January 13, 2008

A question that should be asked of all the candidates

"Have you ever been depressed?

It's time to drop two bad ideas that have dominated thinking about Presidential and VP candidates and depression:

1. That depression should automatically disqualify you (as with McGovern dropping Eagleton in 1972).

2. That if you've never been hospitalized or given electroshock treatment for emotional problems, nobody should pay any attention to them (as with the almost complete press silence in 1992 while Ross Perot was riding one of the most spectacular manic-depressive cycles in American history, going from nowhere to leading the polls to going into crazed seclusion to coming back strong and getting the highest 3rd Party percentage of the vote since Teddy Roosevelt).

To take the example of the candidate I'm most familiar with, Barack Obama, it sounds from his two books like he had at least two fairly strong depressive episodes: in New York City in the early 1980s and after his defeat in the Democratic primary for Congress in 2000. (I might also speculate that his first book, which has all the hallmarks of the depressive artist, was written not long after another depression, while his Up-With-People second book reflects an up phase.) That's hardly unusual, but it's worth understanding more about his (and all the other candidates') psychological history. After all, we're choosing a President here.

Obama could conveniently be the first to break the code of silence on this topic -- he could just go on his pal Oprah's show and talk about his feelings. I'm sure it would help him at the polls with the female-dominated Democratic electorate.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

29 comments:

TK said...

"Obama could conveniently be the first to break the code of silence on this topic -- he could just go on his pal Oprah's show and talk about his feelings."

And I think there would be very little chance of him winning the general election. I'm guessing he realizes that too.

If Obama were to want to "break the silence" around depression and leadership the best way would be to do it after serving as president. If he were a popular president, upon leaving office he could then talk about his history. That would best pave the way for others. To do it know would come off as weak to some people, as opportunist to some people ("Hillary cried so he is doing this" or "he is just trying to get immunity from criticism because you'll run the risk of making him sad"), and crazy to others.

I do think people have the right to ask such questions of a presidential candidate but I'm still squemish about the thought. I really don't think it's anyone's business outside of the presidency. If he were directly asked and then had to answer perhaps people would see his admission differently. Then he could be seen as honest about something he wished to not discuss, it wasn't a cynical calculation, etc. He might still be seen as weak and insane by some, but at least honest.

And yeah, I think he is a depressive.

SFG said...

You're being facetious, Steve. Soccer moms in Iowa and Ohio will never stand for that and you know that.

eatsoylentgreen said...

you have such a good blog here!

Born Again Democrat said...

Of course Lincoln had this proglem also, as did Winston Churchill, the latter manifesting strong signs of ADD as well.

Anonymous said...

I like how you keep barking up this tree. It's a fresh idea.

What celebrities have been candid about their depressions and recoveries?

Ross said...

Norway's former Prime Minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, was diagnosed with depression whilst in office. The Norwegian public didn't seem to object to him taking time off for treatment. Whether that approach would work outside of Scandinavia is a questionable though.

fifi said...

I'll assume that Obama's not on an any medications like Prozac or lithium or else he wouldn't be running for public office. To me he doesn't seem to be bipolar which doesn't mean he hasn't had a history of clinical depression. I say this b/c his "audacity of hope" tour comes across as very deliberate. Rather than being someone who thinks of himself as a black messiah (note Al Gore's environmental messianic complex), Obama simply knows how to communicate emotionally with black people. Now if he periodically goes on spending sprees, gambling binges or has a history of making unsound business deals, he might qualify as manic-depressive. I think Obama's strategy of appealing to emotions is more a cultural difference. You know the one that has those sensitivity trainers labeling the "white" personality as authoritarian, cold, unfeeling and/or autistic.

Gore, on the other hand, is an example of someone who desperately needs to be medicated. Yet the more off his rocker he is at any given time the more support he gets for his hack environmentalism. I posit that a Democratic candidate that hasn't shown evidence of emotional instability or at least an identity crisis (think Kerry) has zero chance of being nominated. In fact, Hillary may have ruined her chances of being nominated by not having some sort of public meltdown over Bill's infidelities. I could be wrong but I don't think so. Some sort of sign that the candidate is too good for or too sensitive for this world is the litmus test determining whether or not the candidate is worthy to represent the oppressed masses. Which means that we're in a heap of trouble if the anointed one actually gets elected president.

lowly said...

Thanks very much, but to go from a pre-senile to a manic-depressive is just a bit too much for me.

Just how did we get from folks like Jefferson, Washington and Franklin to Obama, Guiliani, Hillary or McCain. It's depressing.

Evil Neocon said...

It probably wouldn't Steve, since Obama appeals to "nice to have" social status needs of people who are economically secure. He's a weak candidate and Clinton is likely to wipe him out, decidedly, in the primaries.

Moreover, the personal issues of candidates are probably less of an issue than overall health (i.e. they could die and leave the VP as President) and organizational skill.

The Presidency is too big and the executive responsibilities too large and varied for any one man to have much of an impact. What is important in evaluating a candidate is his record of executive achievement in governing LARGE organizations, and getting bureaucracies to do what he wants instead of what they want.

This pretty much discounts Senators, small-state Governors, and people with no real management skill over thousands of people they'll never meet.

An example of what you would NOT want is GWB's weak command over State and CIA. Who constantly undermine him with leaks and political reports. Or Clinton's handing out key cabinet posts to Affirmative Action folks (Janet Reno). Which come to think of it, GWB did as well.

Perot at least had experience in running a large organization, that spanned many countries, and meeting goals that his executive team set. Romney and Rudy also have that experience. None of the other candidates have any experience in that measure at all.

This suggests that voters will be best able to judge the future performance of a president in office by looking at how the candidate performed while managing a lot of people as either a large state governor, large city mayor with executive responsibility (LA's Mayor has relatively little, NYC's a lot), or business leader at a large corporation, or military leader with command responsibility like Ike.

Voters choosing Ike over "smart guy" Adlai Stevenson were sound. Management of large organizations is very hard, can't really be taught only learned, and requires prior experience. It's why first-year coaches are rarely successful at either the college or pro level in football. They too have a learning curve.

And the Presidency is too important for a learning curve.

Anonymous said...

Being depressed, after a breakup, or losing an important race, isn't all that unusual. Clinical depression is something much more than that however. I don't understand why anyone would think that if Obama was clinically depressed, he should come out and tell people. Given the stigma still surrounding the issue, it would be political suicide. Which, I would assume, is the intent of Steve giving Obama such foolhardy advice. If it truly makes no difference, then why talk about it?

Martin said...

I dislike the way that depression is now classified as some kind of mental illness.

Depression is a rational response to life, which is often full of horror, futility, and boredom (though not all three at the same time). It is especially understandable in people as they age and come closer to death.

So what's the big deal? Don't worry - be miserable.

Robert said...

My dream is to ask the candidates a math question:

"Education and health care are two of the most important issues in this election. So I'd like to ask you a math question about health care..."

< Insert non-intuitive but simple to state math question, preferably with probability theory >

Evil Neocon said...

The founding fathers most assuredly had many foibles. However, they did not have a 24/7 media offering celebrity tidbits/gossip, and gossip/scandal could have serious consequences, such as duels.

Jefferson, for example, was rumored (but never proven) to have several illegitimate children.

Lincoln had several periods of huge depression. After the death of Tad, his first fiancee, and so on. And unlike Obama there was no question of it. However, the episodes were not widely known.

Johnson said...

Fifi, I think you're disillusionment with American politics is kind of disturbing.


Again, this post again hints at making backhanded criticisms of Obama without getting to anything meaty that we'd usually expect from a controversial site like this. I need SOMETHING substantial to tell myself when I feel moved by his speeches. Telling me about his personal problems isn't going to do it.

Udolpho said...

How could a serious mental disorder not be a serious disqualifier? Are people so enamored of bullshit egalitarianism that they won't settle for anyone who isn't as screwed up and weak as they are?

This is a presidential election, not a contest to choose your best friend. As much as I find Barry basically likeable, his presidency would only be slightly less disastrous than a third Bush term.

Evil Neocon said...

Udolpho is right, but also wrong.

The election is not for a best friend or hip cool edgy signifier. But the President has less control directly over the Executive Branch, and his abilities to choose a team and manage them to achieve his policies are more important that personality quirks.

Lincoln was a great President, largely because he was able to cycle through losers at the head of the Army of the Potomac until he found someone competent: Grant. Even though depressive, he was able to fight through it and assembled a competent team.

Churchill is another example of a depressive-manic leader who was effective. And brutal in sacking non-performers.

Anonymous said...

some people still don't understand that clinical depression is not the same as feeling sad because something bad happened. i knew it was time to see a doctor about it when i lost my appetite, was eating half a meal a day for a month, couldn't sleep on any kid of schedule(normal or otherwise), lost interest in everything, lost energy and physical strength and had no real emotions or feelings at all for an extened period of time. that's clinical depression, not "feeling sad." i know what that is too.

stencil said...

uldopho, I knew you would not be able to get through your comment without profanity......consider growing up.

Anonymous said...

Re- Udolpho...agreed there's something weird/pathetic when adults take the time to write out curse words. Dan

Martin said...

"Evil Neocon said...

Lincoln was a great President, largely because he was able to cycle through losers at the head of the Army of the Potomac until he found someone competent: Grant. Even though depressive, he was able to fight through it and assembled a competent team.hav

Churchill is another example of a depressive-manic leader who was effective. And brutal in sacking non-performers."

Lincoln was a great President, because he took two years to find a general who would do more with the Army of the Potomac than keep it in camp dying of dysentery? Ok, EN, I defer to your supreme historical mojo. I suppose unleashing a war which killed 600,000 Americans also makes him great.

And Churchill didn't suffer non-performers? How about himself? Gallipoli didn't work out so well, you know.

But then again, he did sack that notorious non-performer, General Montgomery.

Except that he didn't.

You know, EN, you may be widely read, but reading consists of more than moving your eyes across the page. It is also necessary to understand what the words say.

Martin said...

"Johnson said...

I need SOMETHING substantial to tell myself when I feel moved by his speeches."

Perhaps you should ask yourself this: why do you feel moved by his, speeches? Or any one elses, for that matter.

Political speeches are not heart-felt expressions of one's inner soul. They are calculated exercises to get YOU to do what the speaker wants you to do.

One thing that all the candidates have in common, save perhaps Paul, Tancredo, and Kucinich, is a desire to be great men (that goes for Hillary too). In order to be great men, they must raise themselves up above you. A king only gets to be a king by making you his pawn.

bjdouble said...

If mental disorder is on the table, then why not drug use? The fact that BO used drugs seems very relevant, and yet the press says ixnay on the cocaine. That's dirty politics. But isn't it relevant that Bush was a cokehead? Doesn't that speak to his recklessness, impulsivity, and lack of judgment? If just one reporter had the balls to ask him about it, maybe it would have made a difference.

Udolpho said...

I doubt that Churchill was truly bipolar or that Lincoln suffered from clinical depression and at any rate they were not chosen or admired for these qualities, unlike today when Dubya's alcholism or Bill Clinton's disgusting personal appetites are supposed to make them seem sympathetic rather than weak and unappealing.

fifi at the ballot box said...

"Fifi, I think you're disillusionment with American politics is kind of disturbing."

I'm actually more positive about American politics than I have been in years. You've mistaken my insight into the liberal loon majority for disillusionment with America. Don't get me wrong. There are some likable Dems out there. If Lieberman ever had a snowball's chance in his own party, I wouldn't be too terribly despondent about a Lieberman presidency. I'd feel much safer with him at the helm than McCain who he has endorsed (more proof McCain is actually a conservative Democrat).

"I need SOMETHING substantial to tell myself when I feel moved by his speeches."

The fact that you are moved by Obama's speeches at all despite being an adult presumably with some life's experience means you lack the fundamental reasoning skills to understand why any of the Democratic hopefuls would be disasters as president.

MQ said...

Look, so far as we know Obama has been extremely high-functioning in ordinary settings his entire life (you don't get to be editor of the Harvard Law Review by not taking care of business). That pretty much rules out clinical depression, the lock-yourself-in-your-room kind.

If he's tempermentally somewhat depressive, well wouldn't a dose of "depressive realism" be the best possible antidote to the heady experience of being the most powerful man on earth.

Anonymous said...

this is a silly argument to disqualify a candidate with depression. it should actually be the opposite as to question someones intelligence if they don't. to quote aristotle "all men who have been distinguished in any branch of knowledge have generally been melancholics."

TabooTruth said...


The fact that you are moved by Obama's speeches at all despite being an adult presumably with some life's experience means you lack the fundamental reasoning skills to understand why any of the Democratic hopefuls would be disasters as president.


Look, I've done the research. I know his policy positions. Though he is a little to the left of me on many issues, nothing jumps out that screams IDIOT like the way GWB presented himself in 2000, and many here I'm sure voted for him.

The thing is, is that a gigantic chunk of voters will vote for Obama because of his speech. While I was initially for Biden, and am now leaning towards McCain(if his immigration or Iraq policy changes) I need something to shake me out of the stupor that Obama has put on many people. Unfortunately this blog is composed of a narrow band of American population that doesn't sympathize with Obama fanatics.

Anyway, Ron Paul's fanaticism, or Guiliani's obsession with 9/11 or empty suit Romney, or buffoon Huckabee don't seem much better than Clinton.

Udolpho said...

Obama is a cipher, end of discussion. If you find him an appealing candidate then he is simply whatever you project onto him. His career in government is negligible, his pronouncements are intentionally vague, his inexperience in serious world affairs is more alarming than even Dubya's.

But go ahead, cheerlead for this callow hollow man, isn't he so much like the protagonist on 24 or whatever television series has fucked with your mind?

fifi said...

Now that we know you are a Bolshevik, Tabootruth, we wonder what you plan to do with us decadent, capitalist types after Obama takes power.