Is Blago nuts? The experts speak

Reflecting on the question “Is Blago nuts?,” — retired clinical psychologist Judith Lown writes:

I read your column with particular interest this morning because it echoed a conversation I had with a friend last night. My reaction then, as to your column, is that Blago is a classic personality disorder–Axis II in the DSM, which, technically, is different from psychosis, although part of an Axis II diagnosis is a vulnerability to psychotic episodes.

The question here is reality testing and the quality and the extent of loss of reality testing. Psychotics’ loss of reality testing tends to have a bizarre flavor–Martians planting radios in the brain, the next door neighbor spying on them, etc. Personality disorders’ reality testing deficits tend to be more in the line of “I wish it, therefore it is, or I don’t wish it, therefore it isn’t.” There were times during the Clinton administration when, imo, both Bill and Hill seemed to wander pretty far into that territory. My guess is that we will see some of the same when pressures get to O.

If I were Blago’s attorney and wanted to use an insanity plea, I would go for the episodic psychosis, but if I were a juror, I wouldn’t buy it. His behavior is, to me, just garden variety sociopathic personality disorder behavior. And in the context of the Illinois Combine, there were simply insufficient contextual signals to make him moderate it.

Former Assistant United States Attorney Bill Otis also invokes his professional experience to answer the question:

No, he’s not nuts. Having been an AUSA for a long time, one thing I noticed is that normal, honest people have difficulty understanding how criminals think. (This shows up, for example, in the death penalty debates I do, where abolitionists simply don’t grasp the heartlessness and cruelty that some killers display. It’s simply beyond their experience).

Blago’s world is merely corrupt; it’s not insane. To him, a Senate seat is not a public trust, it’s a commodity. It has a price, and the most efficient mechanism for determining that price is to put it on auction, which is what he did. Far from being insane, it’s perfectly clear-headed — just venal. Mortgage markets should operate as well.

There are two other factors tending to argue that Blago was thinking clearly.

First, the quality of one’s thinking must be measured in the environment in which it occurs. Blogo was a powerful man. His prior years of greed had gone, not merely unpunished, but rewarded, ultimately with the Governor’s Mansion. It might well be mistaken, but it is hardly insane, to believe that the behaviors that got you so much for so long will continue to work.

In this respect, Blago is more than a little reminiscent of both Elilot Spitzer and John Edwards, who, although high-profile and ambitious public figures under considerable real (and even more potential) press scrutiny, nonetheless thought they could continue to chase skirts with the joyfulness (and abandon) of an anonymous Wal-Mart worker in his twenties. The cocoon of arrogance and the feel of invulnerability that comes with getting away with this stuff for years — as Blogo, Spitzer and Edwards all did — comes to be their environment. A person is not crazy for living in his environment and adapting his behavior to it; indeed he’d be crazy to do otherwise.

Second, the absence of insanity is strongly suggested by the large number of candidates who joined the auction and put in their bids (or at least explored what the bidding might look like). We don’t know yet who all these people were, but it’s a safe guess they were some powerful and prominent citizens. Are they all crazy? No. They were, like Blago, acting rationally in the environment at hand (which they did much to create, but that’s another story).

Of course, sometimes rational but corrupt people get caught, and this appears to be one of them. If they were always caught, or always (or close to always) made to pay a significant price for their misdeeds, then there would be a better case for thinking them to be insane. But that’s not remotely how it works — and they know that.

It’s not so much that Spitzer and Edwards will walk away from their respective scandals the multi-millionaire celebrities they were when they walked in, with a fawning (for liberals) press telling us that (a) everybody does it, or (b) to err is human, or (c) we can’t be so judgmental, or (d) [fill in the blank]. It’s that we (or at least they) learned from The Big One ten years ago. Bill Clinton disgraced his office, lied, and encouraged or (possibly) arranged for others to lie. He also granted at least one pardon after the pardonee’s former (but still friendly) wife forked over a few hundred thousand in “contributions.”

And what happened?

Clinton’s popularity went up, his spouse became a serious candidate for President, he’s
touted by the press as an elder statesman, his guy at DoJ who checked off on the pardon is about to become Attorney General, and of course Clinton himself lives a life of luxury and adulation. The world of perverse incentives that the Left labored so long to create has arrived.

Is Blago nuts? Not hardly.

Bill objects to fitting Blago’s behavior within the contours of a syndrome:

In Blago’s case, the less sophisticated term is “crook.” And thinking that you’re going to get away with it is hardly crazy. It is, unfortunately, for the most part correct, as is the at least equally corrosive belief that even if you get caught, a small period of embarrassment will be followed by a life no worse, and perhaps better, than the one you were leading before.

For more evidence of Blago’s affect and state of mind, listen to Blago’s condemnation of bribery before a Democratic National Committee audience in 2006. We learn that his governing philosophy derives from the Golden Rule, but that his mother taught him all the rest. Mom seemed to know she had to worry about her son.

Blago relates that in 1992 upon his election to public office, mom advised him to be honest. “Of course I’ll be honest,” Blago responds, “because that’s how you raised me.” Mom follows up that advice with the plea that he never take bribes. Of course not, Blago responds, taking bribes would be dishonest as well as illegal, and he would never do anything to dishonor the memory of his father. This is one very cold customer.

Mom also advised Blago always to be for the people. Blago tells the DNC that this is what separates Democrats from Republicans. At least we can agree that it’s the classic shtick that separates Democrats from Republicans.

“Welcome to Illinois,” Blago concludes, “and on to victory in November.” As Dorothy says, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.

UPDATE: Via Drudge, I see that Chicago locals are taking up the question along with Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass.

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