Friday, October 14, 2011

The search for the alpha male continues

I believe I've noted here before that much of my attraction to politics is based on my fascination with reading the "national psyche." I was trained as a therapist - but tend to be much more drawn to applying that knowledge base to larger systems as opposed to dealing with individuals.

So when folks wonder why a candidate like Mitt Romney doesn't seem to be able to capture the confidence of Republicans - one way to look at that is that he's clearly a congenital flip-flopper. But I think it goes even deeper than that. As I've written about before, Jonathan Chait captured it very well in the battle a few weeks ago between Romney and Perry.

Romney approaches every question as if he is in an actual debate, trying to provide the most intellectually compelling answer available, within the bounds of political expediency. Perry treats questions as interruptions...His total liberation from the constraints of reason give Perry a chance to represent the Republican id in a way Romney simply cannot match...

I suspect the Bush-Perry debating style broadcasts a subliminal message of strong leadership...It is, in a sense, an alpha male move.

Of course we now know that Perry blew his alpha male status by showing compassion to undocumented workers and suggesting Republicans didn't have enough "heart." One of the reasons folks were so keen on Gov. Christie - despite the fact that he was too liberal on many issues - was that he presented the alpha male figure that wouldn't care if you don't agree with him. And now we have Herman Cain who basically says "tough nuts" to Romney's detailed policy proposals...I can sum it all up with 9-9-9.

While my training as a therapist was in systems theory - I'm aware enough of Freudian concepts to agree totally with Chait on the fact that what folks are looking for is validation of their "id" - in other words, their instinctive feelings of anger fueled by fear. That part of our psyche is in constant tension with the "ego," which regulates our instincts through the use of logic interacting with reality.

In that sense, Romney represents the best Republicans have at this point by way of an ego trying to manage the id. But the tea party base is having none of it! They're having the equivalent of a 2 year-old throwing a temper tantrum saying "NO! I won't eat my vegetables, I want ice cream!!!" And so the search for that alpha male continues. Whether it will dissipate and folks finally calm down to eat their Romney vegetables remains to be seen.

But it strikes me that we see much of this playing out on the left as well. What have the poutragers turned OWS crowd been playing to if not the need for an alpha male to satisfy our id? While the base of Republican anger and fear is rooted in racism combined with economic fears, the id on the left is reacting to 8 years of Bush/Cheney combined with those same economic fears. Is it any wonder that OWS has avoided specific plans/policies? To do so would move the whole conversation into the ego and strip it of the energy of the id. Along comes President Obama telling us we need to eat our vegetables - and just like the tea partiers - we want none of that!

One of the ways this theory is helpful is that its important to recognize that the id will NOT be denied - but at the same time, it can't be in control. I used to teach a parenting class based on child development that outlined the task of 2-4 year olds being to learn that you can think and feel at the same time. That seems to be a step our culture is overlooking at our peril. How often do you hear things like "I got so angry I couldn't help myself?" That's a cop-out at best and a sure sign of immaturity.

Overall I'd say that our problems politically these days are rooted in the cultural phenomenon of giving our id free reign and expecting a "daddy" leader to either be the alpha male expression of that or to balance it with their own strong ego. In other words, we want validation to continue our temper tantrum. I have to wonder when we're going to grow up and develop an ego of our own.


  1. Mo'nin'Ms. Pants

    Yes, Yes, and Yes again.

    I believe this explains it 'bout as well as I've seen it done.

    And, your last question is one of THE questions, imo, that our country has really never honestly contended with.

  2. Thanks Blackman.

    This morning I ran across this Onion video - and as usual - they nail it with humor.,26351/