Mitt Romney is a confusing candidate sometimes. And by sometimes, I mean most of the time. Maybe all the time. From “corporations are people” to calmly dissing London’s handling of the Olympics, in London, during the Olympics, the presumptive Republican nominee frequently demonstrates a bizarre and perplexing disconnect from the feelings or reactions of others. His lack of empathy, even years later, for family dog Seamus is equally curious, as is his claim he doesn’t remember bullying a gay classmate.
The latest Mitt-doesn’t-get-people video features the Republican candidate walking away from a dying man who is a wheelchair user, apparently unaffected by the young man and unwilling to answer his question:
I tend to shy away from any pop-psychology attempt to diagnose from a distance, but this is becoming impossible to ignore. Romney does not react to other people in the way that most individuals–even politicians, and even extremely wealthy individuals–do. Could Romney simply be one of the 2% of human beings (according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in On Killing) who are without what we call a “conscience?”
Diagnostic criteria follow:
The World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, tenth edition (ICD-10), defines a conceptually similar disorder to antisocial personality disorder called (F60.2) Dissocial personality disorder.
It is characterized by at least 3 of the following:
Callous unconcern for the feelings of others.
Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations.
Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.
Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.
Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment.
Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.
There may be persistent irritability as an associated feature.
The diagnosis includes what may be referred to as amoral, antisocial, psychopathic, and sociopathic personality (disorder).
The criteria specifically rule out conduct disorders. Dissocial personality disorder criteria differ from those for antisocial and sociopathic personality disorders.
It is a requirement of ICD-10 that a diagnosis of any specific personality disorder also satisfies a set of general personality disorder criteria.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV-TR), defines antisocial personality disorder (in Axis II Cluster B) as:
A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:
failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead;
irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;
B) The individual is at least age 18 years.
C) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.
The individual must be at least 18 years of age to be diagnosed with this disorder (Criterion B), but those diagnosed with ASPD as adults were commonly diagnosed with conduct disorder as children. The prevalence of this disorder is 3% in males and 1% from females, as stated in the DSM IV-TR.
Obviously, none of us is Romney’s psychologist, but there’s a lot here that rings true about behaviors like his teenage bullying habits, his mistreatment of a family pet, and his actions at Bain Capital. There’s also his complete willingness to change his beliefs when it’s politically advantageous to do so. Most candidates flip-flop here and there, but retain a few core beliefs that are especially important to them. Romney appears simply to calculate the political benefit of a stance and then adopt it.
I have a personal interest in personality disorders and have done extensive reading on the subject of antisocial personality disorder. Forensic psychology is a career path I considered seriously. In my reading on the subject, I have found it consistently noted that many individuals with characteristics consistent with this personality disorder are extremely successful in business and do not commit the violent acts typically associated with the popular perception of “sociopathy.” Lt. Col. Grossman even notes in On Killing that these individuals are highly valuable in certain parts of the military, so long as they are willing to memorize and follow rules. In The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout describes several cases of successful executives whose sociopathy is an advantage, as they are not burdened or stressed by their decisions in the way that a typical person would be, so they do not suffer negative health consequences or emotional distress upon making a necessary business decision that causes harm to others.
Of course, this begs the question: If a politician who happens to be sociopathic becomes President, will this be an advantage or a disadvantage?
In my personal opinion, there are reasons not to elect Romney that are far more firmly based in fact than the theory–albeit one I’m hearing more and more often, including from some conservative friends–that Romney is not neurotypical. However, it’s an interesting question.
Had you asked me prior to the Romney campaign, I might have leaned toward the “advantage” side, because advisers can provide a rule set to the President which effectively synthesizes the benefits of conscience to the President and the country. Meanwhile, this theoretical sociopath President would not be prone to make illogical decisions based on sympathy for one or another group of people over others. The example that comes to mind is Truman’s description, in his autobiography, of an old friend’s emotional appeal which convinced then-President Truman to support Israel’s petition to be granted a country. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of that decision, it’s clear that a sitting President admitted to making a decision which led to one of the most violent conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries, primarily based on his emotional reaction to a friend’s appeal to his conscience.
However, Romney’s behaviors seem to suggest some disadvantages that might be less immediately obvious. He doesn’t convincingly mimic empathy behaviors, even when he’s talking to world leaders. He does not take advantage of opportunities to appear caring, relatable, or ordinary. In other words, he’s the anti-Bush: Nobody, even a Republican, wants to have a beer with Romney. George W. Bush was praised by some conservatives for being genuine, forthcoming, and making decisions from his “gut.” He was the red-blooded conservative male archetype, or at least an effective approximation of one.
Some news outlets have attributed Romney’s failure to appeal to Bush’s biggest fans to a “wimp factor”. But could a guy who hard-heartedly cuts and outsources jobs really be considered a “wimp?” I don’t think so–a wimp wouldn’t have gone so far in the cutthroat corporate world. Romney has demonstrated that he is decisive in the moment, although prone to waffling and revisionist history afterward.
Rather, it seems to me that it’s possible Romney isn’t connecting with the Bushites because of something a little harder to prove: He does not have moral convictions, gut instincts, or anything that could convince voters that President Romney is “just like them,” “genuine,” or “a real upstanding kind of guy,” as Bush was described by his supporters. They can’t relate to him the way people could to Bush, because Romney can’t relate to them the way Bush could.
“Romney sociopath” yields 295,000 Google results, though it’s worth noting that “Obama sociopath” nets 768,000, including this vituperative condemnation in Mother Jones magazine, followed up by a colleague’s rebuke in the same publication. None of the first page of Google results for “Obama sociopath” makes a serious argument based on DSM criteria; this letter to the editor is the closest thing.
So, I don’t think people simply tend to accuse politicians they don’t like of sociopathy. There are a few results out there even for Bush, but most focus simply on his foreign policy and that he appears to feel no meaningful guilt for starting multiple wars in which lives were lost. Romney is the only modern candidate I could find who attracts calculated, expert analysis that suggests he may simply be a person without conscience.
Worth discussing? I think so, at this point, following his disastrous “world tour” in which he offended nearly everyone on Earth once, something that would impress even Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged.