Mood Swings

A psychiatrist surveys the mind and the wider world

Iowa Speaks: How Should We Choose a President?

Why Iowa likes normal leaders.

The New Year reviving old desires, the thoughtful soul to solitude retires...

And finds that the good people of Iowa have selected, as potential Republican presidential candidate, two very staid, solid gentlemen: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. These leaders differ mainly in political doctrine: one being somewhat more moderate and the other somewhat more conservative. But psychologically, they are twins. Bright, successful, normal.

Just like Iowans: Normal, healthy, reliable, dependable people. Just like most Americans. But should our leaders be just like us? Or should they be a little different?

Is there something about leadership that involves traits that go above and beyond what characterizes an average person? Most people would agree, I think, that something like this must be the case. I've suggested some specific traits—realism, empathy, creativity, and resilience—that characterize great leaders specifically in times of crisis. I've also noted that these traits are more present in leaders who are not normal, from a psychiatric perspective, but rather have depression or bipolar disorder, at least to a mild degree.

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So if this is correct, Iowans are going down the usual path of preferring the normal and comfortable as opposed to the different and unpredictable options. I am not assuming that the other potential nominees definitely would be better leaders, but there is reason to think some of them might; it is notable that the quirky and unpredictable ones, like Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, especially have generated some unease. We now even know that Gingrich's mother had bipolar disorder, while bothersome perhaps to some, would actually increase the likelihood that he might have some of the crisis leadership traits I describe.

Middle America has given Republicans a middle-of-the-road preference.

But great leadership comes from other sources.

Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., M.P.H.,

is Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, and Director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. more...

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