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?I have a few reactions to this. First, regarding these people all being men: sociopathic traits seem to be equated with masculinity, for whatever reason. Maybe it is the desire for power? Or the ruthlessness? Whatever it is, sociopathic traits are valued more in men than women. Consequently, these traits would not benefit women as much as men and we wouldn't expect female sociopaths to succeed as much as male sociopaths. We trust men who seem confident, we don't trust women who seem confident because we feel like their confidence is probably a front: either they have something to hide (incompetence), they're just a selfish power hungry bitch, a narcissist, or they are likely out of touch. Otherwise they would realize that issues are a lot more complicated than they make it seem, so go back to your cooking and ironing, this is men's work -- that's the way confident women are often seen. But a power hungry man seems like a man with a plan -- a leader. A power hungry woman seems like someone with a bone to pick, or a personal vendetta.
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.
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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.
Not surprisingly, female sociopaths seem most visible/influential in the sex/seduction context. Society welcomes a display of female power in the seduction context. It's kinky. Historically, the women who appear on most people's suspected sociopath list tend to be those whose sociopathic traits have been effective in seduction. Even cleopatra and other historic female leaders seem to be primarily remembered and admired for their skills of seduction and diplomacy, rather than their skill at successfully managing the domestic affairs of their nations -- i.e., exercising dominion over not just one smitten man, but over hordes of (emasculated?) men. It was great for Egypt's foreign policy that Cleopatra could bed all of Rome's leading men, but my impression is that her country seemed to have been running just fine before they showed up.
Second, it would not surprise me at all to hear that sociopaths make good politicians. I would expect them to be good at a number of things, actually. I would expect the number of sociopaths in the public eye to be at least as high proportionally as the number of sociopaths in the general public. Despite our low-achiever reputation due to high percentages in the prison population, our different way of looking at the world, charm, self-assuredness, and eye for exploitation opportunities would likely lead to success in any number of fields (am I looking at you, Bill Gates?). Plus politics is basically all about power. Why do you think anyone enters the game? There seems to be no money in it (if you're honest), or at least much less money than these people could get in the private sector. But I do think it makes people uncomfortable to think that the only people running their nations are so power hungry they would do anything to rule over others. There does seem to be a certain latent conflict of interest there...