Is Your Favorite Politician a
by Tony Schwartz
What do John Edwards, Bob Barr, Rod Blagjevich,
John Ensign, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, William Jefferson, William
Jefferson Clinton, David Vitter, James McGreevy, Tom DeLay, Charles
Rangel, Newt Gingrich, and David Paterson have in common?
Obviously, they're all politicians who've
been caught doing something illegal, unethical, mind-bogglingly
self-destructive, or all of the above.
But what also binds them is that none
of them seem to believe they really did anything wrong, in spite
of vast evidence to the contrary. When they finally have no option
but to appear contrite, their apologies feel stilted, scripted
and anything but heartfelt.
The latest offender, New York Governor
David Paterson, hasn't even gotten around to apologizing yet.
In the meantime, he's apparently managed to convince himself that
it's okay to phone up and intimidate a woman his top aide just
viciously beat up. Then there's John Edwards. I've just finished
reading The Politician by his aide, Andrew Young -- an irresistibly
salacious takedown, but one that never gets near understanding
Edward's breathtaking brazenness and utter obliviousness. Or how
about the much-indicted Rod Blagjevich joining the cast of "The
Apprentice?" while he awaits his own criminal trial -- and
continues to profess his utter innocence despite dozens of tape
recordings that make it clear exactly what he did.
Narcissism - suddenly the most overused
word in the language -- simply doesn't do these guys justice.
On a hunch, I decided to look up the word "sociopath,"
which it turns out isn't defined much differently than "psychopath."
Here are some of the most common characteristics of both:
Glib, superficially charming, often highly verbal
Promiscuous sexual behavior
Manipulative and cunning
High sense of entitlement
Lacks a sense of moral responsibility or moral conscience
Callousness, lack of empathy
Lying without remorse, shame or guilt.
Interested only in their personal needs or desires, without concern
for the effects of their behaviors on others.
Sound anything like the politicians I've named above -- and perhaps
your own friendly elected representatives?
These are men (and yes, they're all men)
who've operated all their lives in a world that rewards them more
for their acting abilities than for who they really are. _What
Patterson, Edward and these other pols are missing, at the most
basic level, is an inner life: the capacity for introspection
and self-awareness, or any reliable connection to a deeply held
set of values.__The consequence is that they feel no impulse to
take responsibility for the consequences of their behaviors.
In Jim Collin's terrific book Good to
Great, he concludes that great leaders are characterized by a
paradoxical blend of fierce resolve and great humility. The politicians
who've failed us most egregiously have no shortage of fierce resolve.
What they're lacking is any authentic humility: the capacity to
recognize and own their shortcomings alongside their strengths.
__Most chilling of all, no form of treatment seems to work for
the sociopathic personality. They want what they want when they
want it. When they're caught, they may feel compelled to act better
for a period of time, but they rarely really change. That's because
they don't truly feel they've done anything wrong.
So maybe it's up to us, before we vote
them into office, to look past who pols tell us they are and into
whether there's anything authentic going on inside.
How do we get a better sense of who these
guys really are? For my part, I'm going to start looking for politicians
willing to tell us not just what they're going to do for us, but
how they fall short.