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Opening Arguments

Reality bites

Add Andrew J. Miller to the list of politicians caught in high-risk sexual encounters. Reaction so far seems to be equal parts dismay that someone who has done a good job in straightening out the BMV could fall so quickly; sympathy for his wife and children, who now know an uncomfortable truth about him; noisy schadenfreude over another conservative moralist caught in the clutches of that awful hyporicy; and stunned disbelief that someone would engage in such obviously stupid behavior. On the latter point, the Indianapolis Star consulted a couple of experts:

Farley has studied the risk-taking that makes politicians and public officials successful, but in rare cases may lead some to engage in ill-advised behavior that could bring them public embarrassment well beyond the sting a private citizen would feel from a similar arrest.

To get at why, Farley said, consider the attributes of people who thrive in politics or high-profile jobs that come with career uncertainty, tremendous pressure and public scrutiny of their performance.

"Politics attracts, I believe, risk-taking people, and sometimes (that quality) will show itself in self-destructive ways," he said. "Often when I study risk-takers, they don't believe there's any risk-taking in what they do. . . . They're very self-confident people. They generally tend to believe that they control their fate."

[. . .]

Brian Mustanski, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said normally shrewd leaders can give in to impulsivity outside the office.

He cited research projects that have shown that "sexual arousal can really dampen people's logical inhibitions, that sort of logical foresight people have.

Mustanski's take is the obvious one; sex is a powerful impulse that often cloud's people's judgment. And we can make too much of the connection Farley makes between high risk and self-confidence. But I think his point has some merit. I've talked to scores of politicians over the years, and many of the successful ones who keep getting re-elected share a common trait. They start living in this cocoon in which they're always right, a feeling they reinforce by having lots of people around them who always tell them they're always right. They live in a separate world in which ordinary rules do not apply (or so they believe), and they're always shocked when reality smacks them.


Fri, 10/08/2010 - 8:18pm

Not to impugn Miller - I don't know nearly enough about him - but I have noticed a category of people who are just too dumb to fail. Their self-confidence is borne of an utter lack of self-awareness.