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A Google search turns up 75,000 hits for the search term “Michelle Antoinette.” That’s sub-viral, but still noteworthy. At the Huffington Post, one pundit denounces New York Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman for a “hit piece on First Lady Michelle Obama,” referring to the “modern-day Marie Antoinette” moniker for Mrs. Obama in an August 4 column by Andrea Tantaros.

Mrs. Obama’s sense of timing was poor, and the Marbella trip was a political mistake, but what one makes of these things always is a matter of context. The context is that Obama’s foreign and domestic policies both have blown up in his face. The economy looks terrible, as I said it would all along, with over a fifth of the workforce un- or underemployment, and a fifth of houses worth less than their mortgages. And after a year of trying to bash Israel into a peace deal with the Palestinians, Obama only has succeeded in strengthening Hamas and Hizbollah at the expense of both Israel and the Palestinian authority—in part because of his mishandling of Turkey’s overreaching Islamist prime minister Tayyip Erdogan. And that’s not counting the disaster that is Afghanistan, and the disaster that Iraq is about to become.

The Democratic Party is toast in the mid-term elections. And the center of the Democratic Party is having a bad case of buyer’s remorse about their standard-bearer. Marty Peretz, the “Spine” columnist at the New Republic, famously dubbed the President a “narcissist” last year. Narcissists do not do well in a corner.  As I pointed out in response,

Peretz is on the right track, but he has not gotten to the heart of the matter yet... If Obama has a personality disorder—and I believe he does—it doesn’t quite fit the clinical description of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Narcissists do not empathize easily, but all the evidence suggests that Obama exudes empathy. That is why so many clever people—Peretz for example—convinced themselves he was on their side.

A narcissist would have written his own autobiography; Obama turned tapes and documents over to the former Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers, now a professor of education in Chicago, and let Ayers write Dreams of My Father for him. Long rumored, this is confirmed by celebrity journalist Christopher Anderson in his new book, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage....

The problem may not be NPD, but something related. The standard psychiatric reference manual, the fourth edition of the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) “divides personality disorders into three clusters based on symptom similarities,” in the Wikipedia summary. “This clustering categorizes the narcissistic personality disorder as a cluster B personality disorder, those personality disorders having in common an excessive sense of self importance. Also in that cluster are the borderline personality disorder, the histrionic personality disorder and the antisocial personality disorder.”

Antisocial personality disorder, to quote DSM-IV, was “previously known as both psychopathic and Sociopathic personality disorder.  Like most personality disorders, there are many factors that may contribute to the development of symptoms.  Because the symptoms are long lasting, the idea that symptoms begin to emerge in childhood or at least adolescence is well accepted.  The negative consequences of such symptoms, however, may not show themselves until adulthood.”

Sociopaths and narcissists, in short, belong to the same cluster of personality disorders arising from “an excessive sense of self importance,” but there is a key difference: narcissists are so preoccupied with themselves that they cannot empathize; sociopaths willfully “disregard the rights of others,” according to DSM-IV. Typical is “a history of deceitfulness where the individual attempts to con people or use trickery for personal profit.” For the sociopath, the thrill lies in the deception and the sense of power it brings.

This is a question, not an answer: no man can look into another man’s soul. But we are dealing with a man who was abandoned by three parents—dad, stepdad, and mom—to be raised by his grandparents. Neglected children, if they are clever, become adept at manipulating those around them, while at the same time searching for surrogates for the parents who dumped them. In a Feb. 26, 2008 “Spengler” essay, I conjectured that Barack Obama was deeply dependent on Michelle.  Obama the candidate brought to mind Tyrone Power’s carnival mentalist in the 1947 noire film “Nightmare Alley.” Power’s character ended up as the geek.

How much failure can Obama tolerate? Until now he spent his entire life climbing the ladder of power without being called to account. The Republicans are too gentlemanly to probe; not so his fellow Democrats. If DSM-IV does in fact provide insights into Obama’s character, the way to find out is to go after the strong woman in his life. That is why the ridicule of the First Lady may have broader significance.

The American political system has a brutal but thorough way of uncovering the character of a leader. Sometimes character flaws stay hidden until stress forces them out, in the case of Richard Nixon, for example. The hounds are nipping at Obama’s heels; in fact, they have sunk their teeth into Michelle’s.

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