The Catholic Thing
Political Narcissists: Lacking a Moral Center Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 29 May 2013

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The scandals coming out of Washington seem to be never ending. Almost every day there are new revelations on IRS agents persecuting conservative and religious groups, Benghazi cover-ups, and Justice Department eavesdropping on the parents of journalists.

Have you noticed that the official responses to these occurrences have been similar? The first reaction is to plead ignorance. President Obama and many of his top appointees are never tipped off about potential problems. They are always in the dark and learn about misconduct when they read about it in newspapers.

That excuse is very hard to believe. Back in the mid-1990s when I was running the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which included thirty-five separate facilities and 9,000 employees), I made it clear to the Inspector General and senior staff that if a problem was brewing or bad news was on the horizon, I wanted a heads-up.  If I learned about employee misconduct from the media, heads rolled in the agency.

The other response has been to downplay headline-making revelations as nothing more than “inappropriate” behavior. Not “shocking” or “monstrous” or “criminal” or “wicked” or “shameful” or “unpardonable” or God forbid, “immoral” behavior.

As a New Yorker, I am accustomed to frequent government and political exposés. In recent years, just on the state level, over thirty elected officials have been convicted of a crime, or have been indicted, or censured or driven from office.  (Five in the past month.)

Last week, for instance, long-time Brooklyn power-broker, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, resigned – before being expelled – from the state legislature after the release of a damning special investigator’s report that concluded Lopez, for many years, had “inappropriately” sexually harassed female interns who worked in his office.

The disgraced Lopez did not apologize, nor did he fade into anonymity because he was ashamed of his behavior.  Instead he announced he will run for a seat on the New York City Council this fall.

Then there is the case of former Congressman Anthony Weiner whose district I lived in for several years.

Weiner e-mailed lewd photographs of himself to young female strangers and after it became public, denied the charge and blamed a hacker. When the tabloids proved otherwise, Weiner fessed up to “inappropriate” behavior and agreed to resign his seat only after Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional heavies insisted.

Fast-forward two years, and Weiner who believes his disgraceful behavior is old news is now running for Mayor of New York.

      The Weiner the world awaited?

What makes these and so many other political lowlifes believe they are indispensible and that nothing they ever do will be led against them in the long run?

First and foremost, they are narcissists.  They have grandiose views of their talents, excessive interest in themselves, a craving for attention and admiration, and a consciousness of superiority.

This type of person, as social philosopher Christopher Lasch once observed, depends on others “to validate his self-esteem.  He cannot live without an admiring audience. . . .For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individual saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design.”  Success for these narcissists “consists of nothing more substantial than a wish to be vastly admired; not for one’s accomplishments, but simply for oneself, uncritically and without reservation.”

In a 9,000 word article published in the April 10, 2011 issue of New York Times magazine, Weiner claimed he was a “victim” of his narcissist personality because he needed attention 24/7.  “Well, ok,” he told the Times, “now at 2 o’clock in the morning, I can come home from playing hockey and I can find someone saying [on Twitter or Facebook] ‘Oh that was great’ … So somewhere in there it got to a place where I was trying to engage people on nothing about being a politician.  Or sometimes it would start out about politics and then, ‘You’re a great guy.’  ‘Oh, thanks, you are great, too.’  ‘I think you’re handsome.’  ‘Oh, that’s great.’ … “To me it was just another way to feel this notion that I want to be liked and admired.”

Such politicians also believe they should not be judged by their private misconduct, but by their self-proclaimed great public deeds.  In other words, they subscribe to the Bill Clinton school of ethics in which character doesn’t matter.

For centuries, character – “the actualization of the human potential for excellence,” in the old scholastic formula – was seen as the prerequisite for anyone interested in public service.  Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, the Renaissance humanists, and the American Founders all agreed that character matters; that it is essential for public officials to cultivate the moral virtues of justice, courage, honesty, patience, and temperance.  For them, a leader with character is one who can keep  appetites under control in both public and private life.

Be it in Washington or New York, the primary reason why so many immoral or disgraceful acts are now dismissed as merely “inappropriate” is that too many public officials are pragmatic to the point of amorality. Their sole standard is political expediency. They lack a moral center, a reference point, in their pursuit of political power and personal indulgence.

If we’re going to talk about “inappropriate,” sooner or later we have to decide what’s “appropriate.” And that’s not something that can be left to the self-interest of public figures or the short attention span of the media.

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (9)Add Comment
written by Athanasius, May 29, 2013
This reminds me of the column 2 weeks ago on "Good Personism". These politicians think that as long as they are good at what they do professionally then it doesn't matter what they do privately. The sad thing is that many voters agree and vote for these charlatans as long as they bring home the bacon. Just look at how the feminist Left abandoned Monica Lewinsky because they wanted Bill Clinton to stay around to support their pro-abortion agenda.
written by Manfred, May 29, 2013
An enjoyable article Mr. Marlin, although in my opinion you gave too much ink to Weiner. Isn't he Schumer's protege?
My family left N.Y. for a nice (then) Protestant area in N.J. in 1950 as N.Y. was corrupt and new homes were being built here. The problems you cite are systemic. There was to be NO MENTION of GOD in the 2012 Democratic National Platform. Obama intervened on Wednesday to insert the phrase "God given" only because Cdl Dolan was speaking the next day. The Party is God-less. The Catholic Bishop of Vermont, for example, just declared that Vermont is a "death state" as it just added euthanasia to abortion and sodomite "marriage" to the list of actions legal in that State. If you check the statistics, you will find that abortion, sodomite "marriage" and now euthanasia are prevalent in what used to be referred to as "catholic"(sic) states. Let's hear it for Catholic education.
written by Jacob, May 29, 2013
Right, but I guarantee you never risked your own neck to stop it.

When good men do nothing and everything..

We all have our sins.. Some are narcissists and some are cowards. (Unfortunately most American Catholics are complete helpless cowards.)
written by Grump, May 29, 2013
Well said, Mr. Marlin. You mention heads rolling in the wake of misdeeds, but there are few if any consequences these days when it comes to political chicanery. It would not surprise me if Weiner won -- acting contrite in his public "confessions" and relying on the seemingly unlimited forgiveness of those with short memories and no moral compass for his "rehabilitation" and "redemption."

Hypocrisy mixes with the mundane. How many times have we heard Obama and other so-called national leaders promise to "hold people accountable" for their crimes and yet see them let off the hook, including the Muslim terrorist, aka US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who shouted "Allahu Akbar!" as he murdered 13 fellow GI's and wounded 30 at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009 -- an incident mislabeled by Obama as "a workplace shooting." Since then Hasan has collected nearly $300,000 in back pay while clamming up and has yet to be tried while his victims go begging for benefits.

Likewise, the Benghazi killers of 4 Americans remain free despite Obama's vow to "hold them accountable" and "bring them to justice," the culprits in "fast-and-furious" in which a US border agent was murdered have yet to be apprehended, no one has been fired or disciplined in the aftermath of the IRS mess but if anything reassigned or promoted to other jobs, AG Eric Holder has all has been incriminated or dishonored himself in a variety of sordid affairs, the Secret Service sex case remains forgotten, ad nauseum, while Obama claims blissful and bland ignorance, relying on the lapdog media to continue to carry his water.

The last two paragraphs of your column succinctly and accurately sum up the problems with politics today. I suppose high principles and character have mattered at times during our long American history but some things never change. As Will Rogers put it, "About all I can say for the United States Senate is that it opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.

written by Seanachie, May 29, 2013
Gump (above) has it right, George...your article is right on target. What is worse about character is that those leaders who live their lives consistent with well formed character are ridiculed by their political opponents and their media cheerleaders. For example, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41 and 43, Palin, Perry, et al are/were described as well meaning bumbling rubes while clearly character deprived posers are "hip", "stylish", "with it", etc. That Weiner or either of the Clintons would be seriously considered for any position requiring character defies informed reason. Too, what can be said about the character of a chief executive who apparently slept through the attack at Benghazi and whose subordinates provided arms to narco-terrorists and leveraged government positions and authority to silence political opposition and press freedom?
written by Maggie-Louise, May 29, 2013
Re: Clinton. During the Lewinski episode, I told anyone who would listen that anyone who would betray his wife would betray his country because betrayal is part of his character--and he did, for paltry campaign donations.

Re: Obama/Bengazi: The most despicable, reprehensible, unforgivable lie of all the lies told about that affair was the lie spoken to the families of the four fallen Americans. Within arms' reach of the lifeless bodies of their loved ones, he and the other Clinton looked right into the all-consuming grief of the families and lied to them--blatantly and shamelessly, with no effort at all-- about the circumstances of their deaths. If there is anything lower--and more revealing of character--than that, I can't imagine what it is.

Excellent essay, Mr. Marlin. Thank you.
written by Jack,CT, May 29, 2013
Dear Mr Marlin,
I agree with all you say and I am just as
moved by the comments of Maggie-Louise and Grump.
The scandals add up and president Obama continues to
have his cozy little party with fiends and the lipstick
to prove it.I have been a part of following the White
House for years.
Meanwhile as the "World Turns" the strategy seems to be
ignore in hopes to deflect.
I sadly agree with the idea that a "Majority" of Americans
who are totally unaware and like it that way! If you watch
"Waters World" on the Factor you find that some can not tell
you who the VP is!
Then there is the rest of us......
I hope there is a renewal of interest in "Current Events and
I am aware there is a great deal of young people who are
very interested in all we have talked about,to be clear.
My fear is the majority are not aware and what impact
this will have on the next generation,
In my own life I am Guilty of not ensuring my Faith be passed on to my two boys as much as my dad did with his children so:
I harbor no anger towards anyone for the realitys of
gaps of information for millions of us I am simply
sad to see it.
I just left a small donation to The Catholic Thing and it was more symbolic then anything.I am fully aware a "few bucks" can do little but if a thousand or five did the
same we could help the good people of The Catholic Thing
continue a great service.

So to Mr Marlin and Mr Royal and all of you who keep
us relevent I thankyou.
written by Agricola, May 30, 2013
Disorder breeds more disorder. Strong character is essential. Genius in the service of disorder is enormously harmful. I am fairly convinced that our current national leadership is neither competent nor of strong character, except in their fevered, narcissistic assessments of themselves. I believe that we once emphasized character formation in our schools and churches. It now seems to have disappeared in most of those places. Without it, there can be little hope for the future.
written by jrf, June 02, 2013
Can we agree, the "grand experiment" is a bust! Community organizers that graduate from the Saul Alinsky School of Radical Political Thought do not make effective or moral presidents.

The cost of this experiment will be felt for generations.

Excellent article and the attendant comments are equally excellent!

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