As I continue to witness the startling events of the past week unfold, from bank failures to prime-time presidential addresses and Sarah Palin's uninformed predictions of the imminent arrival of the next Great Depression to increasingly desperate and cynical campaign shenanigans, the one thought that keeps entering my medically-trained mind is a strange coincidence of acronyms that may explain why John McCain is psychologically unfit to be our next President.
For the past 5 years, we've seen horrible and tragic scenes involving "IED's" -- improvised explosive devices -- killing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, 1,808 American service people have been killed by these deadly instruments of insurgent warfare, countless more maimed for life and untold thousands of civilians wiped out in the crossfire.
Now I fear that the Republican candidate for Commander-in-Chief -- John McCain -- may secretly be carrying his own "IED" into the White House. I'm not referring to a crude, homemade explosive device. Rather I'm referring to a well-documented psychiatric disorder that carries the same acronym -- and similar consequences -- as the roadside bombs that are killing our men and women in uniform - "Intermittent Explosive Disorder" or "IED."
Simply stated, John McCain has an impulse-control disorder that occasionally manifests itself in wildly impulsive changes in decision-making, veering one way and rapidly veering to another position in a nanosecond. And the other unmistakeable sign: rage.
The diagnostic bible of the psychiatry world -- the DSM-IV -- classifies this personality disorder as "a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme expressions of anger, often to the point of uncontrollable rage, that are disproportionate to the situation at hand. It is categorized under the heading of impulse control disorders."
The DSM-IV criteria for IED include: "the occurrence of discrete episodes of failure to resist aggressive impulses that are grossly disproportionate to provocation or the precipitating psychosocial stressor. Furthermore, the acts of aggression must not be due to a general medical condition, e.g., a head injury, Alzheimer's disease, or due to substance abuse."
It is serious stuff to diagnose an American presidential candidate, albeit at a distance, with a disabling personality disorder. So where is my supporting data, the symptoms with which this patient presents?
It's an open secret that Mr. McCain is famous for his impulsivity and explosive temper. He's widely known as "Senator Hothead" by colleagues and foes alike.
In his article, "Raising McCain", New York Post columnist Charles Hunt wrote in May 2007 about an incident between McCain and Texas Republican Senator John Corwyn during which the "Presidential hopeful...erupted in an angry, profanity-laced tirade in a heated dispute over immigration-law overhaul during which McCain screamed, Fuck you!' 'This is chickenshit stuff.'"
In the same article the following explosions were noted between McCain and his Republican "colleagues" :
• February 2000: Sen. McCain repeatedly calls Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) an "asshole", causing a fellow GOP Senator to say, "I didn't want this guy anywhere near a trigger." Offended, Domenici stands up and gives a dignified, restrained speech about how in all his years in the Senate, through many heated debates, no one had ever called him that. "Another senator might have taken the moment to check his temper," Domenici States.
• February 2000: Sen. McCain has a heated exchange with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and called him a "fucking jerk." Grassley states, "Senators are not used to having their intelligence or integrity challenged by another senator."
• January 1995: Sen. McCain has a "scuffle" with 92-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) on the Senate Floor after McCain, who was midway through an opening statement at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, was interrupted by chairman Thurmond who asked, 'Is the senator about through?' McCain glares at Thurmond and later physically confronts the elderly Chairman on the Senate floor.
• Election night 1986: John McCain is elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time. McCain then "goes postal" and yells at the top of his lungs and pokes the chest of a young Republican volunteer who had set up a lectern that was too tall for the 5-foot-9 politician to be seen to his best advantage. "Here this poor guy is thinking he has done a good job, and he gets a new butt ripped because McCain didn't look good on television," notes one observer.
Ancient history? Wait, there's more. In the span of the last few weeks, Mr. McCain has both displayed his IED pattern and thrown his "Country First" campaign slogan under the bus:
• He nominates neophyte, arch-conservative, political unknown Sarah Palin to be his VP running mate, a mere 72-year-old heartbeat away from having her completely unqualified finger on the nuclear "red button."
• He furiously, and apparently without even looking around at the facts, declares in the heat of economic crisis that the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Chris Cox, should be fired. McCain blurts out that Cox "betrayed the public's trust." The only problem is that Cox is part of the group working toward a solution to the crisis, he's not the root cause. Note to Mr. McCain: Presidents have no authority to fire an SEC Chairman.
• He impulsively announces that he is "suspending" his political campaign to rescue the economy -- not coincidentally as his poll numbers are tanking -- and rushes back to Washington to focus on something that until this week he claimed is "fundamentally sound" and that "he knows nothing about." He then admits on the same day that he has not actually "had the time" to read the 2 ½ page Bush-Paulson proposal on the details of the proposed bailout.
• He abruptly inserts his physical presence into intense negotiations in Washington and, and after a single meeting with his own Republican President, scuttles a bipartisan deal that, just hours earlier, was deemed to be near a mutually acceptable agreement by the expert team of political leaders and financial experts who worked on it.
Just this week, noted conservative commentator George F. Will documented this pattern of behavior in his September 23, 2008 Washington Post column entitled "McCain Loses His Head." Mr. Will aptly observes that "under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama." However I'm reasonably certain that Mr. Will is unaware that this behavior may be due to a deeply rooted mental disorder, not a mere character flaw. IED sufferers do not stable leaders make.
What do these incidents presage for a McCain presidency? Instead of a cool, steady hand at the helm of our troubled nation, we'll be faced with a loose cannon - better known these days as a "drama queen" -- in the Oval Office who is prone to impulsive and ill-advised decisions, angry outbursts and a temperament that all who disagree with his administration are "unpatriotic," "fucking," "assholes."
We've (barely) survived eight years of this kind of "leadership" and decision-making from our absentee President George W. Bush and ultra-secretive VP "Darth Vader" Cheney, without the added drama.
Would a McCain-Palin administration look like a group of angry ADHD-impaired preschoolers who've been denied their milk and cookies -- and with full control of the military?
This country needs grace under pressure rather than explosive, impulsive and ill-advised "shoot-from the hip" leaders. We need psychologically intact minds with both the intellectual capacity and experience to govern and the emotional control to govern wisely. We need FDR, not Mike Tyson.