Mood Swings

A psychiatrist surveys the mind and the wider world

New Hampshire Goes Normal

Explaining the psychological appeal of Romney

Among the ways that one can analyze Mitt Romney's win in New Hampshire, one approach involves psychiatric aspects of electing leaders.  In A First Rate Madness, I tried to show that many of our greatest crisis leaders had severe depression or bipolar illness, while many of our worst crisis leaders were normal and mentally healthy.  In other words, being normal has some disadvantages when it comes to being a great crisis leader. Such persons tend to be insufficiently creative, resilient, empathic, and realistic - all traits enhanced in depression and mania.

If this is true, and if Mitt Romney is supremely normal and mentally healthy - and there is no indication based on known public information otherwise - then the New Hampshire electorate has selected a very normal leader for a very abnormal time.  One reason for this choice may be that the electorate, the majority of the population, is also, by definition, normal and mentally healthy.  The population falls on a normal statistical curve of personality traits, and except for a few percent at either extreme, most people do not have mental illnesses or extreme personality traits.  Most people are normal. And normal people like normal people; they feel comfortable with each other; they want to have a beer with each other.  This is how the world's George W. Bushes and Tony Blairs - and Mitt Romneys - get elected.

See All Stories In

The Political Personality

Which traits get your vote on this Super Tuesday?

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

It takes a lot for the public to go for someone different.  Usually a very severe crisis is needed - like the great Depression and the mildly manic FDR; or world war, and the manic-depressive Churchill; or the peak of Cold War and the mildly manic JFK.  We are in crisis now, but the public has not yet turned to the unusual leaders, the ones who, as Steven Jobs said, are crazy enough to think they can change the world.  

Maybe there are no such leaders yet, or at least ones who are ready to volunteer.   Romney may also be winning, as many say, because of weak competition.  It is not without precedent that America will elect a president primarily because he is bland and unobjectionable - that is, notably normal.  Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, George H. W. Bush come to mind.  But such leaders are hardly leaders.

We in Massachusetts have experience with Governor Romney; he was a competent, pragmatic, effective governor in the peace and prosperity of the 1990s. And he was a highly successful businessman in the 1980s.  Just as the supremely sane Neville Chamberlain was an excellent mayor of Birmingham in the good times pre World War I, and a highly successful businessman previously. 

Americans have yet to find great leaders for our time, partly because Americans do not know how to find them. 

(NB: As is the general policy of this blog outlined in my post on blog bullying, uncivil comments and personal taunting will be deleted.) 

 

 

 

 

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...

Subscribe to Mood Swings

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?