Psychopaths and politicos (think Christie): Cut from the same cloth

So there stands the big guy. Smartly tailored suit, hair with just the right errant wisps. Emotive facial twitches and a stand-up guy winsomeness.

Could easily have been the former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich — now serving time for corruption — a couple years ago as he pleaded his case on the national stage. Surely such boyish charm and sincere conviction could win him the day. It didn’t.

This time it is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the really big guy, pouring on the charm and casually tossing aides under the bus.

Does one have to be a certified psychopath to make it to the national political stage? Yeah, probably. Only a politician (or corporate CEO for that matter) cloaked in the criteria that define a psychopath can withstand the 24-7 public and media scrutiny that passes for leadership analysis these days.

The political stage is not for the faint of heart or the thoughtful shrinking violet. You’ve got to start with an ego the size of Alaska and a righteousness of the saints.

The Atlantic published a fascinating analysis in mid-summer 2012 that compared politicians with psychopaths. Sound familiar?

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.

Of course it does. Over my 40 years in the newspaper business and on editorial boards I listened to and wrote about hundreds of politicians — elected, appointed, self-anointed. Be they possessed of a strong moral compass or contemplating serial corruption, they shared a common characteristic: They could take the heat because they were absolutely certain of their righteousness.

The best — and ultimately most electable, successful ones — wrapped all that conviction in a fluff of charm and jettisoned anyone or anything that detracted from the message.

Heck, feel free to argue Roger Ailes, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney onto the list. I’d venture that some of the folks who worked for me wouldn’t hesitate a New York minute before penciling in my name on the potential psycho ledger.

It’s all just so depressing. We the people are drawn to the electricity of these charismatic, albeit potentially psychopathic, personalities. We delight in their apparent strength, take-no-prisoners leadership styles. We’re amused. We want to believe they’re not going to get out the Bate’s Motel knives and carve up the bloody shower curtain.

But…. The journey to a full blown psychopath badge is a continuum. Not every CEO or politician is born to become a Chris Christie or Rod Blagojevich. For that we can be grateful.




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