Infant voters & narcissist candidates

From George Will’s Newsweek review of The Cult of the Presidency, by Gene Healy:

If you can name it, presidents are responsible for it. The name for this is infantilization. “The average American,” said President Richard Nixon, “is just like the child in the family—you give him some responsibility and he is going to amount to something.” Vice President Al Gore said the government should act like “grandparents in the sense that grandparents perform a nurturing role.”

Such demented talk encourages presidential candidates to make delusional promises—energy independence in eight years (Mike Huckabee), “an excellent teacher in every classroom” and “every school an outstanding school” (John Edwards, who presumably knows how every school can stand out when all are outstanding), a “perfect” nation (see above) and so on.

The last presidential candidate to talk sense about the office was fictional. In an episode of NBC’s “The West Wing,” the Republican candidate, who was not the hero, was asked, “How many jobs will you create?” “None,” he replied, adding: “Entrepreneurs create jobs. Business creates jobs. The president’s job is to get out of the way.”

An occupational hazard of the inflated presidency is a hazard to the nation. It is what Healy (borrowing a term from psychiatry) calls Acquired Situational Narcissism. As repositories of absurd expectations, and surrounded by sycophants, presidents become deranged. Inevitably, the inflation of expectations causes what Healy calls an “arc of disillusionment” that diminishes one president after another.

For a summary of the book, see Healy’s article in Reason magazine.

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Filed under politics, psychology

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