Everyone says we get into wars too easily because hardly anyone has a relative in the military – our wars are fought by one percent of the population, and contractors, and drones. Those of us who do have family in our wars – now only a war in Afghanistan, along with what cannot be discussed in so many other obscure nations at the moment – suspect that might not be entirely true. Yes, war may seem too easy and simple, and become the default geopolitical solution to any problem at all, when you don’t have a personal stake in the matter, but objectively war is rather stupid. It’s beyond wasteful, and victory can produce lifelong resentful enemies. Hitler would have spent the rest of his life painting houses and bad landscapes had not the French and British, with help from America, won that first war. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles, unconditional surrender and probationary near-total disarmament for at least a few generations, were humiliating. Another war was simply inevitable, no matter who had experience of what. Everybody had family in that first war, one way or another. That didn’t slow anything down. Pride and ego mattered more, on a personal and national level. Experience meant nothing. As for the last decade or more, William Kristol and the neoconservative crowd, with their Dick Cheney in the White House, got us into a war in Iraq that turned out to be a blunder of epic proportions, but then we had to do something. Our pride and our wounded national ego demand war, even if it was war for no good reason, with the wrong party. Kristol and Cheney and most of that crowd had never served a day in uniform, but that still might not have mattered. War was inevitable. The military guys – Colin Powell and so many others – urged caution, but other factors were at play – narcissism, perhaps.
That’s why it may not matter that only a few of us have family in the military, or even know anyone in the military. That’s not where the action is. We get into wars too easily because of politicians – those we elect to make decisions about the life and death of millions. Those are the people we have decided to trust to make those decisions, and are thus the ones who we need to understand – except that hardly anyone has relative, even a distant relative, who holds any kind of public office, much less a critical one. The world is run by one ten thousandth of one percent of the population. These are the folks we need to understand, not those in the military.
That’s hard. They’re an odd lot. No one quite knows what motivates someone to run for office – a sense of duty, an impulse to serve others, and the nation, a lust for power, a set of crackpot theories about how the world should really work, vengeance for a childhood wrong, sheer patriotism, suppressed masochism – or a call from Jesus, or Buddha, or Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It could be any of those things, but you wouldn’t want your daughter to marry one of them. That’s because a prerequisite for it all is an ego larger than most people can even imagine. They have to imagine that the majority of people will like them and respect them and even love them, and then make sure those folks get themselves to the voting booth on the right day. They have to assume, without question, that they have unique and amazing powers to inspire the masses, or scare the shit out of them. All that talk about being a humble public servant is just part of the con. They have to assume they’re wonderful.
That’s just not normal. That used to be called megalomania or severe egocentrism, but in 1968 Heinz Kohut gave it a new name – narcissistic personality disorder – and it’s recognized as pathological behavior now.
Persons diagnosed with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder are characterized by unwarranted feelings of self-importance. They have a sense of entitlement and demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behavior. They have a strong need for admiration, but lack feelings of empathy for others. These qualities are usually defenses against a deep feeling of inferiority and of being unloved.
Think of George Bush, and Dick Cheney, or even Barack Obama, and consider the current thinking on some of what might cause this odd disorder – oversensitive temperament at birth – excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback – excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for bad behaviors in childhood – overindulgence and overvaluation by parents, other family members, or peers. That fits most politicians, and there is also the possibility this runs in families, although there are studies that show incidence of this disorder doubled in between 1999 and 2009 – the tail end of the Clinton years and then the Bush-Cheney years. Maybe it’s a learned behavior.
It could be both, given this news:
Liz Cheney, the older daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, announced Tuesday that she intended to challenge Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming in a Republican primary clash in next year that national and state party officials had hoped to avoid.
“I am running because I believe it is necessary for a new generation of leaders to step up to the plate,” Ms. Cheney, 46, said in a video posted on the Web.
Ms. Cheney made no mention of Mr. Enzi, 69, and focused most of her criticisms on President Obama, who is deeply unpopular in Wyoming.
But along with the generational swipe at Mr. Enzi, she implicitly took a shot at his low-key and consensus-oriented style, saying that “we can no longer afford simply to get along to go along” and declaring that Wyoming needed “a strong voice in Washington.”
She does have a healthy ego, and an axe to grind:
“I will never compromise when our freedom is at stake,” said Ms. Cheney, a not-so-subtle reference to Mr. Enzi’s penchant for working with Democrats to find common ground.
She also, like her father, is not big on that empathy thing:
Talking to reporters in the Capitol after the video went public Enzi said he was not notified by either Ms. Cheney or her father – whom he has known for over 30 years – about Ms. Cheney’s intentions. “I thought we were friends,” he added.
Think again. She doesn’t care, and the rest of the Wyoming Republicans can go jump in a lake:
Many Republicans in both Wyoming and Washington had hoped that either Mr. Enzi would retire or that Ms. Cheney would seek a different office next year or wait to run for senator. Ms. Cheney has been blistered in editorials by some Wyoming newspapers, which urged her not to run, and noted that she had only recently moved to the state. …
Wyoming’s other senator, John Barrasso, also a Republican, wasted no time on Tuesday in declaring his allegiance to Mr. Enzi. “Mike Enzi is a friend, a mentor and a tremendous U.S. senator for Wyoming. I support his re-election,” he said.
And Wyoming’s sole House member, Cynthia Lummis, told reporters in the Capitol that Ms. Cheney’s move was “bad form,” suggesting that the she run in Virginia, where she lived in McLean until she moved to Wyoming. Ms. Lummis said last month that she wanted to run for Mr. Enzi’s seat herself if he retired.
Liz doesn’t care. Rand Paul said in an interview with Politico that he would support Mr. Enzi next year. She doesn’t care. She’s just like her father, and she has his rolodex. Half of Washington will support her. The folks in Wyoming won’t know what hit them. Consider it shock and awe.
Slate’s John Dickerson puts it this way:
In the video announcing her Senate candidacy, Liz Cheney wears a jean shirt and stands in front of a field and rail fence. It is meant to convey Wyoming, the state she would like to represent and where she has lived for only a year or so. Her opponent, Sen. Mike Enzi, is a three-term incumbent and could achieve the same effect by standing alone in a room. He is a 40-year veteran of Wyoming politics who built a business there and whose lack of Beltway trappings would help him do well in a ranking of sitting senators least likely to be mistaken for one.
If this were a campaign based on geography, Cheney would be sunk. That is why – despite the tableau – the video announces not so much that she’s running from Wyoming but that she’s really running to become a senator from a Conservitopia, an ideological place where mere garden-variety conservatism is not enough.
In a Republican Party roiled by purity tests over immigration, taxes, and abortion, Liz Cheney has launched the most precise one.
Enzi is too nice a man. That’s the problem. He’s not a high-paid Fox News contributor like she is, and being nice is crap anyway:
Cheney’s supporters argue that she will be a true believer in the mold of Sen. Ted Cruz, who is proving day by day in fights with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and John McCain that he doesn’t want to just get along. In the ongoing battle against progressives, Enzi “is not putting points on the board for conservatives,” says Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of RedState. He says he backs Cheney because she will score those points. “We need GOP Senators to be willing to ‘beat up on their colleagues,’ ” argues Kurt Schlichter at Townhall.
“It’s not about collegiality in the cloakroom. We want you hated, despised, and targeted because that will mean you are getting something conservative done.”
That’s an admission that most everyone hates what the conservatives are trying to do to the country, but an admission made with great pride. The scorn of infidels is the praise of Allah! No, wait, that’s the Koran.
Dickerson reports on the issue this raises:
The race comes at an interesting time for Senate Republicans, when some members are showing signs of tiring of the purity tests. “Are we here to just be part of a debating society where we argue all day?” Sen. Lamar Alexander said to me recently. “Or are we up here to accomplish something?” Alexander was among the 14 Republicans who voted with Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Members of this group, which President Obama has called “the common-sense caucus,” have also been working behind the scenes with the White House to find some kind of long-term budget deal since the spring.
On the other side of the GOP caucus is a new guard of younger members impatient with Senate niceties. Cheney seeks to join that gang, though that will be complicated. The first problem is that new guard member Sen. Rand Paul isn’t a fan of Cheney (or her father, the former vice president) and supports Enzi. In particular, Cheney and Paul are on the opposite ends of the foreign-policy spectrum. She’s a hawk. He’s not.
Then there are fiscal issues:
The Bush administration is not well-regarded for its fiscal stewardship. Then–Vice President Dick Cheney famously told Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” The precise meaning of the quote is in dispute – Cheney may have been making a point about the political cost of deficits – but many budget hawks made the case to Cheney while he was in a position of power that the administration could do more to slow federal spending. Unlike on national security matters where Cheney gladly bucked the realists in the State Department and stood his ground during internal fights, he had no such reputation when it came to shrinking government. If Liz Cheney’s role is to be a fearless, clear-eyed warrior for smaller government, a good test of her purity would be her views on the Bush-Cheney budgets.
Only Democrats are smiling:
It could be long and bloody; both candidates will be well-funded. Democrats hope that the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has pledged to support Enzi, will have to spend millions against the sure-to-be-well-financed Cheney. They also hope that Cheney will be forced to make ever more extravagant claims about Washington Republicans to give voters a clear rationale for why the unobjectionable Enzi should be turned out. That Republican Washington establishment hopes to regain control of the Senate in 2014. To keep that from happening, Democrats hope Cheney and Enzi will be bloodying themselves for months to come.
Jonathan Chait doesn’t see that happening:
Liz Cheney’s announcement that she will challenge incumbent Senator Mike Enzi in Wyoming is sending currents of fear and resentment through the Republican Establishment. The stated reasons for their anger at Cheney are mostly silly. Enzi’s colleagues complain it’s “bad form” for her to challenge an incumbent, as if the principle of seniority ought to overrule the voters’ right to choose whomever they want to represent them. Wyoming Republican turned Beltway deficit scold Alan Simpson recently predicted a Cheney run would have disastrous consequences, bringing about “the destruction of the Republican Party of Wyoming if she decides to run and he runs, too.”
Apparently Alan Simpson’s political prognostications are every bit as hysterical as his fiscal prognostications. Wyoming is a tiny state consisting entirely of Republicans. There is no way a Liz Cheney race will cause the party to lose the Senate seat, or any Senate seat. So this is just Old Man Simpson yelling at a cloud.
Chait sees the real problem here:
Some members of the party want to move it to the center. Liz Cheney is very bad news for them. Cheney is nuts – a spokesman of the deranged wing of the GOP that believes Obama is not merely the worst and most radical president in American history, but actually wants to weaken America. …
So No. 1 problem here is that Cheney, if she wins, will become a high-profile spokesperson, and will join the Limbaughs, Palins, and Glenn Becks as defining the GOP as the party of crazy. No. 2 problem is that she will make it hard for other Republicans to nudge their party to the center, or even to prevent it from moving even farther right. One of the problems faced by the pragmatic wing of the party is that its elected officials can’t say even mildly heterodox things without incurring the wrath of the true-believing faithful, and Cheney could become one more loud true-believer flaying any colleagues who gesture in the direction of sanity.
Liz Cheney won’t cost the Republicans a seat in Wyoming. The real fear is that she’ll cost it seats elsewhere.
Jon Lovett, who served for three years as a speechwriter to Barack Obama, sees that and endorses her:
I don’t care where she was raised and I don’t care who her father happens to be. And neither should you. Liz Cheney deserves more respect and substantive attention. She is among the most vicious, cynical and talented partisan operatives in American public life. She helped led the appalling campaign against the so-called “Ground Zero mosque.” Her political action committee baselessly accused several Justice Department lawyers of al-Qaida sympathies. Time and again, she has rooted her political attacks – not in policy differences but in an easy, slimy willingness to suggest that President Obama and his administration are disloyal to this country. “Whose side are they on” she asks?
And, yikes, her foreign policy! It’s just this breathless, nervous, aimless belligerence. For example, of modest spending cuts at the Pentagon (in part, quite sensibly, because of the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) she said: “What President Obama is doing is something that America’s enemies – the Taliban, al Qaeda – have been unable to do: which is to decimate the fighting capability of this nation.” Cute.
But wait, there’s more:
Cheney in recent years has also come out against withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, closing Guantánamo, reading terrorism suspects their Miranda rights, and trying terrorism cases on U.S. soil. This is a position that, oddly, became commonplace among a certain conservative set even though it is obviously weak and cowardly to suggest that terrorists are too scary to try in our courts or hold in our jails. It’s also hammer-to-the-head stupid because we have done it countless times before. Oh, and by the way, she’s also one of those fantastic people who like to deny the existence of climate change whenever it snows.
Now, it is hard to tell where Liz Cheney’s ideology ends and her cynicism begins. (She – unlike, say, Sen. James Inhofe – is certainly too smart to believe that climate change is a hoax.) But it doesn’t so much matter. The toxic brew of fervor and contempt that Liz Cheney offers is at the core of what plagues the Republican Party today.
That’s why he’s endorsing her:
Sure, I am a Democrat, and I know this means, despite my best efforts, that I am prone to being too hard on conservatives and too easy on liberals. It also means that I tend to have greater appreciation for moderation in Republicans than in Democrats. Nonetheless, it to me seems indisputable that the Republican Party is heading toward a reckoning. This reckoning will take place when smart, reasonable, passionate, decent conservatives take their movement back from those like Liz Cheney who have encouraged the kind of radicalization that has made governing nearly impossible, who think “compromise is akin to communism,” as former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson said to the New York Times.
There’s also this:
America needs a strong, positive, rational conservative movement that appeals to a wider range of voters; that offers market-oriented policies and shows a willingness to work with Democrats; that serves as a check against the centrist liberal philosophy that is now, like it or not, the natural home of the majority of Americans. That is the conservative counterweight that would serve America well. But it will only be possible if the Republican Party faces its demons and the shrill and strange voices that now dominate. Liz Cheney’s candidacy will help force that conversation, and it is one the country sorely needs.
In the same interview with the Times, Alan Simpson, the former senator of Wyoming, said that a contest between Liz Cheney and Mike Enzi might bring about “the destruction of the Republican Party in Wyoming.” Maybe that’s right. And maybe that’s what has to happen.
Perhaps the Republican Party needs to hit rock bottom and Liz Cheney is the last shot of rail tequila before the conservative movement blacks out, wakes up and heads to a meeting.
One can only hope.
There are just some things the Republicans need to get out of their systems, and one of them is their more severe strain of narcissistic personality disorder. All politicians have a touch of this disorder, but not quite like this – so let her win and make a fool of herself and embarrass her party and force this issue of unwarranted feelings of self-importance and a sense of entitlement and grandiosity in beliefs and behavior, and a strong need for admiration, coupled with an utter lack of feelings of empathy for others. The nation needs to consider the implications here.
After all, hardly anyone knows anyone in the military these days, but we think we should know how they think. Why not try to understand the thinking of those who are even rarer but who may be much more important, those who choose to run for office?
Why not? Maybe we really don’t want to know.