The brainless use of pop psychology to diss Obama

Critics claim to get inside Obama's head, and proclaim that the president is an indecisive failure. Nothing could be farther from the truth

Robert Shrum

Emory University psychology professor Drew Westen aspires to advise Democrats on political strategy. But his book The Political Brain reminds me of a scene in Theodore H. White's Making of the President: 1960, in which row after row of cigar smoking Boston pols is arrayed behind John F. Kennedy as he delivers the final speech of his presidential campaign, written on their faces a barely concealed envy which says Kennedy has a trick; and if they themselves had the trick, they too could be president. Westen's trick is common sense dressed up as pop psychology: The idea that leaders have to be passionate as well as rational.

In a New York Times blog post titled "Decision 2013," Westen is certainly passionate. He offers strong opinions about the shortcomings — perhaps the "narcissism" — of a president "tied up in knots of indecision" because "he fears precisely the emotions that allow us to choose between one course of action or another." It is a scathing indictment from someone who plainly feels his counsel and wisdom have been scorned. It is also a stunning repudiation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's insistence that people are entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.