Romney as Reflex Machine?


Andrew Sullivan writes tonight:

I’m fascinated by the purity of the cynicism. Seriously, I’ve never seen any human being up close like this – a mechanical, unstoppable machine of say anything, forget everything in the past, refuse to take any responsibility for anything he has said in the past, and just smile and golly-gee smile his way along. There’s a a machine-like quality that chills me.

Jeffrey MacDonald, of Fatal Vision, had the same qualities.  They are often found in individuals deemed “sociopathic” by professionals.
Forget the past, lie in the present, etc.:  “There is a machine-like quality that chills me.”

Hervey Cleckley, MD, in The Mask of Sanity, which was first published in 1941 but which, says Wikipedia, “is considered a seminal work and the most influential clinical description of psychopathy in the 20th century,” writes:

“In the psychopath…the observer is confronted with a convincing mask of sanity.  All the outward features of this mask are intact; it cannot  be displaced or penetrated…
The observer finds verbal and facial expressions, tones of voice, and all the other signs we have come to regard as implying conviction and emotion and the normal experiencing
of life as we know it…
“Only very slowly and by a complex estimation or judgment based on multitudinous small impressions does the conviction come upon us that, despite these intact rational processes,
these normal emotional affirmations, and their consistent applications in all directions, we are dealing here not with a complete man at all but with something that suggests a subtly
constructed reflex machine, which can mimic the human personality perfectly.”

Not wanting to equate Romney with MacDonald, nor even to suggest he might display behavioral signs of psychopahy or sociopathy, I could not help but
think of Cleckley as the debate wore on.

Do we want as president a well-intentioned but imperfect man who at the least possesses total sanity, or a personally greedy, ruthless, glaringly deceitful man who might
be only a subtly constructed reflex machine who’s learned to mimic the human personality?

16 Responses to “Romney as Reflex Machine?”

  • Linda Arizona:

    Gee, without reading the title of your post, I would have thought you were talking about Sarah Palin. This Mr. Romney character has all of the above traits.

    When will we stop admiring them for their steely resolve and recognize it for what it is–a complete lack of empathy or conscience? When will we reject those who are not fully human, and embrace those who, despite doubt and emotional anguish, rise up to do the brave and noble thing for the benefit of family and country?

    These last two elections put our country on the cusp of great failing, or a chance to go forward in the hope that this type of person will fade away as a result of continued rejection. This is where I like to remember how the village folk turned their backs on Queen Mab, in Merlin, and she fades away like a mist.

    We need President Obama to finish his work. We need to eradicate from our culture the worship of the sociopath, and educate everyone on the destructive power they yield without mercy.

    Excellent post. I hope you’ll write more about this phenomenon and how Mr. Romney may appear to elicit your above reactions to his behavior.

  • terry:

    I knew a violent sociopathic person. He was somewhat intelligent and completely normal appearing. He was able to fool people by smiling and laughing and acting normal. He was repeatedly locked up for violently beating people. One man (that I know of) was nearly killed. He was in a coma for several days. This person was extremely strong, and when his rage was triggered, he had the strength of 10 normal men. He would tell the most ridiculous and fantastic lies. He would also tell many mundane lies. It was bad for your health to point this out. He also had a hatred of all minorities.

    He was killed in a drunken misadventure. I was happy to never again wonder when I would see him next. Or which one of him I would see. The man was a killer whether or not he had gotten around to actually doing it. After he was dead those who knew him well were sure that he had killed. The only questions were who, why and how many.

  • Sally in MI:

    Speaking of Sarah, she was whining that the President was ‘arrogant’ and ‘telling untruths.’ Right. How does one sociopath see another? With respect, as Sarah sees Mitt now, when it is convenient for her to support the GOP’s choice?

  • BL:

    None of these people are like Sarah, though considering you do not know either one, you cannot make that assessment. However, Sarah, for one, is human in every way. She feels, emotes, and connects with humanity at the basic level. She cries tears of joy when watching home videos and learns of how her daughter was sweetly asked to a prom, she sits as a proud momma as a child engages in courageous behavior on tv infront of millions, dancing her heart out, and she remain proud as punch to have one son who is selflessly and bravely serving the country and another who is just a joy to be around. She and her family believe in a faith and have all their lives. I recall all her kids would attend whatever sport they practiced then head to church. I recall the many pictures of them associating with the church as children. She would never force another person to join a denomination, but uses the strong foundation in which she was brought up to promote a better future. There aren’t more devoted family people than Sarah, the Heaths, and Palins. Sally’s dedication to her family, her friends, and her faith is admirable. I enjoy seeing them support events centered around people with special needs. There’s a reason the Heaths were well-liked growing up in Alaska, and a more obvious reason their home was where their peers hung out. It’s a beautiful life in Alaska, hard, cold, frustrating, and sometimes with ruthless weather, but when strength of family is at the center of your being, nothing’s that hard.
    Because I have not experienced Romney, Obama for that matter, in private circumstances, I cannot speak to how they behave.

    “We need President Obama to finish his work. We need to eradicate from our culture the worship..”

    1. Does a country really need a President who disrespects hardworking business owners, people who battle everyday problems they face while trying to maintain a business they started with everything they have, including paying boatloads of taxes? Life it or not, Obama has said some downright nasty things that are smoothed over with a congenial smile and followed by a joke. What is that in yoru big bad book of psychoanalytical playbook?

    2. I know I am taking the second part of your statement out of context, but it touches on a good point. The current President was elected because people saw savior in him. There are pictures of black people encircling him touching their hands to him praying, or something. THAT is a dangerous mentality to have. Govt is not meant to “take care of the people,” as Julianne Moore once said pitifully. It is to ensure infrastructure and the basic needs are met.

  • annette:

    I think the there is a firmware problem with Mitt. Rebooting that persona will not really help.
    He is indeed a man with no core.

    BL—thanks for the slavish cheering for poor SP, but this post is about Mitt Romney.

  • PhilipMunger:

    Wilhelm Reich, in The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1942 edition) wrote similarly about psychopathic behavior, though he ended up connecting some of the traits Cleckley observed in 1941 not only to individuals, but to the psychoses of then Nazi German and Communist Soviet societies as a whole. Both were keen observers of dysfunctionality. (Reich ended up being a victim of it.)

    Along with Andrew Sullivan’s observation today of Romney as psychopathic automaton, yours goes deep. Watching media defend Romney through these three debates reminds me more of Reich’s findings than of those made by Cleckley.

    Good observations on another creepy debate, Joe.

  • Kerry Mackin:

    Joe, I added a comment to your previous post, but will leave it here too: Here is a link to the November 2008 decision that you scanned below – the link is more legible, for readers who are interested (esp. since the case has been back in the news, again).

  • Dorian Melton:

    Thank you for having the courage to share your insights.

  • Caroll Thompson:

    Governor Romney would sell his mother to be President. And that worries me because this is going to be a very close election.

  • zane1:

    “Watching media defend Romney through these three debates reminds me more of Reich’s findings than of those made by Cleckley.”

    Excellent point Phil.They have been like a marching band leading us over a cliff.

  • Mrs. Tarquin Biscuitbarrel:

    BL, your post should have begun with O/T (for “off-topic”).

    I had to pop a Zofran to relieve the nausea that began when you began to ooze about $arah Palin, who allegedly, ” cries tears of joy when watching home videos and learns of how her daughter was sweetly asked to a prom.” And when you claim, “There aren’t more devoted family people than Sarah, the Heaths, and Palins,” you know this… how? Isn’t that offensive to those of us who actually ARE “devoted family people” without pimping out our offspring as human shields and money-earners?

    Those of us who supported President Obama in 2008 and 2012 certainly do not see him, as you claim, as a “savior,” but as a partner in the hard work rebuilding this country from the economic ash heap left behind by the eight failed years of BushCo. President Obama has reduced taxes on small-business owners eighteen times so far during his presidency. Willard Romney sees companies as something to “harvest” (his own words) to fatten his own bank account.

    Here’s hoping that November 7 will find the entire Romney family sulking its way through deer season in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

  • Happy to see you’re blogging again. On Romney, I see him as someone who would say and do anything to win this election. His mistake is in assuming we’re all stupid.

  • MYJ:

    Welcome back Blogger!!!! :) Long time no see… I am glad you recognize Romney for who he is… If you study Bain, you will get to know Romney… made money by bankrupting businesses and outsourcing jobs… I don’t trust him and pray that he don’t come near the WH. Joe, this could be you next book after the election… I think he is more interested than Sarah.

  • Celia Harrison:

    I have written about Sarah Palin’s obvious psychopathy a few times. We now have new books written recently by Hare and Babiak about recent findings in psychopathy. There is some controversy, but it is generally felt that a sociopath is a person who due to environment and circumstances develops sociopathic behavior and either in part or completely can be rehabilitated. A psychopath is a person who has been born the way they are. Neither are absolutely unaffected by genetics and environment. There have been brain scans demonstrating that they have specific brain anomalies. They have linguistic issues, lack of a conscience and other problems due to this. At this point in time there is no treatment. To further confuse things there is no separation of the two in the DSM-IV the psychiatrists use for diagnosis. They are finally changing the criteria in the new DSM-5 to reflect the reality that not all psychopaths come into contact with the law or are violent, instead they just run for office or go to work on Wall Street where they can harm millions at one time. Sarah Palin is more obvious than Mitt Romney because of his better education and the behavioral controls in the religion he grew up in taught him how to play a persona very well. The more counseling or psychiatric treatment a psychopath can afford the more manipulative they get. Most psychopaths sound like they are crazy due to trying to use technical terms they don’t understand along with constantly lying like Palin, Romney just lies.

  • MYJ:

    I think Sarah Palin is a sociopath and Mitt Romney is a psychipath… I think Sarah had a hard childhood, she not honest about her pass. In a way I feel sorry for her because she never got the help she needed. She self-diagnosis, by bury her abuse and pretend it didn’t happen… This is speculation… I had a friend that is a sociopath, little by little, she described the type of child abuse she expreience, which led her to the street and prostitution. Now she a minister, but she is not diagnosised, she pretend to care, pretend to love to get what she want and uses people in every way she can. When I saw the phoniness, coldness of heart and violent behavior, I broke off from her and ended our friendship. I don’t think Sarah would phyiscally hurt anyone herself, she just know how to get other to do it for her without directly telling them to do it.

    Romney appear to be a psychopath to be (Speculation)… The way he handle Bain, tell me alot about him… Bankrupt companies. sending American jobs oversea.. etc…