Monday, September 5, 2011

We Need Slightly Unstable Leaders?

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Nassir Ghaemi
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Last month Stephen Colbert had Dr. Nasir Ghaemi on his show who wrote a book titled A First Rate Madness leaders saying that America's more successful Presidents such as Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt have had a predisposition to bipolar disorder (it used to be called manic depression) or depression while most of our less successful one's were more normal like Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover, or George HW Bush I.  These mood disorders are genetic according to Ghaemi and other psychiatrists.

Colbert uses the example of Ronald Reagan of someone who was normal and was a successful President and Ghaemi sort of agreed about him being normal but not really about his leadership.  I must point out that Reagan did have an alcoholic father growing up (which can be inherited but Reagan apparently wasn't an alcoholic himself) and his family disagrees about whether he suffered from Alzheimer's while President.  If one looks through other leader's backgrounds it's possible to find other abnormalities in their psyche. Some mental health struggles should not disqualify a person from elective office.

Another problem with Dr. Ghaemi's theory is that we often place too much emphasis on the characteristics of leaders to understand how things happen and too little on the circumstances that surround them.  This is called the Great Man Theory of history.  It may be irrelevant in the long run whether Barack Obama is too normal or not to handle our current crisis if the movements around him do not motivate him to do what is necessary as he prepares his jobs address.  Roosevelt and Lincoln were pushed to do great things like create social security and end slavery by popular movements which had been working for years to make these things happen.  This doesn't mean that leaders do not matter.  No one wants leaders like Nero or Caligula.

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