Mel Schwartz, LCSW

The President’s Psyche

Once a year, the president is required to have their annual physical check up. We want to assure ourselves that our leader is in proper working order; at least physically. Our orientation toward the physical at the cost of ignoring the psychological/emotional is both short sighted and potentially calamitous. We are at far greater risk of disaster due to a president’s emotional distress or psychological disorder than from disease or even a heart attack. A competent vice-president is at least theoretically able to step in as an able replacement. But the consequences of executive actions derived from a challenged psyche could literally end life on this planet.

I propose that an emotional and psychological evaluation be required not only of sitting presidents but the party’s nominees for the office. Much has been written and suggested recently about John McCain’s erratic temperament. He is said to be reactive and not given to self-reflection. He sees reality in stark black and white contrasts and his approach to international challenges are inclined toward bellicosity and militarism. His singing— bomb, bomb, bomb..bomb Iran..sung to the Beach Boys melody— concerns me greatly. War and death are hardly joking matters. Given the traumatic experience of his years of confinement and torture as a prisoner of war, I might wonder how this has informed his worldview. Is his penchant toward militarism as opposed to diplomacy influenced by the trauma of his captivity?

Possibly, but we can’t necessarily conclude so. After all, Nelson Mandela, although not tortured, was confined for a greater length of time and is not similarly inclined toward conflict. But shouldn’t we be asking these questions?

It is utterly irresponsible and beyond dangerous to elect individuals to our highest office without any attention to their emotional/psychological condition. The fate of the world hangs on their decisions. Doesn’t is serve us to know the psychological filter through which they operate?

Just consider that the NFL does psychological evaluations of prospective players so as to protect both their image and their investments. And we simply assume that our presidents are psychologically well. This is lunacy.

Grave matters of war and economic crises are not simply decided upon by rational intervention but more often influenced by personal biographical history and by the recesses of one’s unconscious. Olive’s Stone’s movie W illuminates how interpersonal family relations not only impact an individual, but ultimately may be at the source of decisions to go to war. It might appear that Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was as much influenced by his compensatory need to compete with and seek approval from his father as by other competing considerations. Attacking another country may be more influenced by early childhood memories of parental authority and punishment than by failed diplomacy. I for one am more concerned with how our president’s think than by what they think.

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This is definately lunacy. Someone in such a position needs to be evaluated on every level. Especially someone like John McCain who as you mentioned, who is a bit too “pro-war” for my taste. I sure hope he just doesn’t “snap” if he’s having a bad day and hit the bomb button too quickly! Furthermore, I have always found that anyone who has been involved war personally tends to have a very hardened opinion of things. Tramatic experiences can certainly affect our view of things and only therapy may be the answer to help with that. Do we know if John McCain had any therapy after his capture?

Someone who has such a rigid view of things is a red flag for me. As we grow older I think we discover that not everything is so cut and dry, and that we need to sometimes take a closer look at things that seem to be so clear cut. Slowing down and really thinking about things…big or small, can help you focus and make a better decision.

One final note: I have also read that some of McCain’s colleagues either like him or hate him. Some are even afraid of him. Hmm…talk about interesting. Do we really want someone who is going to make people afraid of him? He doesn’t sound like a person who has a lot of social skills to me. Do what I say or else? Where does that frame of mind come from?

Enough said.

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