September 2012

Romney on the Couch

It’s official. Mitt Romney is now a Shakespearean character. If you put Macbeth and Hamlet in a blender, you’d get Romney, the tragic story of a prince/warrior with unchecked ambition, whose internal flaws turn his allies against him and lead to his own demise.

Okay, plot summary over. Let’s continue to the “speeches”:

Who can forget: “I like to fire people”?
Did anyone not wince at: ” [Ann drives] a couple of Cadillacs”?
Certainly, everyone’s jaw dropped upon hearing the “47 percent” remarks.

Romney, a product of Harvard’s elite JD-MBA program is a smart guy, and a capable one. Yet, just Google “Romney gaffe,” and you’ll find rich rewards. The repeated blunders, the ability to sound just the wrong note, are these really just inadvertent incidents of his penchant for putting his foot in his mouth?

The answer to the issue seems obvious, even if it eludes pundits. If this were an English 101 class analyzing Romney’s (mis)statements, the answer would be evident: the warrior/prince is in conflict about whether he wants to be our President: “To be or not to be.”

Romney doesn’t need another political advisor, or campaign manager. He needs a psychoanalyst, someone who can get inside his head, help him achieve some clarity, and figure out why he keeps sabotaging himself.

So, what’s the problem? It’s easy to conjecture that he doesn’t want to surpass his father whose own misstatements doomed his 1968 presidential bid. His mother also ran unsuccessfully for office. Perhaps his calling to “serve” his country may conflict with the necessary compromises of presidential politics. There are dozens of ways to put Romney on the couch, as well as interpretations aplenty for his repeated missteps.

Like Hamlet, Romney seems to float in a sea of ambivalence about who he is, or should be. We’ll never know exactly the source of this internal tension. Like the take-no-prisoners Macbeth, he often fails to reflect before he plows forward toward his next conquest.

If he really were a Shakespearian character, Romney would now be staggering on stage, uttering his final words before the curtain closes. Usually, those lines consist of some epiphany. The country is waiting.

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Kate’s Private Moment

Last week, a French photographer punctured the privacy of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and scored a win for voyeurs around the world, catching her topless in a private setting: on vacation with her husband in a villa in the South of France.

The photos wrest control of Middleton’s most valuable asset, her public persona. The French court ruled to stop further publication of the photos, but the problem won’t go away. And we’re all potential targets.

Middleton experienced a high profile version of the Facebook phenomenon. With the advent of social media, we’ve become our own promoters, publishers–and tormentors and victims. In fact, we’ve become our own paparazzi. An unguarded moment can be captured in an instant and disseminated to the masses just as quickly.

We have become a voyeuristic society, a nation of peeping Toms.

We’ve made a new sport of catching people out, posting and tagging photos of them in situations that were private, and not meant for mass-consumption: flesh spilling over a swimsuit, a chocolate-smeared mouth or cocktail-fueled moment. Then we spend hours trolling Facebook with an open window onto other’s private moments.

Like many forms of “humor,” these invasive shots have at the core an expression of hostility and aggression. Voyeurism is rooted in an impulse to dominate. It informs much of our behavior: schoolyard bullying, workplace harassment, and even sex are all forms of domination. The will to subordinate is not only human–it’s a core part of many primate societies, cowing even such popular and attractive primates at the Duchess of Cambridge.

Facebook is simply another reflection of this primitive instinctual drive. Tagging and posting photos of people makes them feel helpless and out of control just like Kate and Wills do right now. And any one of us would feel out of control if caught in an unflattering or compromising photo.

Privacy is a form of psychological, not only physical, boundary. It is a line in the sand–“You can come no farther than this.” It gives people a feeling of safety and integrity. But today privacy is a scare commodity, even within our homes or the homes of our friends. It’s maddening. Remember the wedding scene in the Godfather when Sonny rips the film out of the camera of a prying FBI agent?

One can only imagine his rage response to an unwelcome Facebook post: a level of anger that both Kate and William, and anyone of us, could justifiably feel.

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The Hand That Rocks the White House

She protects. She soothes. She guides and encourages. She’s a safe harbor in times of stress or duress. She’s… Valerie Jarrett.

In last Saturday’s New York Times, Jo Becker’s article, “The Other Power in the West Wing,” examined the relationship between the most powerful man on earth and his devoted aide. The article was an examination of Jarrett, whom Becker portrayed as Chief Power Broker of Obama’s White House — much to the consternation and puzzlement of other staffers.

As Becker noted: “Parsing the psychology of the president’s bond with Ms. Jarrett has become something of a West Wing pastime: is she some sort of mother or sister figure to an only child whose own parents variously abandoned him?”

As a psychotherapist I answer: “Absolutely!”

The president is a human being. Like every other human on the face of the earth, his template for relationships was set by his parents and, in particular, by his mother. A free spirit and pioneer in anthropology, Stanley Ann Dunham was, in Obama’s own words, “The dominant figure” in his life.

Like all mothers, Obama’s was a mixed bag. She recognized his talent and capacity for achievement and drove him to capitalize on these, but in her desire to nurture an extraordinary boy, she sent him away. While Durham lived in Indonesia, she dispatched Obama to Hawaii to attend an elite private school, and live with her parents.

And there’s the rub.

Nature has dictated since the beginning of time that children are the ones who separate from their mothers as part of their psychological development.

For a mother to push a child out of the nest too soon, even for an apparently good reason, inverts the relationship and the natural course of development. Mom stands stable and ever present. Baby crawls away.

So, why is it such a head-scratcher that a strong woman with maternal traits, many echoing those of Obama’s mother, should inhabit a critical psychic “space” within him? Last night, Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention gave new meaning to the title “Mom-in-Chief.” Both women not only have talent and ability, but also the ear of a president who longs for female counsel and support. Why shouldn’t they command enormous power in doing so?

The American poet William Ross Wallace wrote “The hand that rocks the cradle — Is the hand that rules the world.” And, so it goes in The White House.

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