STEPHEN PIZZO FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Over the years as a working journalist I was, more than once, confronted by the occasional psychopath. Most lay people associate the term psychopath with folks like the nut who shot up the Sheik temple or the one that opened fire in the Colorado movie theater. But, in fact, those kind of psychopaths are the minority. Most psychopaths are what professional psychologists describe as, "high functioning psychopaths."
I'll get around in bit to explain why any of this matters, but not just yet. First let's get a handle on the kind of person we are actually talking about here. This, from Scientific American:
"We have all heard these phrases before. "Violent psychopath". "Psychopathic serial killer". "Psychopathic murderer". "Deranged psychopath". .. Yet as we will soon discover, each phrase embodies a widespread misconception regarding psychopathic personality, often called psychopathy or sociopathy. Indeed, few disorders are as misunderstood as is psychopathic personality.
(Psychopaths are) charming but callous.. manifest numerous psychopathic traits, including superficial charm and a profound absence of guilt and empathy ... are well aware that their ill-advised or illegal actions are wrong in the eyes of society but shrug off these concerns with startling nonchalance."
There's actually more of these kind of psychopaths around than the average person might suspect. And they come in extremely wide degrees of danger, ranging from being a nuisance, to petty thieves to Berni Madoff to Ted Bundy.
Many are naturally attracted to lives of crime, since one key trait of psychopaths is that their total lack of conscience or ability to empathize with other's misfortune, even if that misfortune is at the very hands of that very same psychopath
But not all psychopaths are drawn to crime, at least not the kind of crimes that land them in jail. Politics seems to attract a fair number of psychopaths. I hardly need to list examples here if, I assume you've been any attention at all over the years.
Nearly all of the ones I met shared a couple of fairly obvious traits.
First, they left me with a sense that they "were not of this world." The more I got to know them the more I felt they were like stranded aliens from another world or dimension. They found themselves stuck in a world filled with rules and norms they simply did not get. They seem to have decided that they would just have to manage best they could living off the land, so to speak, foraging off the locals. They had come to accept this as a fact of their condition, and that they'd be constantly confronted by angry folks accusing them of this or that offense or transgression -- none of which they understood. They are indeed, strangers in a strange land. Those who survive, and even thrive, get very good at deflecting blame and working the system for all it's worth.
As a reporter psychopaths as sources, presented me with a particularly thorny problem. Unlike many sources that send unsolicited tips to reporters, psychopaths are not obviously nuts. In fact they tend, on a whole, to be very smart. But it's the kind of smart you find in idiot savants, narrow and restricted to whatever is their of expertise or obsession, Even when they are lying - which is, as the joke goes, whenever their lips are moving - they make sense. They spin compelling tales that can, more often than not, be at least partially checked out.
More than one journalist has lost his or her job, or been sued for libel or, at the very least, been mortally embarrassed, running with a story based on tips from such folks. (Look no further than Judy Miller, former NYTs reporter who was sucked into the Dick Cheney psychopathic vortex of lies,)
By necessity, psychopaths also become compulsive liars. Their motives for lying range from personal gain to personal vendetta. But often they lie for no particular reason whatsoever - just because they can't help themselves. They will lie about silly things, unimportant, everyday life things. Maybe it just keeps them in practice for when they need to tell a major whopper, I don't know.
In nearly three decades of investigative journalism I never once got sued by anyone. In part that's because I became pretty damn good at spotting psychopaths. There are lots of little clues to look for, such as their avoidance of direct eye contact and certain "ticks."
One woman psychopath I had the misfortune to cross paths with illustrates this point. She had long red hair and, whenever she was about to lie, or was in the process of doing so, she would reach up and grab a few strands of hair and wind it, and wind and wind it around her figure - while avoiding direct eye contact. She lied a lot, and ended up in jail for embezzlement, twice... the second time for embezzling $8000 from her own blind grandfather and grandmother who was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. Like I said, no conscience, scum of the earth.
So, why I am sharing all this with you? Well because of Mitt Romney -- he's one of "them." You can think of his kind of psychopath as moral-zombies.
What a surprise right? Well, not exactly. All politicians are, to one extent or another, liars. It goes with the territory. Partly that's our fault because, frankly, we can't handle truth and prefer lies as long as they are the lies we find comforting. Comfort us, even if it's with lies, and we vote for you. It's a perverse incentive.
But there are degrees of psychopathic liars in politics. Just as Catholics divide sinning into "venial" and "mortal," venal being the misdemeanor variety and moral the felony sins. Romney is a mortal liar.
And, I believe, has a psychopathic streak that is easily detectable.
If I were a reporter interviewing Romney, I'd watch his eyes.
When asked a question he knows could expose him in some way, either as a flip-flopper or a flat-out liar, before he answers he pauses, stares right through the interviewer, and… blinks twice, two times usually, in rapid succession. Then he lies. He also has a fake laugh he uses to buy time while he thinks up a lie or just to disarm or demean -- another psychopathic trait. But it's the eyes that tell it all.
Professional poker players call such a predictable tick "a tell." If an opponent is bluffing they will sometimes display a subconscious tick of one sort or another... just like that redheaded lady's hair-twirling. That was a tell.
Mitt Romney's tell tells all you need to know... that this guy is a psychopathic and compulsive liar; his facial characteristic is flat and expressionless, he stares either away from the questioner or right through them, and - here it comes - blink-blink, blink-blink, lie.
Okay, so I'm playing amateur psychologist here, something I am supremely unqualified to do. But it's this very "spidey sense" that let me pull the tails of some America's most litigious assholes in the country, while keeping me out of court. I trust it. And, as far as I can tell, this guy, Mitt, is a liar the likes of which we haven't seen on the national scene since Richard M. Nixon. Put Mitt in the Oval Office and, for the next four years, it'll be blink-city 'round here.