Should a Diagnosis of Bipolar Exclude a Candidate from the US Presidency

This morning I came across an article in the Philly Post addressing the possibility Newt Gingrich may be bipolar and if so, should he be allowed to become President of the United States.

I am going to cut to the chase on this one.  A diagnosis of Bipolar should, indeed, exclude a candidate from the presidency. And I say this as a Bipolar sufferer myself. While I agree with the theory that the very qualities that mark mood disorders make for great leaders in times of crisis, (A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Dr. Nassir Ghaemi) the reality is allowing someone who can become manic or gravely depressed to have access to ‘The Button’ is ridiculous. Additionally, Clearance is not granted to those with serious mental illness, so allowing the Commander-in-Chief to suffer from Bipolar is utterly absurd.

It seems that Liz Spikol, the article’s author,  and I are on the same page with this topic.  She writes, “Now let’s say Newt Gingrich has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder I. Is he still a viable candidate for president? No, but it’s not about the diagnosis. It’s about the behavior.”  That’s absolutely correct.  It is about the behavior. It’s not about lack of intelligence (bipolar people are often times very intelligent), socioeconomics, party affiliation or stigma.  It’s all about whether the person in question can present rational, consistent leadership for one of the most powerful nations on earth, as well as whether they are able to handle stress in a time of crisis – the latter being a well-documented trigger for a bipolar episode.

So, for everyone out there, both foreign and domestic, I give the floor to you.  Any thoughts on whether a Bipolar sufferer is a viable candidate for the US Presidency?

NO… never!! — There is no guarantee that even if that person is actually not in denial and has been taking meds and other forms of treatment, that there won’t be any type of mental set-back or break down.

I have lived with the HELL that Bipolar Disorder had put my mom thru 41 years ago…then another family member who’s life is still destroyed by this mental disease.

I have experienced ugliness & witnessed the turmoil of this awful mental illness at the risk of my own quality of life having been diminished & have had bodily harm; which has lead me to study it for over 16 years.

I have EVERY reason to believe that Donald Trump has at least 10 or more of the symptoms that he has showed to the world at his rallies and debates on national TV.

NO … NO one who’s mind can go back & forth unexpectedly at the absolute worse time on any given day, in addition to the many other negative things that B. D. causes people’s behavior to do, should NEVER be over a country. MANY bad & risky decisions are made by people who have this. We do not need to live in constant jeopardy of the possible chance that a president could get so out of control, that he (or she) could provoke other world leaders into having a war with us do to his or her temper tantrum or delusions of grandeur.

Initially, this is a topic that really bums me out. I was often the 12 or 13 year old girl that heralded herself as the “future first woman president!” Since then I have come to realize that I have no interest in being involved in politics whatsoever, or at least that I have trouble being involved because the process is so frustrating. Senior year of high school I appointed myself the senior class dictator (as presidents must be elected and I was not), which, alone, probably would be a good indicator that I shouldn’t be President of the USA anyway! (Ah well, I readily identify with the evil genius character too much anyway).

Realistically, I don’t think the diagnosis itself should be a deal breaker. Words assigned to someone by a doctor (or number of doctors) can be unreliable, I definitely know that first hand. I DO agree that behavior is the number one thing that matters, so behaving mentally ill should absolutely be a deal breaker. Someone with an illness that is stable, though, and who can make a case for themselves and their stability I would have no problem voting for.

Plus, I can imagine there have been many men who had “undiagnosed” issues that weren’t readily apparent until their taking office, and caused a ruckus while they were there. If a candidate stepped up to the plate and lay everything out on the table before hand but made a point that these issues were stable, we might be better off. I doubt the rest of America would feel that way, but presidential campaigns and elections are anything but logical anyway.

Senior Class Dictator. You crack me up! But I bet you did a fine job. You wanted the post bad enough to just take it and run with it. I have this mental image of you storming the principal’s office, making demands for better lunchroom conditions, better venue for the prom, etc etc. (If I had enough balls in HS that’s exactly what I would have done.) I envy you! 🙂

To your point, “Plus, I can imagine there have been many men who had “undiagnosed” issues that weren’t readily apparent until their taking office,” yeah, absolutely.That book I mentioned in the post addresses that to a degree. No need to talk about that certain German who’s everybody’s favorite poster child for ill person turned horrific leader. Then we have great leaders such as Churchill (Bipolar) and Lincoln (depressive) who performed with brilliance, dignity and grace. [Love Churchill. Huge role model.] The world would not be what it is today without them having had a hand in it.

I really admire and respect your view that the diagnosis shouldn’t be a deal breaker. Really, it’s admirable that you want to take a closer look and see the whole picture before making up your mind. I’m a lot more cynical. From first hand experience, there’s no way I could be perfectly stable for the four year period that marks the minimum years someone will be in the prez office. So, yeah, not only cynical but I’m stigmatizing myself to some degree too, eh?

I’m with you, Vivien. Even the most stable person alive can cave under the pressure of being Leader of the Free World. At the very least, they all come out the other side of 4 years looking *decades* older. We might be able to tolerate sex scandals, blatant lying and shaving the edge off a few laws, but we need to know the Prez can perform with consistency—something we BPs can’t count on.

Sandy! How goes it? You know, I completely forgot about the super-aging all presidents go through. Obama isn’t doing too bad but W was a lot worse for the wear. Speaking of aging, would you say that we BPs don’t age very well because of all the stress the illness and medications put us under? (I was thinking about this the other day when I was watching a documentary that talked a little bit about BP.)

That’s a really good question, and something I know nothing about. There’s been some research on how brains of folks with BP and schizophrenia deteriorate over time (great!), but I don’t think the results were conclusive. Too many variables (or some such). I’d sure like to see more research done, though.

You know, it depends on a person’s track record. I don’t want to say that a person with bipolar disorder should be excluded from anything! It depends on their treatment, level of functioning, track record, and severity of diagnosis.

I don’t know much about New Gingrich’s career or about the man himself. But, as far as I know, he hasn’t royally screwed anything up. He doesn’t outwardly appear to have bipolar disorder, meaning showing signs of mania and depression in the media. And as we know, if any public figure is suspected of any mental illness, it becomes a witch hunt.

This is coming from a person that doesn’t really support Gingrich. In fact, I lean more democrat when I vote. So, this is pretty objective.

When we start drawing lines about the level or responsibility a person with bipolar disorder can handle, I don’t think there should be a hard and fast rule. So, people with BP can’t hold high offices? What next? People with BP can’t be executives, principals, teachers, parents? It perpetuates the stigma! Suddenly, women need a full psych workup before hospitals let them have custody of their children? Custody is taken away. Perfectly qualified people will start losing their jobs because of mandatory psych evals.

I understand that this is a matter of national security. But what people fail to realize is that the Presidental position isn’t a dictatorship. The word that comes from there isn’t the “be all, end all”. The President cannot act independently on a lot of things. So, I wouldn’t be worried about the executive branch going unchecked.

Hey, Lulu – Happy Weekend!

For all the political haters out there, let me take the wind out of your sails before I reply to Lulu. As far as political parties are concerned, I am, shall we say, ‘unaffiliated.’ (Yes, a quote from Brother Where Art Thou.) I vote for the person I think can do the best job for the country. Not because they wear a donkey or an elephant on their lapel.

As you pointed out, Lulu, “The President cannot act independently on a lot of things.” Right. There are checks and balances in place and the President needs to be respectful of those as well as the structure and processes of our democratic system. The President does, however, have unilateral authority in some areas. If not used responsibly and with a level head…well, I don’t want to think about what could potentially happen. Having a manic or severely depressed person in that type of position/situation would potentially put a lot at risk. People who are in a hypomanic/manic state are mostly incapable of following authority and processes to the extent that is necessary from the President of the US.

Now I’m going to pick on Gingrich just a bit. The following doesn’t prove Gingrich is bipolar but I have seen some behavior on his part over the last 15 years that crackles with hypomania. There are several things about Gingrich that scare me. One is he has shown blatant disrespect for the very democratic process he thinks he is capable of upholding. Last December he declared, “…he would ignore Supreme Court decisions that conflicted with his powers as commander in chief, and he would press for impeaching judges or even abolishing certain courts if he disagreed with their rulings.” I swear, I am not making this up. I wish I were. The link to the LA Times article is at the bottom of this post. When I first read the article (and read his website, too), my initial thought was the whole platform of his is tinged with hypomania. The other thing I don’t like is while Speaker of the House, he was accused of financial improprieties leading to House reprimand and $300,000 in sanctions leading to his resignation (1997). Before I continue let me point out that none of this proves he is bipolar. But IMHO, based on past performance, severity of what led to his resignation from Speaker of the House and present platform, it just might be true.

Here’s a question I was pondering yesterday…politicians are pretty much all alike. Impropriety abounds in DC (and everywhere else for that matter!) If we discovered a candidate for any elected office really is bipolar, would we look at the behavior surrounding any improprieties in a different way? Should this happen, even as a BP I would view the candidate’s behavior in a different light. Some will argue I am stigmatizing myself – and they may be right. But having worked in sensitive environments I’ll never see the issue a different way. There have to be boundaries set to protect the collective. Asthmatics are not allowed to scuba dive, insulin-dependent diabetics are not allowed to join the military and those with serious mental illness should not be allowed to run for elected office.

I’m counting down how long it will take before people start attacking me for that last comment…3-2-1.

See, again, like I said, it depends on a person’s track record. And as I said before I started the post, I know very little about the man or his career. However, I’m not sure we can attribute that behavior to disorder. People gain power and sometimes do very sinister things. We know that great leaders like Abraham Lincoln suffered from mental illness. (I’ve read the biography).

Now, he has proven in his career that he is not trustworthy with unilateral power, such as the power of veto, just based on the monarchy / dictator – like views on how the CIC should run things. This exactly why we don’t vote people in off the street for CIC. No basis for a campaign platform based on experience. I will go as far as to say (and I’m going to get attacked for this), that President Obama was a wide-eyed, idealistic man with too little experience with the background BS that occurs on Capitol Hill. Yes, great ideas. No follow through because he didn’t have enough experience to know how to work the system. Americans voted Richard Nixon in, who clearly had issues, and then later changed their minds based on performance. And that’s how we have the right to impeach.

But speaking of impeachment, there is one president that was actually impeached, but continued to serve as CIC. Bill Clinton was truly a man who had impeccable diplomacy. I may not agree with his actions as a person, but that’s none of my business. Essentially, the question is, did he do his job? Yes. And amazingly well. We haven’t seen that kind of progress since. (Surplus, advances in education, living wages, etc).

There are a lot of restrictions on the military, as a matter of fact. Because you can’t be dependent on a medication if you’re called out to a warzone. Period. Asthmatics aren’t allowed to do a lot of things. Join the military. Scuba dive. Smoke. Run. Etc. But, we do it anyway, and sometimes, we do it better. Many of those things are for the safety of the person themselves and to relieved anyone of any responsibility should something happen.

Again, and I’ll reiterate, it depends on a person’s track record. We can’t discriminate that much. A person with a diagnosis can’t hold office, because they are potentially dangerous and that’s a sensitive job? Well, what about teachers. I guess they can’t teach because they are potentially dangerous and they are working with children. A parent can’t be a parent because of the same? What about any job that works with the public or children? A person with a diagnosis can’t be a therapist or a doctor? No law enforcement? Where do we draw the line there?

Ugh – stupid WordPress trashed my reply so I’m trying to recreate it…bear with me. I had to laugh when I read your view of Obama. My husband and I often say the same. The guy just isn’t a bully and to go up against the Republicans on anything, you’ve got to know how to steal back your lunch money on the playground. Clinton did his job extremely well, and I couldn’t give less of a fig about what he did in his personal life. Twenty years from now, I wonder how the history books will write these two presidencies.

[As an aside, I have asthma, too. It sucks. I tried to scuba dive once & that did not go well. Between not being able to breathe right and trying to overcome the claustrophobia brought on by the damn weight belt – I’ll just stick to snorkeling, thank you very much!]

As for the track record thing, we’re actually pretty close in out opinions on the matter. Yes, I totally agree that someone’s track record should be taken into account no matter what they are trying to accomplish in life. I absolutely respect your position that a diagnosis shouldn’t be the basis for blanket discrimination. I really do. There are Dr’s and therapists and nurse’s out there with diagnosis who are absolutely brilliant at what they do. My favorite therapist and my favorite psychiatrist had diagnoses. I’ve had great teachers with diagnoses, too. (Two even committed suicide.) My line is drawn with positions where people either have responsibility, access or are in control of weapons and can potentially wipe a whole slew of others off the map in one fell swoop, or start conflicts that can potentially do the same. Presidents, cops, military – if someone has a diagnosis they should be excluded from holding these positions.

But, here’s one – the problem I have with my own position is I really believe some people with mental illness do make great leaders in times of crisis. You mentioned a prime example – Lincoln. Churchill, Kennedy – where would this world be if it never felt their influence? Nothing is black and white, is it? Sometimes I think this world is made up of nothing but shades of grey.

So, looking back on it I think we’re pretty close on the issue. I’ve really enjoyed talking through this thread with you! Since I left my job, I don’t get many opportunities to discuss and debate issues. My husband & I see eye to eye on just about everything so it’s really, really nice to talk with someone with a different opinion on a topic.

Time to open the wine and get dinner going before WordPress decides to trash this reply as well. Have a good night!

Isn’t WordPress wonderful sometimes?

I didn’t know Churchill had a mental illness! I knew he was an alcoholic, though. He was really inspiring. I love Churchill!

I voted for Hilary in the primaries. I was totally on her side. I think it’s kind of insulting to women that we apparently still aren’t ready for a female president. *sigh*. I’ve been accused of being one of those blind Obama followers. Really, when I voted, it was the difference for two evils. And I wasn’t even about to let John McCain be president! Obama gets beaten up for his lunch money constantly. And he just takes it. I’m sad that history might write him up as the first African American president who was also a wuss.

I hope Bill gets a good write up. When the budget crisis happened, a reporter asked what would Clinton do? He replied, “I would’ve used the 14th Amendent, acted unilaterally, and let the Supreme Court fight that one out later.” And that’s fighting baxck, although I don’t like unilateral decisions. But, it would have been in a heroic effort to get a handle on things and not make us look like idiots in the global community.

I’m happy to have someone to chat about this stuff too. We’re similar enough that we don’t butt heads, but different enough to still generate stimulating converaation. My husband and I are similar (except, I’m a moderate while he’s a serious liberal). We don’t usually have a difference of opinion enough to spark good political sparring!


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