Are the politicians going crazy? Or are the crazy going political? Over at The Atlantic, James Silver postulates that certain political figures share traits with (or may even be) psychopaths:
Psychopathy is a psychological condition based on well-established diagnostic criteria, which include lack of remorse and empathy, a sense of grandiosity, superficial charm, conning and manipulative behavior, and refusal to take responsibility for one's actions, among others.
Sounds familiar. Silver also points out that though there's a good amount of variation along the psychopathic spectrum, core features like the egocentric behavior, the shallow charm, and apparent lack of guilt are there throughout. In other words, behavior that elected officials have in spades:
Presumably, no one would dispute the notion that Hitler and Stalin were psychopaths at the extreme end of the spectrum: completely unconstrained by empathy or guilt and willing to say or do anything to accomplish their goals. This, though, reinforces the perception of psychopaths as out-of-control madmen who are evil to the core. Might there be other, more mainstream political leaders who have psychopathic traits but fall closer to the "normal" range? Some have certainly thought so.
In 2003, neuropsychologist Paul Brok argued that Prime Minister Tony Blair was a "plausible psychopath" who was ruthlessly ambitious, egocentric, and manipulative. Respected psychologist and researcher David Lykken has written, "If we can believe his biographer, Robert Caro […] Lyndon Johnson exemplified this syndrome. He was relatively fearless, shameless, abusive of his wife and underlings, and willing to do or say almost anything required to attain his ends."