We are the 99%

July 26, 2009

Jack Kelly Sunday

With this week's column, Jack Kelly gives us all a valuable lesson in rightwing psychobabble. The topic: President Obama's supposed "narcissism."

Sometimes deconstructing Jack Kelly is difficult (i.e. last week) and sometimes (i.e. this week) it's easy as easy can be.

Jack begins by defending (yet again) the Alaskan quitter, Governor Sarah Palin:

In his hit piece on Sarah Palin for Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum wrote:

"More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin's extravagant self regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of 'narcissistic personality disorder' in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- 'a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration and lack of empathy' -- and thought it fit her perfectly."

Bill Clinton last year described Mr. Purdum as a "sleazy, slimy scumbag," despite the fact that Mr. Purdum is married to his former press secretary, Dee Dee Myers. And I suspect the anonymous Alaskans are a product of Mr. Purdum's imagination. But because he has gone there, I now feel free to write something I've thought about a lot, but have hesitated to put into print.

With that he begins his psychobabble. There's so much to correct, however, in his opening that were we to step over it, this thick gooey smeary steaming pile of spin that it is, we'd miss a great deal of Jack's subtle wingnut tradecraft.

So we'll start with the Vanity Fair piece. Jack, of course, fails to deliver the rest of Purdum's paragraph - stuff that, as you'll see, perhaps sheds light on why someone might think there's "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity" inside the perfectly coiffed head of Alaska's most famous ex-Governor. Here's Purdum's full paragraph with the edited-out part in bold:
More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly. When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig’s condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God’s, and signed it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.” [ephasis added.]
She did what?? Yep. I guess for Jack it's not too grandiose to speak for (or in this case e-mail for) The Supreme Being. Huh. Interesting.

And what about Bill Clinton's reaction to Purdum? It can be found here. Any idea why Clinton doesn't like Purdum? After describing Purdum's piece last year on the Clinton as "dishonest," Bill Clinton then says of Purdum:
"That's all right-- he's still a scumbag," Clinton said. "Let me tell ya--he's one of the guys--he's one of the guys that propagated all those lies about Whitewater to Kenneth Starr. He's just a dishonest guy-- can't help it."
Interesting that Jack would leave that out, too! Does he agree with Clinton that Purdum's reporting on Whitewater made the reporter a "scumbag"? Not surprisingly, he leaves that out.

Now we get to his last sentence of his opening:
But because he has gone there, I now feel free to write something I've thought about a lot, but have hesitated to put into print.
He's talking of course, about Obama's narcissism. But, dear reader, this is not the first time he's written about, oh no. A year ago today, RealClearPolitics published a column by Jack Kelly titled:
Obama's Narcissism
Now he says he's hesitant to put it in print? Did he think no one would check? And (again, I have to ask this) why did no one at the P-G check?

NOW we get to talk about the psychobabble. First the charge:
"Barack Obama appears to be a narcissist," wrote Shmuel (Sam) Vaknin, a psychologist who's written two books on narcissism, in July of 2008. "Narcissistic leaders are nefarious and their effects pernicious. They are subtle, refined, socially adept, manipulative, possessed of thespian skills and convincing. [They] lack empathy and are ruthless and relentless."

Only after lengthy tests and personal interviews can a qualified mental-health professional determine whether someone suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, Mr. Vaknin acknowledged. But for his article in the American Chronicle, Mr. Vaknin constructed the kind of psychological profile the CIA commissions on foreign leaders.

You'd think that after Jack Kelly calls Vaknin a "psychologist" he's some sort of, well licensed psychologist, right? That he has a degree in psychology of some sort, right? That he's a mental health professional, right?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong on all counts.

Take a look at the CV at Vaknin's website. There is a Ph.D in philosophy from the now defunct (?) Pacific Western University listed at the Library of Congress website. No degrees in psychology, psychiatry, social work, or any mental health disciplines of any kind. Indeed, Vaknin even acknowledges on his own site:
In publishing this Web site, the author makes no representations concerning the efficacy, appropriateness or suitability of any products or treatments. Use this site at your own risk. The author of this Web site, is not a mental health professional and has no relevant background or training in psychology or psychiatry. [all emphasis in the original]
Jack left that part out, doncha know.

Again, Jack. C'mon. Did you think no one would check?

Though Vaknin does note that he has certfication from something called Brainbench, which is described by Businessweek as:
Brainbench, Inc. provides assessment products and services. The company focuses on offering online assessment and employment screening and testing services. It provides pre-employment screening tests and testing products, such as personality, employment history survey, software simulations, interview guides, custom assessments and consulting services, and proctored administration; speaking, writing, and listening; and knowledge, skills, and abilities.
And Jack should have checked his source just a teensy bit better as Sam Vaknin is the subject of a CBC documentary called "I, Psychopath" where he's described as:
[A] self-proclaimed psychopath, goes in search of a diagnosis. In a scientific first, he allows himself to undergo testing to find out if he was born without a conscience. He knows he's narcissistic and cannot empathize with others. By his own admission, he's pompous, grandiose, repulsive and contradictory, ruthless and devoid of scruples, capricious and unfathomable... but he believes, he's not a bad person. What he is indifferent...he couldn't care less. Unless, of course, the topic is himself.
So when the headline asks "Who's the narcissist?" we now know that one answer, at least, is Sam Vaknin, Jack's main source for information on this week's smear. Sam, by his own admission, may even be a psychopath.

Good going, Jack. Great source vetting. Did you even bother to check it out? And if so, did you think no one else would?

But let's move on in Jack's column. Again, what Jack leaves out is very telling. Here's Jack:

"Barack Obama appears to be a narcissist," wrote Shmuel (Sam) Vaknin, a psychologist who's written two books on narcissism, in July of 2008. "Narcissistic leaders are nefarious and their effects pernicious. They are subtle, refined, socially adept, manipulative, possessed of thespian skills and convincing. [They] lack empathy and are ruthless and relentless."

Only after lengthy tests and personal interviews can a qualified mental-health professional determine whether someone suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, Mr. Vaknin acknowledged.

And here's the relevant section that Jack quotes from Vaknin piece in The American Chronicle:
Barack Obama appears to be a narcissist. Scroll down for a detailed treatment.

Granted, only a qualified mental health diagnostician (which I am not) can determine whether someone suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and this, following lengthy tests and personal interviews. But, in the absence of access to Barack Obama, one has to rely on his overt performance and on testimonies by his closest, nearest and dearest.

Narcissistic leaders are nefarious and their effects pernicious. They are subtle, refined, socially-adept, manipulative, possessed of thespian skills, and convincing. Both types equally lack empathy and are ruthless and relentless or driven. [emphasis added.]
Notice, again, what Jack omitted? He omitted the part where Vaknin admits he's not a "qualified mental health diagnostician." Any idea why Jack omitted it?

Simple: Including that part would more or less completely undermine the impression Jack is looking to give. He wants you to think that Vaknin is an expert (a "psychologist", in fact) and that what he says about Obama's "narcissism" is somehow valid because of this professional expertise - that the only thing standing in the way of Vaknin actually making this diagnosis is his lack of access to the President.

A larger point here is that Jack must know Vaknin's not a licensed diagnostician - but tries to let you think it anyway.

How dishonest is that?

Even for Jack, it's a doozy.

5 comments:

macyapper@blogspot.com said...

I demand to know whether Jack Kelly is even an American citizen.

Clyde Wynant said...

Born of a jackal, I say!

Hey, that business about Sarah and The Big G? Reminds me an awful lot of Rick Santorum's wife and her heart-rending tome about the dead baby they brought home for the kids to ogle.

I wish I had this sort of insider knowledge and access to God; I sure as hell ask him what the point of cancer is. And I wouldn't leave until I got a good answer. None of that "suffering is good for you" bullshit!

EdHeath said...

I posted about this at my blog.

One thing I think worth pointing out is that of Kelly's five points about narcissists, at least three seem to apply more to Bush. “subtly misrepresents facts and expediently and opportunistically shifts positions;” – WMD’s. “feels that he is above the law;”-the Unitary Presidency. “has a messianic-cosmic vision of himself”- Google “Bush talks to God”; there’s a 2003 USA Today article where Commerce Secretary Don Evans says Bush believes God called him to lead the Country at that time.

Dayvoe said...

I saw that, Ed. GOOD JOB!

I was going to address the point you made about how the definition of narcissist is a better fit for Bush than it is for Obama, but I tired out.

Took me 3+ hours to write mine this morning. Most of it was tracking down Vaknin and his PhD.

I may go back and tie up a few loose ends (the Queen's ipod, for one). Or I may not.

Clyde Wynant said...

Good job by both of you!

One thing that goes unsaid in this discussion is that most leaders at that level probably are narcissists to one extent or another. Having kicked around politics, I can tell you that it isn't the well-adjusted normal person who gets ahead; it's the driven, obsessed, strong-willed, single-minded candidate. Even lower level pols like Congressman (and women) are usually egoists. It's somewhat the nature of the political process that we demand them to be "sure of their positions." So, in a way, we contribute to the problem....

I'm not making excuses for Bush or any of these clinically whacked people, but it is a thin line between narcissist and "great leader."