrought in achieving this "success". By his own cultural standards, Kim Jong Il was a success, but then count the bodies and destroyed lives, etc.. he left in his wake...
There are many highly-functioning narcissists who on paper seem to have it all who have left a trail of hurt and pain in getting there. Newt indeed fits this category, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will not get anywhere near the Oval Office.
And, for the author, I think when Obama uses examples of great Americans he does so not as comparisons to himself personally, but to show the big picture of our history and the continuum of his presidency, where he fits in, especially important to do since he is the first black president. . Of course, all politicians have at least a modicum of self-esteem and confidence, or they wouldn't run for office, but I find Obama doesn't toot his horn enough; I wish he would brag about his accomplishments more often.
@Susan in SC,
I agree--I'd also like to see Obama emphasizing his accomplishments more often.
Welcome to A2K, Susan in SC.
@Susan in SC,
Does it also explain Gingrich's relations with "his" women?
The following is what I wrote to the white house on Friday:
Re: End tax deductions for outsourcing
Message flagged Friday, January 27, 2012 12:05 PM
James, Our government seems prone to do the opposite of what's good for our country. Not only is it counter-intuitive to give tax breaks to companies who offshore jobs, but we need to give tax breaks to companies who keep jobs in the US.
The bigger question I have is why profitable companies are not sharing the wealth with its employees while giving their CEO's and Officers untold wealth way beyond what they need? Why are Board of Directors so short-sighted as to continue this unequal treatment of their workers? They seem incapable of understanding why a strong middle-class is needed to maintain everything we call America.
Finally, I would only add that President Obama needs to communicate to the general public more often what he plans to do, what he has accomplished in his first three years, and to challenge lies perpetrated by the Conservatives. Communication is the key for him to educate the masses, and to win the next election.
Does it also explain Gingrich's relations with "his" women?
There are all sorts of reasons why Gingrich might have left his previous two wives. Some sort of disorder is one reason but there is no way you can or should make this diagnosis when the only thing you know is that he has been married three times. For all we know, Newt is a terrible judge of women and keeps marrying horrible women who abuse him. We have absolutely no information about his previous marriages that would shed any light on this.
Did you forget that Gingrich complained to his wives that they "wanted him to themselves." Narcissism?
He didn't deny the possibility. He presented alternatives, probably more in the interest of fairness than personal belief.
I really can't believe that women are abusing Newt. His personality won't tolerate over-bearing women.
Did you forget that Gingrich complained to his wives that they "wanted him to themselves."
And how silly of them to have thought that way, since he proposed to #2 and #3 before he had bothered to divorce the one he was married to.
Newt just views marriage as a threesome--himself, his wife, and his mistress.
Perhaps he's a closet Mormon who is just trying to practice polygamy to the best of his ability.