I suppose it’s just coincidence that Slate ran a piece on narcissistic personality disorder, especially among leaders, just a few days after Moshe Katsav’s latest bit of surrealistic theater, and just as Ehud Barak had agreed to sell what’s left of the Labor Party to Bibi Netanyahu. Nonetheless, it was a useful coincidence. Here are some key passages from Slate:
A recent study titled “Leader Emergence: The Case of the Narcissistic Leader” describes how narcissists have skills and qualities—confidence, extraversion, a desire for power—that propel them into leadership roles but that when true narcissists are in charge, other aspects of their makeup—a feeling the rules don’t apply to them, a need for constant stroking—can have “disastrous consequences.” Yes, we’re talking about you, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich…
People with NPD [narcissistic personality disorder] act as if they are special beings who are exceptionally intelligent, accomplished, beautiful, or sexy (or all of the above), to whom lesser people (pretty much everyone else) must bow…
Management consultant Michael Maccoby studied narcissistic bosses for his book, The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership… He says narcissists can be charismatic forces for change—because of their drive, vision, risk-taking, and even ruthlessness, many corporations turn to narcissists for salvation. But such people can become dangerous because their success fuels their already ample grandiosity and feeds the sense they got there by disdaining the normal rules. Maccoby says those working for or doing business with a narcissist have to be careful not be drawn into crossing legal and ethical lines.
Slate writer Emily Yoffe suggests that full-blown narcissists don’t usually seek therapy – after all, they think any problems in their lives have to be other people’s fault – and that this is just as well, because they are likely to drive their shrinks mad.
Honestly, I think Emily knows Ehud, but didn’t use him as an example because she wanted to stick to American leaders.
Barak’s energy and his confidence that he could solve all problems took him up the ladder to the prime minister’s office. Once there, he was incapable of delegating any authority. Early in his term, a very well placed source told me about how every meeting last too long because Barak was micromanaging.
At the Camp David summit of 2000, Barak failed in his primary political goal, making peace with the Palestinians. His explanation was simple. The Palestinians didn’t want peace. To quote Emily quoting another expert, “People with NPD are convinced there is nothing wrong with them; it’s everyone around them who is impossible or crazy.” A couple of months later, Barak’s policy of using disproportional force against Palestinian riots had the same effect as when the people of Chelm tried to put out a fire by stacking logs on it. What could have been a brief episode flamed into a full-blown uprising. Barak’s explanation: The Palestinians had planned a revolt.
Israelis like these explanations; the fit expectations. Barak stayed in politics, and eventually the Labor party – acting like the abused wife who keeps coming home – chose him again as its leader. In the process, it abandoned any believable claim to have a peace program. Most of Labor’s voters moved to Kadima this election.
Now Barak wants to join Netanyahu’s government. That way, he can stay Defense Minister. He feels he is looking out for the country: He can’t imagine Israel surviving without him. He also can’t imagine that Labor voters would feel that he has sold them out by providing legitimacy for Bibi’s far-right government.
As a successful narcissist, Barak has ensured that the storm of coverage deals entirely with him. This is a distraction from Netanyahu’s desperation to bring Barak in. According to today’s news reports, Bibi is willing to appoint most of Labor’s Knesset members as ministers, deputy ministers or Knesset committee chairpeople.
Yes, Bibi wants to moderate his image internationally by bringing Labor in. But his real problem, it seems, is simpler: He hasn’t yet been able to cut deals with all the rightwing parties. He may actually realize that giving them what they want will turn him into an international pariah. He certainly knows that they all want the same ministries, and that his own party’s pols want those ministries too. If Labor and Kadimah resolutely refuse to join his coalition, Netanyahu could reach the end of the time allotted to him to form a government without succeeding.
But Barak is throwing him a lifeline. Why should Barak want to save Bibi? Silly question. Barak is trying to save Barak, which for him is the same as saving the Jewish people and perhaps humanity.
That said, Barak is a very mild case next to ex-prez Katsav. Told that he would be indicted for rape, he called a half-hour press conference that turned into a nearly three-hour tirade. The whole world was out to get him; he was not to blame.
Afterward his PR advisers quit. His lawyer, Zion Amir, did not. Like every other suspect, Katsav is innocent till proven guilty. That said, the man is accused of exploiting power to force himself on other people against their will. In that sense, the press conference was a kind of displaced psychodrama of personal assault. If I were Zion Amir, I’d be very worried about Katsav on the witness stand. Narcissists rise and fall not just on their deeds but also – perhaps mainly – on their ability to captivate other people with their feelings. If the judges feel that they are under emotional assault by a man who considers himself above the rules, that might just color their reading of the evidence.