09/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

State of Confusion: Things We Cannot Say About John McCain

As a psychologist we learn quickly that we are all subject to subtle, subliminally transmitted "rules" that we let control us. In my book State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind (Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, June 2008.) I have described several ways these psychological injunctions prevent us from acknowledging critical parts of the reality around us, oftentimes with disastrous results.

In the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, for example, we were not permitted to discuss George Bush's history of alcoholism, even though spending one's critical professional apprenticeship years in an alcoholic haze is a significant handicap to functioning effectively in leadership positions later in life. And yet, it was simply "not appropriate" to discuss the matter, as if it would be politically incorrect or mean-spirited to do so. As a result, America has paid a terrible price for George Bush's arrested psychological development.

And now we come to John McCain. Once again we find similar psychological injunctions constraining us from looking at very serious issues. Talking about John McCain's age is "playing the age card," as if considering his age is tantamount to bigotry against the elderly. Obama supporters are very quick to assert, with obvious terror in their eyes, that age is not a relevant factor. Quickly enforcing the injunction, the McCain camp almost gleefully accuses them of using code words for "ageism."

But we are not talking here about respect for our elders. We are talking about fitness for the office of President of the United States. Age IS a factor, and it should be considered. John McCain is a seventy-two year old man who has had melanoma three times. Melanoma is a very serious form of cancer that is notorious for recurrences. And at the age of seventy-two, cognitive functioning, especially memory, can deteriorate very rapidly, oftentimes with little warning. And yet, in some way, it would be "rude" if we considered these factors in evaluating John McCain's candidacy? It is an unkind aspect of reality that John McCain is at serious risk over the next four years for suffering a recurrence of a life-threatening illness, serious decline in mental functioning, and death. None of these bodes well for the American people. But we must not appear rude.

What is also noteworthy, but largely unnoticed, is that John McCain has not himself acknowledged these risks and spared the country their potentially terrible consequences. Instead, he is sacrificing the country's interests to his personal lifelong ambition for the White House. And yet he now encourages the country to talk about "Obama's narcissism." McCain's willingness to subject the country to these risks for his own ambition is what narcissism is all about. Accusing Obama of being narcissistic is hypocrisy--and that quality is going largely unnoticed as well.

And there is yet another unseemly thing we cannot say about John McCain that is also very important. John McCain has told us that he is ready to "answer the phone at three in the morning" when an international crisis is occurring. Presumably, he would be steady handed and ready to exercise mature judgment. As a psychologist I'll tell you what personal characteristic I fear most in a president managing that three AM situation--a bad temper! What we know from experience with John McCain is that he has a terrible temper. In short Senator McCain may be old chronologically, but he is immature emotionally, and that, "my friends," is another very serious problem.

But what about the "straight talking," "maverick," "independent" John McCain? Well, you know, I have worked with a lot of adolescent patients that were like that. We called them "oppositional." And, yes, John McCain has given voice to our American adolescent resentments towards government that I discuss in State of Confusion. But while McCain's pugnacious defiance is admirable in withstanding the attempts to "break him" in a P.O.W. camp, it is not what we want in a commander-in-chief who should be flexible enough to adapt to the nuanced encounters that must be deftly managed to be a successful leader on the world stage. In fact, John McCain's "plain talk" is just as dangerous as his angry temper in its potential for unnecessary international brinksmanship and war. We can't afford another one of those. Right?'s what we better start saying:

Psst! John McCain is too old, too sick, too narcissistic, and too emotionally immature to be president. And, worst of all, he's a hypocrite of Biblical proportions. It's the truth. Check it out. Pass it on.