Friday, August 22, 2014

Is Our President a Sociopath?

On both ends of the political spectrum commentators are dismayed by Mr. Obama's seeming detachment from the concerns and issues confronting the American people. Even when he addresses those concerns, as he did the beheading of James Foley, he seems only perfunctorily engaged with them. After delivering a bland condemnation of Foley's murder he drove immediately to the golf course to yuk it up with Alonzo Mourning and other fat cats. This was certainly unseemly, reminiscent of the "selfie" episode at Nelson Mandela's funeral, only worse, and observers, even among those who supported him in the past, were left to wonder what it is about this president that seems so out of synch with how normal people would behave.

Chris Matthews on MSNBC, the same man who once said that Obama gave him "a thrill up his leg," was almost apoplectic at the president's insouciance about the Foley execution and the banality of his words at the press conference.

Maureen Dowd writes about the peculiar behavior of Mr. Obama in an essay in the New York Times in which she describes a man emotionally disconnected from people:
When Barack Obama first ran for president, he theatrically cast himself as the man alone on the stage. From his address in Berlin to his acceptance speech in Chicago, he eschewed ornaments and other politicians, conveying the sense that he was above the grubby political scene, unearthly and apart.

He began “Dreams From My Father” with a description of his time living on the Upper East Side while he was a student at Columbia, savoring his lone-wolf existence. He was, he wrote, “prone to see other people as unnecessary distractions.” When neighbors began to “cross the border into familiarity, I would soon find reason to excuse myself. I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew.”

His only “kindred spirit” was a silent old man who lived alone in the apartment next door. Obama carried groceries for him but never asked his name. When the old man died, Obama briefly regretted not knowing his name, then swiftly regretted his regret.
Perhaps Dowd is saying something revealing about Mr. Obama's psyche which I'll return to in a moment. She goes on to write:
The extraordinary candidate turns out to be the most ordinary of men, frittering away precious time on the links. Unlike L.B.J., who devoured problems as though he were being chased by demons, Obama’s main galvanizing impulse was to get himself elected.

Almost everything else — from an all-out push on gun control after the Newtown massacre, to going to see firsthand the Hispanic children thronging at the border, to using his special status to defuse racial tensions in Ferguson — just seems like too much trouble.
For my part, Mr. Obama more and more reminds me of Meursault, the main character in Albert Camus' novel The Stranger. Meursault was a narcissistic sociopath, he developed few emotional connections to others, he was indifferent to what others thought and apathetic about much that normal people would have been interested in. His only moral rule was to do whatever gave him pleasure in the moment.

Dowd's description of Mr. Obama in the paragraphs cited above sounds very much like such a man.

The Urban Dictionary offers a summary of the characteristics displayed by sociopaths:
A sociopath is often well liked because of their charm and high charisma, but they do not usually care about other people. They think mainly of themselves and often blame others for the things that they do. They have a complete disregard for rules and lie constantly. They seldom feel guilt or learn from punishments.
Psychology Today lists a number of traits to look for in identifying a sociopath, among which are:
  • Superficial charm and good intelligence
  • Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
  • Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations
  • Unreliability
  • Untruthfulness and insincerity
  • Lack of remorse and shame
  • Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
  • Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
  • Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
  • General poverty in major affective reactions
  • Specific loss of insight
  • Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
Do these descriptions fit our president? The reason it seems he's detached from the grief the nation felt at the horrific execution of James Foley might just be that, in fact, he is. Like Meursault who felt nothing for anyone besides himself Mr. Obama likewise seems to feel nothing for others. He seems to lack the ability to empathize. Whether it was the death of the little old man whose name he never bothered to learn, the attack on the Benghazi consulate when he absented himself during the entire tragedy, or the grisly murder of James Foley, he seems to think that there's no sense getting emotionally involved when one has a fundraiser or a tee time to think about.

Maybe all this amateur psychoanalysis is unfair. Maybe Mr. Obama is just a stoic who stifles his affections and internalizes and suppresses the urge to express certain feelings. Maybe, but what appears to be stoicism in people can also be a pathological inability to feel emotion or concern.

Whatever the case, I'm not the first to point out that this man is certainly an odd duck, and more and more observers, even among Democrats and other liberals, seem to be dancing close to the conclusion that what we've seen of him over the last six years bears an uncanny correspondence to how the Urban Dictionary and the Psychology Today checklist describe a sociopath.