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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
July 27, 2009
/ 6 Menachem-Av 5769
Who's the narcissist?
In his hit piece on Sarah Palin for Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum wrote:
"More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without
prompting, the question of Palin's extravagant self regard. Several
told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the
definition of 'narcissistic personality disorder' in the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders "a pervasive pattern of
grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration and lack of
empathy" and thought it fit her perfectly."
Bill Clinton last year described Mr. Purdum as a "sleazy, slimy
scumbag," despite the fact that Mr. Purdum is married to his former
press secretary, Dee Dee Myers. I suspect the anonymous Alaskans are a
product of Mr. Purdum's imagination. But because he has Gone There, I
now feel free to write something I've thought about a lot, but have
hesitated to put into print.
A person who wrote two autobiographies before he was 45 is no piker when
it comes to extravagant self regard.
Virtually all politicians exhibit some narcissistic traits. But
columnist Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist, asked last year: "has
there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his
estimation of himself and the sum total of his achievements?"
"Barack Obama appears to be a narcissist," wrote Shmuel (Sam) Vaknin, a
psychologist who's written two books on narcissism, in July of 2008.
"Narcissistic leaders are nefarious and their effects pernicious. They
are subtle, refined, socially adept, manipulative, possessed of thespian
skills, and convincing. (They) lack empathy and are ruthless and
Only after lengthy tests and personal interviews can a qualified mental
health professional determine whether someone suffers from narcissistic
personality disorder, Mr. Vaknin acknowledged. But for his article in
the American Chronicle, Mr. Vaknin constructed the kind of psychological
profile the CIA commissions on foreign leaders.
If Barack Obama is a narcissist, it's not his fault. "Pathological
narcissism is a reaction to prolonged abuse and trauma in early
childhood or early adolescence," Dr. Vaknin wrote.
Barack Obama's father deserted him at age two. He was a product of a
racially mixed marriage, which can be stressful even when the marriage
is stable. His mother carted him off to Indonesia (and another culture)
at an early age, and then divorced his stepfather. She shipped him off
at age 10 to live with his grandparents in Hawaii.
"Narcissism is a defense mechanism whose role is to deflect hurt and
trauma from the victim's 'True Self' into a 'False Self' which is
omnipotent, invulnerable and omniscient," Dr. Vaknin wrote.
Among the narcissistic traits Dr. Vaknin observed in Mr. Obama are he:
subtly misrepresents facts and expediently and opportunistically
- ignores data that conflict with his fantasy world;
- feels that he is above the law;
- craves to be the exclusive center of attention, and
- has a messianic-cosmic vision of himself.
If Mr. Obama is a narcissist, it would explain otherwise odd things,
such as his notion that an iPod loaded with his speeches is an
appropriate gift for the Queen of England, and his frequent references
to himself in virtually all of those speeches.
President Obama is constantly in campaign mode which, Dr. Vaknin said,
is another sign of narcissism: "The narcissistic leader prefers the
sparkle and glamour of well-orchestrated illusions to the tedium and
method of real accomplishments."
Mr. Obama is experiencing the first rough patch of his presidency.
After six months, his job approval rating is 10th among the 12 postwar
presidents, according to Gallup.
President Obama's signature issues are foundering even in a heavily
Democratic Congress, as moderate lawmakers fret about their cost. Mr.
Obama has responded by lashing out at critics rather than by seeking
Narcissists overreact to criticism, and can quickly fall into a rage if
their plans are frustrated, Dr. Vaknin said.
So what happens if the cheering stops?
"Narcissistic injury inevitably leads to narcissistic rage and to a
terrifying display of unbridled aggression," Dr. Vaknin said.
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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration.
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