Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ann Althouse and her commenters explore the question of whether Bill Clinton has sociopathic traits.


Blogger Cham said...

At this point I wish America's biggest problem was whether Mr. Clinton has sociapathic traits. Right now we have much bigger issues.

11:06 AM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could not agree with cham more. I also think it is not right to constantly tear a person to pieces like that. Sorry, can't jump on that band wagon on this one.

11:51 AM, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Bruce Hayden said...

Maybe getting a little incestuous here now. Helen is commenting on Ann commenting on what Helen said. And then getting threads started on each.

12:57 PM, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Ann Althouse said...

Hi, Bruce!

1:01 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the more important question is whether or not Hillary has any sociopathic traits. And frankly, I suspect hers are more latent AND more pervasive.


1:08 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

True, Bill Clinton is quite undisciplined and of questionable moral character. But he is not a sociopathopath, and attempts to label him as such grow tiresome, and just come across as juvenile and petty. The guy has probably been stuck in a sexless marriage for years, and he has WAY more opportunities to fool around than the average guy. There are tons of men who would behave similarly. Perhaps I would too if it weren't for the whole Catholic guilt thing (and if someone would flash me their thong). Granted, we don't want an average person as our chief executive, but I would simply consider the guy a flawed human being, not a sociopath.

2:46 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about this whole business. I think it's a little dangerous to one's self-honesty to try to use psychoanalysis against one's political opponents. (Using it against a politicial idea or culture, on the other hand... I have no problem with that, and e.g. Dr. Sanity does it very well.) The one comment I'll make at this point, and it's more a political than a psychological observation, is that Bill Clinton was always in campaign mode, even throughout his second term. It's pretty hard to be a campaigner and a leader at the same time. It reminds me a bit about what Vivian Vance once said about her days on "I Love Lucy". Apparently Lucielle Ball was pretty insecure about her place in the world at the time, and was always trying to "prove" that she belonged. Vance said that after one particularly trying episode, she said to Ball, "Geez, Lucy, lighten up -- you got the job already!"

3:46 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 2:46--

Did you say "tiresome, juvenile and petty"? Well, you've come to the right place, buddy.

What is that term they like to throw about here? BDS- Bush Derangement Syndrome? These people invented it with Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

3:55 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think psychoanalysis at a distance is perilous and unwise. So naturally I'm going to indulge in some here.

I had the same reaction to Clinton that some of Ann's commentators had: His "charisma" immediately rubbed me the wrong way. Since his politics also appalled me, I had no particular motivation to get past my initial impression. So there is possibly a real sense in which I suffered from Clinton Derangement Syndrome: I just assumed he was lying every time he opened his mouth.

Curiously, I had an equally strong reaction to Gingrich, who I described at the time as what Clinton saw when he looked in the mirror: Left swapped for Right but otherwise identical.

I had a similar, if weaker, reaction to Reagan. I have a similar reaction to my own Senator. I voted for both anyway on their policy positions.

I did not have this reaction to either Bush. No one that clumsy in his speech and mannerisms could come across as a polished liar. In this respect, they resembled Nixon.

The only two politicians I can think of, off the top of my head, who haven't come across as either Clintonesque or Nixonian are Carter and McCain. Both appear to be absolutely sincere. Both, unfortunately, seem to be so convinced of their own moral rightness as to border on mental illness. You can add this Wilsonian model to the Clintonesque and Nixonian models.

At present, my expectation is that I will write in the name of my pet dog in the next presidential election, then turn off the radio and television, leave the papers on the curb, and stay away from my Web browser for at least a week.

4:29 PM, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Eric said...

After writing a post critical of her, I was "diagnosed" as a sociopath by a Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte (a woman I don't think is a licensed psychologist).

Naturally, this left me in quite a quandary. I could either take it personally and be hurt (thus evincing the inability to tolerate rejection that you described in the earlier post), or I could not care at all (thus proving to "Dr. Marcotte's" supporters that I am a sociopath).

I may not be 100% right, but I suspect that if I were a real sociopath, my primary goal would not be to grapple with hurt feelings or the absence thereof (or the meaning of either), but to do or say whatever I had to do or say to present whatever appearance would get the most for me. (Above all, sociopaths strike me as selfish people who if they seem unselfish, it's only because they are pretending in order to con someone.)

The problem is compounded by the fact that the person who called me a sociopath may be one herself. (Except I don't want to call her that because she might not be, and I think there's a lot of politically motivated name calling which takes the form of "medicalized insults.")

5:51 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think psychoanalysis at a distance is perilous and unwise.

It certainly is. And if you claim to be a licensed professional, possibly unethical as well.

I am not a fan of the Clintons. But I find the attacks on his consensual romantic relationships pretty nonsensical. (If there are nonconsensual episodes those are obviously wrong.) I mean they import prostitutes from other cities when the party conventions come to town. And he isn't the first president to chase women - there is Kennedy and others.

What people should be focused on is the multimillionaire Hillary going around saying that she is going to take things from people for "the common good". Uh, no Hillary. People have just as much right to their property as you do.

It's almost like those people that claim that libertarians are sociopaths. I don't agree with you or understand your views, therefore you are mentally ill.

7:35 PM, March 13, 2007  
Blogger knox said...

Dr. Helen, I know you briefly described sociopathic behaviors on an earlier thread, but I would appreciate if you could post a "definition" of sociopath. I do think it's an overused, or at least, vastly misunderstood term. And it always seems like it's confused with "psychopath" ... they are often used interchangeably by laypeople and I'd like to hear a professional's description. Just a thought.

Clinton=sociopath.... who knows?
Clinton=scary..... if you're female, definitely.

7:47 PM, March 13, 2007  
Blogger knox said...

eric said: After writing a post critical of her, I was "diagnosed" as a sociopath by a Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte

Coming from her, that's a compliment.

7:48 PM, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


Perhaps I will do a more in-depth post on psychopathy at some point but here is the short version. At a conceptual and linguistic level, psychopathic personality is synonomous with dissocial, antisocial, and sociopathic personality. The correct term in psychology is generally psychopathy and it is based on a number of items from the Hare Psychopathy checklist. Some of the items are: Glibness and superficial charm--the brighter the psychopath, the more charming he or she will be. Interestingly, most psychopaths are not all that smart, having only average intelligence with only about 2% in the very superior category; Grandiose sense of self-worth, psychopaths are a lengend in their own mind, pathological lying--sometimes to keep himself or herself in position of power over others, conning and manipulaitve with a feeling of contemptuous delight when he dupes others, lack of remorse or guilt (they can often imitate it though with words and facial gestures). If you would like to learn more, I recommend the book, "Violence Risk and Threat Assessment" but J. Reid Meloy. It is a very good book to help with understanding the psychopath or try "Without Conscience" by Robert Hare.

8:33 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note how broad the definition that Helen just relayed is. "Without conscience" implies that you are doing something wrong and don't feel bad about it. So this can be twisted by those with an agenda. Some examples:

- Collectivists, communists, and socialists might claim that because you do not want to give all of your possessions to them to redistribute as they see fit that you do not care about the poor or less fortunate and are therefore a sociopath.

- The ultra-religious or fanatical feminists may claim that because you have consensual pre-marital sex without earth shattering guilt and remorse afterwards that you don't have a conscience and are therefore a sociopath. You might just think that what two consenting adults decide to do sexually is no one's business but theirs.

- A romantic partner that you broke up with might claim that because you broke up with them even though they cared about you that you don't have a conscience and are therefore a sociopath. Of course it could just be that you didn't fall in love with them and were honest and upfront about it, which is the most honest an ethical thing to do. (And never mind the fact that everyone that they broke up with or rejected before cared about them, therefore also making them a "sociopath" by their own definition. In reality they are just trying to pathologize you because they didn't get their way.)

- Radical environmentalists might claim that because you eat meat, etc. that you don't care about the environment or the earth and therefore don't have a conscience. It follows that you are a "sociopath". In reality, you just don't agree with them.

- Etc, etc, etc,....

You get the point. The bottom line is that these definitions are all very subjective and vague and can therefore be used for specific goals and agendas. So using these terms as a vehicle for fraud, corruption, medical abuse, libel, slander, defamation, smearing, demonization, social engineering, etc. is quite easy to do.

9:11 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had lunch with Jeffery Dahmer a few years back. During desert he looked up from his key lime pie and said "Is it hot in here or am I just crazy?"

9:13 PM, March 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So every man or woman that lies when caught having an extramarital affair "has sociopathic traits"???!!!

Oh my gosh, we are surrounded by psychos!!!!!!

9:51 PM, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

I can't see Bill Clinton's vaunted charm at all. He strikes me as a man with no deep convictions who will say whatever the polls tell him to say. But a sociopath? No, not at all. I've always thought of him as the smarmiest individual I've ever seen in my life and the man who has permanently soured me on politicians as a group.

8:33 AM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with annonymous 2:46...that Bill Clinton is simply a flawed human being.

11:45 AM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

A friend of mine worked for Ms. Clinton when she was First Lady. He would NEVER say a word about her, which was interesting, but he said that the President had amazing charisma. It was just a job for Neil, he was not a supporter per se, but he said that Bill was a force in person.


12:08 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 9:51: I think the answer to your question (the good Doctor please correct me if I'm wrong) is that just having a conscience does not always prevent people from doing bad things. Other needs or desires can temporarily override the conscience, or our moral congnition may be screwed up by drug use, brainwashing, etc.

As I understand it, what distinguishes the sociopath is the lack of any moral standard that extends beyond the sociopath's self-interest, in any area. If I were to cheat on my wife, I would know that I was doing something wrong. I might try to rationalize it by saying to myself things like "my wife drove me to it because she's not satisfying me" or whatever, and that rationalization might make me feel, for a while, like I was in the right. However, the fact that I need to rationalize it proves that I know it's wrong.

The sociopath, on the other hand, might be aware on an intellectual level that society does not approve of his cheating on his wife. However, he does not consider it morally wrong; society's disapproval is just one factor that he will take into account when deciding whether to cheat on his wife. If the sociopath decides to be faithful, he does so because he's decided that the illicit sex is not worth whatever problems he will encounter from doing it. It's strictly a tectical and cost/benefit calculation; morality simply does not enter into it. If the sociopath does decide to cheat, then he will not bother rationalizing it to himself because, as far as he is concerned, he has done nothing wrong.

5:16 PM, March 14, 2007  
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