Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Politics of Personality Disorder

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?


Anonymous said...

I linked from Moderate voice. I do hope you are not suggesting either politician has this disorder. I am no fan of either, believe me. But, I worked at a mental health clinic as a receptionist and met people with the disorder. I highly doubt this is what is wrong with either of them.
I am afraid that both suffer from something dangerously common in our society these days
the cult of me.
If you look at the rhetoric and the philosophy of the modern conservative, it comes quite close to alot of the blather of the late 80s involving Me. I deserve it and I'm worth it. The What about me and screw the other guy mindset.
Conservatives embrace this thinking, which is closely associated with babyboomers as well.
Conservatives blame the victim but, then turn around and throw pity parties for themselves. They despise those less fortunate because they want everything for themselves and fear having to pay a dime or do something to help others.
Greed and selfishness are their gods.
their main concern is themselves. How it effects them and howit may inconvience them and whether it is something that will require they spend a penny on anyone besides themselves or have to spend their own self pity on feeling something for someone else.

Anonymous said...

I think that they could both have it. Mild enough cases that they got this far, but still strong enough that they have finally acted like whack jobs. They're both wackjobs.

Anonymous said...

It is impossible to diagnose someone based purely on their behavior in the media; however, both seem to exhibit some signs of narcissistic personality disorder (not borderline personality disorder). People with Borderline Personality Disorder exhibit extreme difficulties in relationships - fearing abandonment to an extent that a partner's going to work can be seen as threatening. They also tend to self-harm (cutting, etc) and attempt suicide, often as a result of extreme emotional swings and anxiety in relationships.
Narcissists, on the other hand, tend to push blame on others, take credit for work they have not done themselves, overstate their own achievements, etc. They are highly valued in our society and tend to raise through the power structure, whether it is in the private or public sector. These traits are so valued that it is almost difficult to consider narcissism a disorder for most, until it actually does affect social and occupational functioning (as it appears to be doing in the case of these two examples).