Last week I provided a magick-centered analysis of the three front-runners in the Republican presidential primary. I argued that the best challenger for Barack Obama next year would be the one who could most successfully cast a series of spells. Through demonstrating his or her Political Authenticity, Literacy, and Competence, one GOP candidate would prove him or herself the most skilled warrior. Each contender’s strengths and weaknesses dictated his archetypical characterization: Mitt Romney the Knight, Rick Perry the Barbarian, and Herman Cain the Wizard.
At last week’s first of two debates the Barbarian fell on his sword when he forgot the names of the government agencies he planned to hack apart. This pattern of continued clumsiness and several consecutive weeks without a recovery in the polls more than confirmed that Perry’s moment has passed. He joins his fellow regional Tea Party barbarian, the Minnesota Amazon Michele Bachmann, in the not-quite-competent-enough second tier. In all likelihood both will serve the defense of America against the Marxist and Islamist hordes through maintaining their current garrisons in the Texas governorship and in Congress. Thus we revise Perry’s Political Magick chart:
- Political Authenticity
- Political Literacy
And we also update Cain’s to reflect his ongoing struggles:
- Political Authenticity
- Political Literacy
- Political Competence
Cain continues to inspire doubts with his failures to establish his Political Literary. (There are only so many bungles Cain’s fans can stomach before they resign themselves to accepting this weakness as incorrigible, thus changing from red letters to a
strikethrough on the chart.) While still remaining in the top tier (and very much a contender for the nomination) the lingering sexual harassment allegations have further undermined the Capitali$t Wizard’s Political Authenticity spell. Even many of us still sympathetic to Cain, who see clearly the lack of credibility of his accusers’ stories, are not yet ready to give the campaign a 100% clean bill of health on the issue.
Here’s why: the charges have raised the possibility, if only as the merest shadow of a doubt, that some aspect of the allegations might be true. It doesn’t matter that Cain has an otherwise exemplary record and that all the allegations stem from one three-year-period, and that Ann Coulter has convincingly shown the hand of David Axelrod behind this conspiracy, as he was behind each of Obama’s campaigns from the state Senate forward. It doesn’t matter that Cain has a lovely wife of 43 years backing him up and a collection of character references longer than the toppings list at Godfather’s Pizza. All those things do is demonstrate that the allegations probably aren’t true. But probably isn’t good enough when defeating Obama is at stake. Conservatives are the ones who say their eyes are wide open to the absolute truth about human nature: Everyone has a dark side. It doesn’t matter how well we think we know someone. The same hypomanic personality that can propel a man like Herman Cain to succeed in the business world can also give him the confidence to try and burn his way through sexual and legal boundaries. The same Radical Spirit that blesses with energy, charisma, brilliance, and talent also can curse, invoking destructive demons who will cast assunder marriages and families.
The primary contest is not just about debating policy proposals and weighing candidates’ resumes. It’s the necessary moment for a very uncomfortable, very personal question for those who would dare seek to leave their mark on history. A subject that should be discussed in an intimate setting with a psychiatrist must instead be conducted as an anesthetic-free, Marathon Man-style surgical intervention performed by a 24 Hour Hydra-headed New Media. The question that matters most above all others: Does this human being have his or her personal demons under control? Here’s how I’d lay it out to each of the candidates one-on-one:
“Look, we know you’re crazy. You’re running for President — a job where all of a sudden you’re target #1 for every evil person on the planet. This is dangerous. Some would say suicidal. We accept that you’re crazy. You probably have some degree of hypomania, bipolar, cyclothymia, hyperthymia or other related mood disorder — most super successful artists, leaders, and businessmen do. That’s fine. But what we need to know right now in no uncertain terms: do you control your crazy or does your crazy control you?”
And so it is that the newest member of the GOP primary top tier comes into focus in archetypal terms: Newt Gingrich is a Genie, the most powerful political magician running for president. But this great energy and quick intellect have come at a heavy cost, confining Gingrich within his lamp for the past decade, a place where he’s likely to return should primary voters actually be forced to think about him seriously.
Next: Why Newt Gingrich can mesmerize the base…
Then as a mover and shaker with power:
Newt Gingrich’s Political Magick Chart:
- Political Literacy
- Political Competency
When pundits say that Gingrich is a good debater, what they’re really saying is that he knows how to spell out his political points in enchanting ways. He knows what to say (Political Literacy) and how to say it (Political Competency). Without question he has the most advanced Political Literacy of any candidate, hence I put it in the brightest green WordPress can muster. And he has a proven track record. This is a Genie who has already granted the Conservative Movement two of its wishes in the 1990s: retaking Congress and passing welfare reform.
Gingrich can quickly assemble mental bolts and then fire them so they hit their targets. His supporters are right to promote the fantasy of a Gingrich-Obama debate in which the speaker unleashes the full range of his rhetorical arsenal on a now crippled, exhausted, lost-without-his-Teleprompter Barack Obama.
But that’s still a ridiculous long shot for two reasons. On the spell of Political Authenticity, Gingrich is doubly doomed.
First, how is the Tea Party critique of Mitt Romney (he’s allegedly the Washington Republican Establishment’s flip flopping RINO narcissist who will say anything and assume any position to get elected) not more or less equally applicable to Gingrich? Katrina Trinko hits each of the Newt-Is-Not-The-Anti-Romney notes in this neat article at NRO.
Second, and more important in fatally disrupting voters’ ability to trust Gingrich:
But the Bloomberg poll suggests Gingrich’s marital history — he is on his third marriage and has admitted to having an affair — may mean trouble for the former House speaker. Respondents were split, 48% to 49%, over whether they would rule out a candidate who has been married three times and had extramarital affairs.
Whenever I get into arguments with my friends about Gingrich they usually fail to understand why the “personal baggage” is a deal breaker for supporting Newt at the primary level. They try and argue that someone’s “private life” should be separate from their job. “Who cares if they’re cheating on their wife as long as they’re doing a great job as president? I’m not married to him.”
Gingrich’s “personal baggage” is such a big deal not only in and of itself but because of what it symbolizes: we doubt that this man is in control of his demons. How do we know during the campaign (or worse, as president) he won’t have another “bimbo eruption”? (Oh don’t you just want to take a shower after reading that horrible, Clintonian phrase?)
When my Gingrich-boosting friends point out that Newt will be almost 70 and probably less interested in screwing around they’re missing the point. Read Belladonna Rogers’ masterful article defining the Narcissist. And be glad that you’ve apparently never been victimized by such a personality — the only way to really learn how dangerous such people can be. The other point they’re missing is that 70 is the new 50 – 70-year-old men are romping with 20-year-old women from sea to shining sea thanks to the wonders of the world of medicine.
When Gingrich groupies point to Newt’s third marriage and conversion to Catholicism as having given him greater stability then the pro-Newt case has revealed itself: a blind leap of faith much shakier than the probably to which Cain fans still cling. You want me to trust that the basic psychological orientation not to mention the flaws of character that nearly destroyed a man in his 50s have been magically dissolved by the time he’s in his 60s? So much so that I should trust his judgment and temperament with my family’s lives?
This is not to make Gingrich an untouchable. The man is a force to be reckoned with and he still has many more contributions to make in defense of freedom. But come on: There are plenty of other things magickal people can do other than run for president.
Now exiled to the realm of commentator and cultural figure:
Finally: Why we’re a Mad Country and all of our greatest leaders are insane political narcissists…
I’ve been reading these four books simultaneously the past few weeks as I try to understand the Alice in Wonderland ”We’re All Mad Here” dynamic that seems to define the participants of America’s political culture:
Touched with Fire: Manic Depression and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison argues that bipolar disorder fuels artistic and creative ability. She documents how the symptoms for a number or mood disorders appeared in the lives of many of the past centuries’ most prominent writers, painters, composers, and especially poets. Jamison explains how the manic depressive’s experience of swinging from mood to mood allows the artist to continually create and analyze from a variety of perspectives, thus being able to create groundbreaking new works. (I mentioned Touched with Fire and the relationship between bipolar and cool in this article from October about Cool and Baby Boomer culture.) In the political contests we see the same thing — the ability to launch off some cool retort to a debate moderator comes from the same psychic well as the poet’s verse. Psychological abnormalities fuel magickal ability and can be utilized regardless of whether the spell is a political slogan, or rock lyric, innovative line of computer code, or illicit barroom seduction.
John D. Gartner’s The Hypomanic Edge builds on Jamison’s thesis and applies it to American businessmen, explorers, and entrepreneurs. In six chapters he examines the psychology of Christopher Columbus, John Winthrop, Roger Williams, William Penn, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Carnegie, the Hollywood mogul families of the Selznicks and the Mayers, and the human genome scientist Craig Venter. Gartner puts forth a startling thesis: the American character and personality is innately different at the genetic level because we are a nation of immigrants. We’re just naturally going to have more of these intense, emotional, risk-taker, sometimes self-destructive people than other non-immigrant countries. Gartner writes,
A small empirical literature suggests that there are elevated rates of manic-depressive disorder among immigrants, regardless of what country they are moving from or to. America, a nation of immigrants, has higher rates of mania than every other country studied (with the possible exception of New Zealand, which topped the United States in one study)…. While we have no cross-cultural studies of hypomania, we can infer that we would find increased levels of hypomania among immigrant-rich nations like America, since mania and hypomania run together in the same families.
Thus it’s no surprise that this would be the nature of our leaders today — it was centuries ago.
Nassir Ghaemi’s A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness focuses on political and military leaders (this Washington Times review is a good, quick summary, here’s an excerpt):
In “A First-Rate Madness,” he employs a case-study approach, using outstanding figures from history to illustrate how bipolar mentality can disable or enhance the ability of leaders to cope with crisis. His subjects are William T. Sherman, Ted Turner, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Adolf Hitler. In each of these cases, there was early history of mood swings, some dominated by depression, others by ebullient, thymic personality (FDR in particular).
The first three chapters of Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals explore the amoral lives and cruel personalities of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Percy Shelley, and Karl Marx. All three fit the same pattern: deeply magnetic, magickal creativity and intellect capable of manifesting world-changing ideas. And absolute personal life disasters with hateful, arrogant, uber-narcissist temperaments. They abused everyone they loved. Shelley is also featured prominently in Touched with Fire.
These books examine the unmasked, inner worlds of major figures in the political, economic, and cultural life of the West. How much of our political culture are symptoms of psychologically disturbed, destructive people trying to project their own personal misery onto the rest of us? How much careerist workaholism is a tragic attempt to avoid dealing with one’s own brokenness? Are radicals attracted to apocalyptic political narratives of a dying world and collapsing society because such visions mirror their own internal mood swings? Is Johnson really on to something when he links Marx’s early poetry to the destructive political theology later defined in Das Kapital? Is it a coincidence that Marxist and Rousseauian political theory — which have proven suicidal for societies — were conceived by self-destructive men? What does it mean that we can see depression among several of the founders and other historical defenders of freedom such as Lincoln and Churchill? Does it mean that the great battles of human history — that stretch out across the millennia and involved hundreds of millions of people — boil down to contests between those who have mastered their demons and those mastered by them?
I don’t know yet but it’s a subject I’m going to keep exploring.
Back when I was a Chomskyite “progressive” in college I always used to look down on the “simple-minded” people who supposedly made their presidential vote on something superficial: which candidate would I rather have a beer with? At a time when I believed religiously that the United States was committing genocide over in Iraq, this question almost seemed offensive.
And of course I resented this argument because in my bones I knew that it made George W. Bush beat John Kerry. Yet even after my intellectual migration to Tea Party conservatism I still maintained an almost “elitist” mentality when it came to how one should vote. “Think about the issues! Who cares if you like the person or not? It’s the policies that matter! We need to vote for the ideas that will fix this country. That’s what we need in our leader: someone with the right ideas who understands how our government is supposed to actually function.” (Not coincidentally this is basically the argument for Gingrich.)
But what if actually the superficial approach is right? What if we should follow our hearts instead of our heads? What if actually we should gravitate toward whoever in the race is the most decent, most moral, most ethical, most friendly, most likable, most sincerely spiritual and religious, and above all most upstanding person?
This is just a rephrasing of the question I posed on the first page which I now submit for debate and discussion to PJM’s commenting community:
Who among the GOP presidential contenders most has their personal demons in check?
Update: Check out my new article today following up on this piece: Can Herman Cain Rise Back Up on a Cloud of Marijuana Smoke?
Check out my previous PJ Counterculture articles: