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Posted at 07:05 AM ET, 05/02/2012

Diagnosing John Edwards

Why doesn’t John Edwards claim insanity as his defense in his trial?

Can there be any other explanation for his behavior? 

Here’s why such a defense, if successful, could be groundbreaking for all politicians. Ever since Christopher Lasch wrote  “The Culture of Narcissism” more than three decades ago, academics and psychologists have noted that many politicians have the classical symptoms of narcissism, which include: lack of empathy, lack of self-awareness, grandiose sense of entitlement and a bottomless pit of need for affirmation. 

To be fair, these “symptoms” can describe a lot of people, but it does seem to fit the political type more than most. Obviously, there are gradations of this “disorder”—from the relatively healthy to the pathological.

I'm not sure one needs a medical degree to place Edwards at the farther reaches of the spectrum. The gradations may not be precise, but at some point the condition can tip from narcissism to psychopathy. For instance, denying a child is yours to your wife and everyone else who loves and supports you might be seen as narcissistic; asking someone to lie about  paternity might qualify as something more extreme.

Ambitious pols who may already have such tendencies enter a narcissist's dream world of enablement from sycophantic staff to fawning press. They, like the legend, fall in love with what is reflected back. But the small percentage of more disturbed ones cannot get enough. They want more and more affirmation until they often end up drunk with a stripper in the Tidal Basin, like Wilbur Mills, or in a hotel room with a mistress and secret baby at the end of a National Enquirer telephoto lens.

John Edwards clearly stared until the mirror cracked. He went crazy, and his version of insanity is highly relevant to our politics.

By  |  07:05 AM ET, 05/02/2012

 
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