The Power of Power
Is there an epidemic of power addiction among the politically powerful? For many Americans the recent rash of political sex scandals leaves them – once again – baffled by the incredible foolishness of powerful men, asking “what were they thinking?” Throughout the media we hear and read differing opinions.
Why do some elected to very high positions of public trust cross moral boundaries and put themselves at the obvious risk of negatively impacting their personal and family relationships, health and careers?
Frank Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University, recently authored an article for the Los Angeles Times stating that he believes that "public officials [have] a predisposition for risk-taking, which also happens to be an essential quality for politicians."
He goes on to refer to them as having "Type T" personalities – a prevalent trait in many of our founding fathers. These were "men who weren't afraid to rise up against one of the world's great empires."
Professor Farley refers to this as the positive side of Type T individuals. However, these same individuals can "also be prone to negative types of risk-taking, including crime, drug use or sexual encounters that end badly."
In a June 10, 2011, Dearborn Free Press article attorney Morris Goodman took aim from a more direct perspective. His answer to the “What were they thinking question” is: "they weren’t thinking at all … If ever there was proof of the power of addictive tendencies to cause people, particularly men in long-time positions of authority, to not 'think' about the consequences of their actions," the case of U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner is classic.
Mr. Goodman cites the example that Representative Weiner "knew in April from a variety of sources that his Internet actions were being scrutinized. Nevertheless, he continued to send lewd pictures of himself to women he admits he did not know."
Was Congressman Weiner taking a calculated risk, or was he out of control? What about the antics of other notable U.S. politicians: Bill Clinton, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Larry Craig, John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eliot Spitzer, Jim McGreevey, David Vitter, and Christopher Lee?
By definition, an addiction is a chronic relapsing disease that severely alters brain areas critical to decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Through both internal and/or external stimuli, pleasure centers in the brain are activated causing one to want more – at any cost. This lack of control typically leads the individual down a path of self destructive behavior. In the cases of our illustrious politicians, some may call them sex addicts.
One of the most powerful aspects of any addiction is that it fiercely focuses on self preservation. When in full force it will cloud the logical part of the brain to the point that an addict will lie, cheat, steal, bully, intimidate and, at times, even kill to preserve the powerful sensations.
How many times have we heard the replay of the line "I did not have sex with that woman" from former president Bill Clinton? Most of the aforementioned politicians took that same road of denial before the evidence was so strong that they were forced to fess up.
Once caught, many were willing to admit that they "might" have a problem, but dealing with an addiction is a lifelong commitment. That's a very hard realization for very powerful people, who often hold a rock-star status in their own minds.
Consider the words of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards when he finally admitted that he had engaged in an extramarital affair: "Over the course of several campaigns I started to believe that I was special, and I became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic."
Many psychologists tell us that for an individual with addictive tendencies in one area, it is very easy for those same qualities to transcend to other addictions. Mr. Edwards' statement, like those of many others, alludes to the power of power.
Long time Washington confidant Dr. Henry Kissinger once observed that "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." This begs the question: Could it be possible that people in powerful elected positions can become addicted to power itself?
In March 2006 The Washington Times featured an article entitled Lawmakers have addiction to power. In it there is a statement that many would find hard to disagree with: "Washington is about power. Power is addictive, and it corrupts. Those who have power, fear losing it. Legislators will often seek creative ways to silence their critics and curtail their critics' involvement in politics."
Consider how both political parties have engaged in wasteful and excess spending to win over constituencies to the point where our country now faces a fiscal crisis like no other in its history.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Kathleen Puckett, a founding member of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Program, is the co-author of a book Homeland Insecurity: How Washington Politicians Have Made America Less Safe.
As one who has studied the darkest sides of human nature, Dr. Puckett states that "interactive social activities between human beings, such as sex or politics, activate the same pleasure centers in the brain that addictive chemical substances stimulate. The same brain mechanism demands continued and increasing levels of the stimulus – in this case, political power."
Could these acts of self-preservation be considered an abuse of political power?
Author Don Bracken references Mr. Edwards' use of the word "special" as being "the operative word in [his] statement." He says that "it spells out the disorientation that exists with many in the nation's capital who believe that they too, are special. That disorientation is the addiction to power."
Then-Vice President Dan Quayle may have described the long tenured politician correctly with his Freudian slip in reciting the NAACP slogan, “what a waste it is to lose one’s mind.”
Surely there are no psychological examinations that we can require of our candidates as they seek elected office. With no litmus test other than voter appeal, we likely face a continuous pattern of electing addicts to seats of power at all levels of government.
This begs the question of how to curb the abuse that often comes from long stents of power. Could congressional term limits be a step in the right direction?