He quotes poets at press conferences, but seldom takes questions. Reporters have seen him grab cell phones from complete strangers, interrupting conversations to say, “Hi, this is the governor.” When lawmakers unanimously reject his proposal to tax businesses, he says that’s a vote of confidence. Is Gov. Rod Blagojevich crazy? The answer: Not exactly.
He quotes poets at press conferences, but seldom takes questions. Reporters have seen him grab cell phones from complete strangers, interrupting conversations to say, “Hi, this is the governor.” When lawmakers unanimously reject his proposal to tax businesses, he says that’s a vote of confidence.
Is Gov. Rod Blagojevich crazy?
The answer: Not exactly, according to experts in mental and personality disorders. But that doesn’t mean Blagojevich qualifies as normal.
“I’m not sure the question is about (mental) stability,” says Dr. Joe Bohlen, a Springfield psychiatrist. “It may be more about personality.”
Two years ago, Blagojevich famously implored voters to ask what his election rival was thinking, and short of putting the governor on a couch, it’s impossible to say what’s in his head. But from what he’s heard, seen and read, Bohlen and others say they believe Blagojevich may have a narcissistic personality disorder.
Bohlen also has other sources of information, namely a daughter who won a post-college fellowship with the state and worked as an advance person during Blagojevich’s first term, arranging hotel rooms and making sure the governor always looked his best.
“She carried around a bottle of hairspray in her purse,” Bohlen said.
Matters of hair aside, there’s usually not much hope for a person with a narcissistic personality disorder, he says.
“The personality is really hard to change,” Bohlen said. “They’re hard to work with. They’re non-compliant. There are impairments to either social or occupational or other types of functioning. They’re easy to make mad, and when they do, they tend to drop out of therapy or counseling. They only come back when they’re hurting again and they need an immediate fix, and they expect you’ll make them well with a pill or something.”
The fellowship Bohlen’s daughter won usually results in a state job, the doctor said, but that didn’t happen.
“He just said, ‘Bye, bye,’” Bohlen said.
Whether the governor — or any other elected official — is a narcissist isn’t just a parlor-game question, says Scott Ambers, a Chicago psychologist who is following the governor’s impeachment saga and shares Bohlen’s view that Blagojevich might have a narcissistic personality disorder.
“How does their personality makeup affect their ability to govern in the interest of the citizenry versus govern in their own self-interest?” Ambers asked.
A governor who rejects a clemency petition without reading it because he doesn’t like a lawmaker who supports a pardon, as Blagojevich has reportedly done, suggests narcissism, Ambers said. Other evidence includes Blagojevich withholding funds from a children’s hospital until he gets a campaign contribution, as federal prosecutors allege, then lining up people with health problems at a press conference, aiming to show he’s compassionate, he said.
There’s also Blagojevich pondering a run for the presidency in 2016 and mulling whether he can trade a U.S. Senate seat for a Cabinet position, as prosecutors contend.
“The disorder is characterized by a lack of empathy for others, often fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance,” Ambers said. “What generates the contradictions is the narcissist looking at every situation and making a calculation: What’s in it for me?”
There also is Blagojevich’s vow to fight for his office, even after the state House voted 114-1, and then 117-1, to impeach him, which suggests narcissism to Ambers.
“The negative opinions of others don’t really matter, they don’t penetrate this sense of grandiosity, this sense of ‘I am blameless, I have done nothing wrong — it’s just my persecutors who are out to get me,’” Ambers said.
Jack Fyans, a Springfield psychologist who leans Republican, declined to talk about Blagojevich specifically, but he did allow this: “It seems like the political culture of Illinois is being at least affected, if not influenced, by a slight degree of narcissism.”
Speaking generally, Fyans said narcissists don’t care what others think.
“The sense of superiority is phenomenal, and the sense of entitlement: I am the sitting whatever and I will do what I want to do,” Fyans said. “If narcissism is what we’re talking about, that person would be predicted to never resign.”
Bill Moredock, also a Springfield psychologist, said it’s impossible to diagnose narcissism without an examination, but from what he’s seen, Blagojevich, whose approval rating dipped to 7 percent last month, might qualify.
“I think, probably, with this arrogance, he’s probably narcissistic to a degree,” Moredock said. “I don’t think he’s changed any; I think this is the way he’s been. It’s all about him, and it’s all about power.”
Like Bohlen, Moredock said narcissists are tough to treat.
“People who are narcissistic rarely get psychotherapy,” Moredock said. “They don’t think they’re the problem.
“They think everyone else is the problem.”
Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542 or email@example.com.