Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford, who won't stop talking about the conjunction of their political and personal problems, are taking us into new territory where punditry has to give way to psychiatry to make sense of their bizarre behavior.
Consider the National Institute of Mental Health's definition of borderline personality disorder: "a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual's sense of self-identity."
Of the two cases, Sanford's zigzags from ultraconservative pillar of the Republican Party to playboy of the Southern Hemisphere are easier to understand, a cultural cliché going back to "Rain," in which a devout missionary goes mad under the spell of Sadie Thompson.
Palin's odd week raises the psychiatric stakes--denying she is a quitter while quitting as she blames the media for her woes and then gives them nonstop interviews, a love-hate relationship with political fame that defies simple explanations.
In his analysis, Adam Nagourney of the New York Times observes that "there is plenty of evidence that argues against the idea that this was done with forethought and planning. The rollout was something of a car crash, as even her fans acknowledged."
Now Palin is all the over the place, talking to Time, CNN, ABC, Fox News and anyone else who will listen, wearing waders and spouting non-sequiturs next to a boatload of fish, embarrassing herself with references to a "Department of Law" in the White House and other unthinkable gaffes for someone John McCain and millions of voters deemed qualified to be a heartbeat away from a geriatric presidency.
Andrew Sullivan has compiled a dossier of her "lies," but that may not be the relevant category. What reality do politicians like Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford inhabit, and what would a psychiatrist from another planet make of their weird acting out?