Friday, October 29, 2004

Ironic endorsements

I'm tired of Andrew Sullivan. I've sparred with him in his LETTERS section, and thought about him way too much. I'm trying to swear off having anything to do with him anymore, because he has simply become an unserious thinker. I wonder whether he ever really was anything else.

Others--most notably, Lileks--have excoriated Sullivan far better than I ever could. And now that Sullivan has finally done the inevitable, almost endlessly-telegraphed-in-advance thing--endorsed Kerry, with convoluted "reasoning" that gives this reader a headache--I would like to finally sign off on him. We'll see if I succeed.

But Hitchens is another story. All around the blogosphere, people are scratching their heads at Hitchens' recent endorsement of Kerry in Slate. I'm scratching my head, too, but that's because I don't read his piece as an endorsement, especially since he had (slightly) endorsed Bush in the Nation just a few days earlier.

I may be utterly alone in thinking this, but it seems to me that Hitchens has set up a sort of ironic math puzzle or game of logic, offering an arch challenge to the reader. "You figure it out, if you're so smart," he seems to be saying.

So, here's my score sheet: Hitchens postulates three types of endorsement, and offers a Bush and a Kerry evaluation under each type, for a total of six.

--Bush gets it, for confronting the enemy
--Kerry loses it, for being unprincipled

--Kerry gets it (albeit somewhat backhandedly), as his election would
force the Dems to "get real" about Iraq
--Bush loses it, for poor planning

Ironic --they both get it (although this hardly counts, since this category
would seem to be a joke)

So, the score is even, two endorsements for each. There's a slight edge for Bush, though, because he receives what I would call the only serious vote, the one in the "subjective" category, for confronting the enemy.

Which leaves us with a slight edge for Bush, completely consistent with what Hitchens wrote in his Nation piece.

So perhaps Hitchens has set up a puzzle here, with clues. It would certainly suit his contrarian, superior, sarcastic nature if he'd done so.

Update 11/1/04: It appears (if I can trust this article), that Hitchens agrees with me. For now. Apparently, the Slate piece was meant to be a Bush endorsement, but the editors screwed up by labeling it for Kerry. Ah, editors! I've had a little trouble myself with them in the past, so I can well believe it.

Later: and now, straight from the horse's mouth, as it were.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Stop me before I lie again

Why is Kerry still lying about General Shinseki's "firing?"

It seems puzzling, because it's not even a "nuanced" lie--that is, there's no way to spin it. It's just a simple fact that Shinseki wasn't fired for saying there should be more troops, and this can be easily proven, so Kerry is just flat-out lying through his teeth. In addition, Kerry no longer has the defense of having made an honest mistake, because it's gone on way too long. Even his buddies in the mainstream media have called him on it, although not as loudly as they should have .

But tonight, in the second debate, there it was again: the Shinseki "firing." So the mystery remains: why lie? Most liars lie for strategic reasons, and, when found out in their lies, they make excuses, or come up with another lie. But Kerry's lies are only partly strategic, designed to win an argument. The rest is driven by his character disorder, narcissism, which often involves the trait of compulsive lying. Essentially, Kerry is a habitual liar who is simply in the habit of lying and perhaps even has difficulty distinguishing between lies and truth.

Character disorders are usually constant throughout life. They are not particularly amenable to treatment or intervention--that's why they're called "character disorders," meaning that the flaws are deeply embedded in the basic character of the person.

As for narcissistic personality disorder, which I believe Kerry suffers from (although I must say that with a character disorder, it's usually the people around the character-disordered person who are doing most of the suffering)--the following are the relevant traits. You be the judge as to whether they fit Kerry--I think it's a slam dunk :

The disorder begins by early adulthood [Swift Vets, anyone?] and is indicated by at least five of the following:
1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. Believes he is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Has a sense of entitlement
6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends
7. Lacks empathy
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him
9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes

And this is also spot on:

...a narcissistic individual has a shifting morality--always ready to shift values to gain favor... [Flipper?]

...Their tendency is to form friendships or romantic relationships with only those that can enhance their self-esteem or advance their purposes. [Teresa, mega-heiress?]

...A narcissist presents a false self to the world. Under his inferiority is a preoccupation with fantasies of outstanding achievement, ideal love, and an aimless orientation toward superficial interests...[wind-surfing?]

...The narcissist uses others to aid him in any tasks he undertakes and will frequently take credit for work which others have done. [Bronze Star #2?]

...The narcissistic individual may be more successful at his chosen field of work than some of the other personality disorders. This is because his work can be advantageous to the narcissist especially if it provides narcissistic supply. [well, the guy is a Senator, after all]

...Lying is an integral part of the narcissist's behavior [Bingo.]

Friday, October 08, 2004

Kerry the narcissist plans ahead

I noticed on Hugh Hewitt's blog today , some quotes from a recent Kerry interview, quotes that made my blood run cold. Here's the exchange:

Q. "If you are elected, given Paul Bremer's remarks, and deteriorating conditions as you have judged them, would you be prepared to commit more troops?"
A. "I will do what the generals believe we need to do without having any chilling effect, as the president put in place by firing General Shinseki, and I'll have to wait until January 20th. I don't know what I am going to find on January 20th, the way the president is going. If the president just does more of the same every day, and it continues to deteriorate, I may be handed Lebanon, figuratively speaking. Now, I just don't know. I can't tell you. What I'll tell you is, I have a plan. I have laid out my plan to America, and I know that my plan has a better chance of working. And in the next days I am going to say more about exactly how we are going to do what has been available to this Administration that it has chosen not to do. But I will make certain that our troops are protected. I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, and I will make sure that we are successful, and I know exactly what I am going to do and how to do it."

In a moment, I'm going to "psycho-fisk" Kerry's statement, sentence by sentence.

I'm hardly the first to point out that Kerry appears to have narcissistic personality disorder . That seems to be the source of his strange quality of speech, since every word is uttered not because of personal conviction, but to produce a particular effect. Now, all politicians do this, certainly, but Kerry does it to an extent I have never seen before in any politician. It seems as though every single one of his utterances follows the rule: is it good for Kerry? And, furthermore: is it bad for Bush? It doesn't matter whom he insults (generals, allies, Allawi) and truth or falsehood is not an issue (his statement about General Shinseki is false, and it's been pointed out often enough that Kerry must know that fact and not care) as long as he is puffing himself up in the process.

Taken sentence by sentence, his answer is quite a masterpiece of strategic expression. The question was so simple: "Would you commit more troops?" But the answer is not simple at all, as Kerry's answers never are.

SENTENCE 1: "I will do what the generals believe we need to do without having any chilling effect, as the president put in place by firing General Shinseki, and I'll have to wait until January 20th."

With great parsimony, Kerry combines in this one sentence: a) passing the buck ("I'll do whatever they tell me") about any decision he might actually make some day; b) the gratutitous insertion of the lie about Shinseki's firing, in order to slam Bush; c) the idea that he would love to act now because he's just chomping at the bit to rectify the mess, but unfortunately he'll have to wait till his inauguration. Since it goes without saying that he can't act till his inauguration, why does he say it? To set up the following thought, which can be summarized as, "Whatever happens, don't blame me; blame him!" (see sentences 2 and 3)

SENTENCES 2 and 3: "I don't know what I am going to find on January 20th, the way the president is going. If the president just does more of the same every day, and it continues to deteriorate, I may be handed Lebanon, figuratively speaking."

The phrase "the president" is repeated for emphasis, to implant in the listener's mind the idea that it's all Bush's, fault, and that Kerry can't be blamed for whatever deterioration might happen between now and January 20, since that imbecile Bush is in office till then. So Kerry is effectively absolving himself of all responsibility in the future. He is creating the excuse he will use if he is elected and things don't go well in Iraq when he, Kerry, is in office. It will all be Bush's fault. Of course, if Kerry is elected and things happen to go well, rest assured that Kerry will take full credit, saying he has done it despite the mess Bush handed him. For a narcissist, all possible failures are blamed on another, all possible accomplishments are credited to the self.

SENTENCES 4 and 5: "Now, I just don't know. I can't tell you."

These short sentences are a kind of filler. Like another person might say "hmm" or "uhhh," Kerry says, "I don't know, I can't say." It's reflexive, and represents his profound inability to commit to a position or even make a statement.

SENTENCES 6 and 7: "What I'll tell you is, I have a plan. I have laid out my plan to America, and I know that my plan has a better chance of working."

Here Kerry rouses himself to snap out of the reflexive waffling of sentences 4 and 5 with his mantra, "plan." The word "plan" has become the substitute for an actual plan. Saying the word will stand for the thing itself, and give the appearance of decisiveness and action. Kerry now defines himself as the man with the plan. That's all ye need to know. But he's also the man with the plan who's been accused of never being specific about that plan, so now he is careful to correct that misapprehension: he's the man with the plan that he has "laid out to America" so see, you can't accuse him of not being specific! And of course he knows, he just magically knows, that his plan has "a better chance of working." He doesn't have to say why it has a better chance, he just knows it does and we should trust him because he is who he is. And notice he doesn't say it has a "good" chance of working; he says it has a "better" chance of working. Inherent in the word Kerry uses here is a comparison, the idea that Bush's plan is worse. Kerry never misses an opportunity to criticize someone else while puffing himself up.

SENTENCE 8: "And in the next days I am going to say more about exactly how we are going to do what has been available to this Administration that it has chosen not to do."

Another packed sentence. Kerry won't say more about this plan now, because he hasn't a clue what he means. So he defers the description of the plan to some unspecified later time when he knows he'll never have to answer the question ("in the next days"). But at that hazy future time he will say exactly what he is going to do, because once again he is making sure he is perceived as decisive and specific by using a word like "exactly." And that very specific and exact thing that he can't say now but will of course say later is not just something that he himself has come up with, it's something that "has been available to this administration"--again, Kerry must define himself only in comparison to Bush's perceived failings. And this unspecified inexact but exact available thing that Bush has failed to do, and that in a few days will become exact, is not a simple failure. It's a failure of choice; Bush could have done this exact and successful thing, but has "chosen not to do" it. Which makes Bush exceptionally bad, since he could have done a successful thing but chose not to.

SENTENCES 9 and 10: "But I will make certain that our troops are protected. I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, and I will make sure that we are successful, and I know exactly what I am going to do and how to do it."

Here we have only two sentences, but the word "I" is used five times. Kerry is painting a picture of himself as a man of action. And this man of action is an individual who will do those things by himself, magically unassisted. Notice how he doesn't say, "I will appoint a better Secretary of Defense" or "better generals" or "reform the intelligence community" or "rally the troops" to do any of those things. No, he, personally, Kerry himself by himself, will protect those troops and kill those terrorists. I picture him as Rambo, chasing down Osama and shooting him with his trusty deer rifle. (Those who have read Unfit for Command will immediatley recognize this aspect of Kerry's personality). Kerry will be successful and he knows how to do it: exactly how to do it. There's that word "exactly" again, and it's no accident that it's there. It's there for the same reason it was there before--to make it seem as though there is something firm and specific in his mind, even though he isn't telling us and will never tell us. In fact, the entire passage is incoherent.

Well, it's been fun. But exhausting.

Friday, October 01, 2004

When is a debate not a debate?

When it's a Presidential debate.

I've always hated these things, from the Kennedy/Nixon days. They make me nervous and they perplex me. Debating seems to be a skill that has nothing--absolutely nothing--to do with being an effective president. And of course these debates have nothing in common with actual debates, which are rhetorical contests with certain rules and regulations and have nothing whatsoever to do with action and decisionmaking, and everything to do with argument.

One of the things I'm trying to do in this blog is to comment on things in light of my training as a therapist combined with my perspective as a newly-minted newsjunkie neocon. It's an unusual combination, I think, and it's what I have to offer that might be somewhat unique or distinctive. So, in this light, my observations on the debates are as follows:

Kerry is one slick operator, very experienced in this venue and relatively cool, calm, and collected. But his narcissism (and I mean that in the clinical sense: ) was on full display last night. The word "I" is not only his favorite word, but his voice caresses it and draws it out in a way that is very telling. He seems to believe that he only has to say that he will do something, and--by virtue of being the very remarkable "I" that he is--he will convince us that it will be done. It is a remarkable and very consistent trait, not a good thing in a leader, and clearly antithetical to any idea of coalition-building.

As for Kerry's policy statesments, others have discussed them better than I (for example, ; ). But I must say that Kerry said a few things that literally made my jaw drop: his emphasis on "summits" and the UN (I thought I was back in the early 60s); the giving of nuclear fuel to Iran as some sort of test; and the nixing of the bunker busters, one of the few weapons that have the potential to allow us to destroy nuclear weapons and material stored in underground bunkers by the likes of Iran or North Korea.

On the emotional side again, Bush seemed stressed and tired, careworn. That could play either way, depending on whether people feel (as I do) that his tiredness comes from working so hard for three years to make tough decisions, and having to campaign on top of it. Some people might feel somewhat protective of him--he's like a hardworking father coming home tired from a long day at work, wanting to just sit down and read the newspaper, but having to be pestered by this phoney-baloney droner, Kerry. Of course the Bush-haters will see it quite differently, but I'm talking more about others.

I wonder how anyone can credit a person like Kerry who only says, "He, Bush, did it wrong; but I, Kerry, would do it right," without providing a crumb of evidence as to why that would be so. Everyone hates Monday-morning quarterbacks, don't they? Everyone knows hindsight is 20/20, right?

Bush seemed to be angry, though--not visibly, but underneath, and it made him rush his sentences more than usual, especially in the first half of the debate, and it made him seem confused and forced. And while it seems to me that Bush will be evaluated on his job performance by most people, I think this anger is a wild card in people's reactions. Those who are annoyed by Kerry will probably wonder that Bush wasn't even angrier, and will give Bush points for forbearance. But those who find Kerry okay will wonder what got Bush's goat. As for me, I think I know.

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