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“Politics Has Gone So Hideously Wrong”: Did Bullying Kill Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich?

Shortly after Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich killed himself last week, questions about whether politics—and politicians themselves—were to blame hovered quietly beneath the surface.

But on Tuesday, as the state’s political establishment gathered around Schweich’s flag-covered casket at the Church of St. Michael and St. George near the Republican’s former home in Clayton, the Band-Aid concealing the political mess was quickly ripped off in an emotional and frustrated homily by Rev. Jack Danforth, a former U.S. senator for whom Schweich served as chief of staff starting in 1999 during his investigation into the FBI shooting in Waco, Texas.

In his remarks—before two U.S. senators, Missouri’s governor, dozens of state lawmakers, and the state’s political consultants and lobbyists—Danforth said he felt “overwhelming anger that politics has gone so hideously wrong” in the state’s Republican primary for governor, which Schweich joined last month.

That anger, Danforth said, stemmed from a series of moves by people he called “bullies” in the state’s political scene.

One person he referenced was Jeff Roe, a Kansas City-based Republican political consultant who works for Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway and U.S Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Roe produced a negative radio commercial that referred to Schweich as a “little bug” and likened his physical appearance to that of the quirky, unintelligent deputy sheriff on the television show The Andy Griffith Show.

Then there was John Hancock, the newly elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.

In the months leading up to Schweich’s death, the auditor believed that Hancock—an opposition researcher who did work last year for the campaign of Hanaway, Schweich’s primary opponent and a former U.S. attorney—had led a whisper campaign that he was Jewish.

While Schweich did have a Jewish heritage stemming from his grandfather, he did not practice the faith. He was Episcopalian and open about his Christianity.

Schweich, Danforth said, believed that Hancock was telling Christian conservative donors that Schweich was Jewish in an effort to feed off the anti-Semitism that still exists in parts of Missouri.

Since Hancock announced his candidacy for party chairman late last year, Schweich had pleaded with his campaign staff to make his story known.

Even those closest to Schweich, in interviews following his death, said the problem was that Schweich had no substantial evidence of a whisper campaign to present to the press, and they refused to push his narrative.

Last Tuesday, two days before Schweich took his own life, he had planned to stage a news conference in Jefferson City to make his claims known.

Danforth, in his eulogy a week later, said he had advised Schweich against it. Schweich backed down, but two days later, he moved forward on his own, scheduling interviews with reporters from the Associated Press and leaving a message with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Minutes after Schweich left that message, Danforth’s office was on the phone with Schweich’s home, once again urging him to back down.

It was at that point, when Schweich felt that he had lost everyone, that he pulled out a handgun and ended his life, with his wife nearby.

“He may have thought that I had abandoned him and left him on the high ground, all alone to fight the battle that had to be fought,” Danforth said in his remarks.

That high ground, Danforth said, was against what Schweich saw as anti-Semitism. Schweich, he said, was taught by his grandfather to take the high ground against it.

“Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was. The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry,” Danforth said.

That charge, Schweich spokesman Spence Jackson said Tuesday, should be enough for Republican leaders to distance themselves from Hancock and demand his resignation.

“There is no way that the Missouri Republican Party can move forward under his leadership for the reasons that Sen. Danforth made,” he said. “It is unconscionable to think that the party can be successful in 2016 with John Hancock as the chairman.”

On Wednesday, David Steelman, a Missouri politician who now serves on the University of Missouri Board of Curators, joined the call, along with state Rep. Paul Fitzwater, for Hancock to resign.

But aside from calls made by those close to Schweich, the party has steered clear of calling for Hancock’s resignation.

After a tumultuous two years under a previous chairman during which the state party went underfunded, establishment Republicans here were joyous at the election of Hancock—one of their own—late last month at a committee meeting in Kansas City.

One of those was U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who is seeking reelection next year.

“This is ultimately up to the Republican State Committee, which elects the state party chairman. I continue to focus my attention on remembering Tom’s life and work in the wake of this tragedy,” said Blunt, whose wife, Abigail, is Jewish.

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican who is close to both Hancock and Hanaway, also resisted calls for the chairman to step down.

“Ann does not feel that it is appropriate for anyone to inject politics into the situation so soon after Tom Schweich’s tragic suicide,” said Christian Morgan, Wagner’s chief of staff.

Hancock, of course, has said repeatedly that nothing nefarious went on and has denied the charge that he led an anti-Semitic campaign against Schweich. In a letter to the Missouri Republican State Committee last week, Hancock said that until recently, he believed Schweich was Jewish.

“While I do not recall doing so, it is possible that I mentioned Tom’s faith in passing during one of the many conversations I have each day. There was absolutely nothing malicious about my intent, and I certainly was not attempting to ‘inject religion’ into the governor’s race, as some have suggested,” he wrote.

In light of Schweich’s death, Hanaway has suspended her campaign and is not making a public peep about her relationship with Hancock.

“I suspended my campaign last week out of reverence to Auditor Schweich’s family and will not add any additional commentary to further politicize this tragedy. I continue to pray for the Schweich family during this difficult time,” she said in an email Wednesday.

Privately, Republicans here believe that in order to mount a campaign against Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, for governor in 2016, someone soon will have to give, whether it be Hancock or Hanaway, to relieve the negative pressure that has built following Schweich’s death.

Danforth questioned what kind of candidate would even want to emerge in a political field open seemingly only to the “tough and the crude and the calloused.”

“If this is what politics has become, what decent person would want to get into it?” he said.

 

By: Eli Yokley, The Daily Beast, March 5, 2015

March 8, 2015 Posted by | Missouri Republican Party, Tom Schweich | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Guv Loves Himself”: Yes, Chris Christie’s A Narcissist

No one knows exactly how Chris Christie spent every hour of the four days in September when the people of Fort Lee, N.J., were being punked by members of his staff who decided that it might be fun to toss traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge and see what happened. It’s certain the governor wasn’t sitting in any of the all-day traffic jams the stunt caused. It’s certain he wasn’t fretting at home while his kids tried to get to their first day of school or waiting for emergency medical care that couldn’t get through the manufactured gridlock.

But he suffered all the same. And if you don’t believe him, ask Chris Christie.

“I am a very sad person today,” he said at his marathon press conference last week. “That’s the emotion I feel. A person close to me betrayed me … I probably will get angry at some point, but I’ll tell you the truth, I’m sad.”

But sad was only part of it. Christie was tired too, since, as he took pains to mention, he’d had very little sleep the night before. He was also “blindsided and “humiliated” and found it “incredibly disappointing to have people let [him] down this way.” So all told, the governor had a very tough week, thank you very much.

If you got the sense that Christie has seen the unfolding mess mostly in terms of how it affects, you know, Christie, you’d be justified. Google the words Christie and narcissist and you get 3.3 million hits. Salon.com calls his press conference “a mix of narcissism and bullying.” New York Magazine, writes of “The narcissistic drama of Christie’s apology.” In a Washington Post piece, “New Jersey narcissist,” Dana Milbank actually counts the number of first-person references Christie made in his endless presser: I led the field with 692 repetitions; me, my and myself were next at a combined 217; I’m clocked in at 119; and I’ve was last at a still-impressive 67. So, a lot of verbal selfies.

But it’s not language alone that makes Christie the narcissist he is. It’s not his loudness and largeness or personality either, nor is it his history of bullying or his disdainful impatience with those he appears to think of as his lessers — though all of those things are certainly part of the narcissistic profile. I’ve spent the past two years deep in the literature of narcissism for a just-completed book, and if there’s a sine qua non that turns up again and again in the personality of the narcissist, it’s a wholesale lack of empathy — an inability to see any suffering but the narcissist’s own, even when the narcissist has caused real suffering in others.

Some of America’s most florid narcissists have been jaw-droppingly good at this very bad tendency. “How could they f-cking say this? How could they do this to me?” wailed John Edwards when press reports of his career-wrecking extramarital affair began appearing, according to Game Change, by John Heilemann and TIME’s Mark Halperin.

“I don’t believe it, first it snows and now this,” moaned baseball bad girl Marge Schott, former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, when a storm threatened to delay Opening Day and, after the game did start, umpire John McSherry suffered a fatal heart attack behind home plate.

“Others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself,” a teary Richard Nixon counseled his White House staff on the morning after he resigned the presidency — affecting the pose of the wronged leader who was rising above the pettiness of his attackers, rather than the constitutional vandal getting out of Dodge before he could be thrown out.

The utter absence of the empathy app in narcissists like Nixon, Edwards, Schott and, it seems, Christie, is in some ways a mystery, since it’s one that usually gets downloaded and booted up very early in life. Empathy is hardwired in the brain at birth in the form of mirror neurons which, as their name suggests, help us experience what others are feeling in a powerful — and sometimes painful — way.

Researchers cite studies, for example, showing that while crying is always contagious in a roomful of newborns, it’s not the noise that appears to be responsible — at least not always. Babies can distinguish between the sound of a real cry and the sound of a recorded one, and will respond with their own tears mostly to the genuine one — presumably because it’s a sign of equally genuine suffering. “Infants show empathy from the very beginning,” says psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego State University.

Psychologist Mark Barnett of Kansas State University similarly cites the sweet if unscientific phenomenon of toddlers who will respond to the sight of an injured or unhappy adult by racing to bring a plush toy or one of their other favorite comfort objects. It works for them, so why shouldn’t it work for a grownup? “It’s called emotional mimicry,” Barnett says. “It’s not true empathy, but it’s a start.”

Christie did bring his own version of a stuffed teddy to the mayor of Fort Lee, visiting him directly after his press conference to offer his apologies and his sympathy. But it was a small, late and self-preserving gesture, and only to true Christie partisans did it read like real contrition. To most others, it looked like Christie looking out for the man he cares about most, which appears to be Christie.

Narcissism is not all bad. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela may have been among the greatest, bravest, most virtuous men of their era, but if you don’t think they got a deep and primal charge out of being cheered by crowds that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, you don’t know human nature. Diffident people don’t change history. But petty people, self-interested people, people who are very good at feeling their own pain but poor at feeling others’ don’t either. Christie is learning that lesson this week. Like other narcissists who have fallen before him, he may find he’s learned it too late.

 

By: Jeffrey Kluger, Senior Editor,  Time Magazine, January 13, 2014

January 16, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Crafted Public Spectacle”: There Is No Such Thing As A Motive For Mass Killings

Why did the Newtown shooter do it? This is the question to which the media and the public anxiously awaited an answer before yesterday’s release of a report by Connecticut investigators. The report itself even notes this interest, saying, “The obvious question that remains is: ‘Why did the shooter murder twenty-seven people, including twenty children?’”

If we are looking for a reason to make sense of it all, the report leaves us disappointed—and the lack of motive figures in just about every headline covering yesterday’s report. But even looking for one is a futile act.

Here is what the report does find: The shooter had mental health problems, including social dysfunction, anxiety, lack of empathy, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. But the shooter’s actions cannot be explained away merely by mental illness: although he was troubled, he was not psychotic or insane. Rather, he “had the ability to control his behavior to obtain the results he wanted, including his own death.” There is overwhelming evidence that he acted intentionally and planned his actions carefully. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Despite early speculation, there is little evidence that bullying or other personal grievances provided a motive. While a few teachers, friends, and relatives indicated that the shooter had been bullied as a child, none said that it had been severe, and a larger number said they had never seen him bullied or heard him complain of it.

But this line of questioning is peculiar to begin with. Even if evidence of bullying had been found, it could not possibly amount to a motive in any ordinary sense for a young man to murder people who had never victimized him—particularly not twenty children who had yet to be born when he himself was a child.

When we search for a “motive,” we’re looking for things like self-defense, revenge, jealousy, or personal dispute. There are also motives in which the victim may be somewhat more arbitrary, such as robbery, sexual assault, or sadistic pleasure. But there is no evidence that any of these motives apply to the Newtown shooting, as there almost never is for mass shootings—which is why we speak of them as “senseless.”

The reason that we never find these motives is that the slaughter of random victims is what mass shootings are ultimately about. Indiscriminate targeting is the main criterion that criminologists use to distinguish rampage shootings from other forms of mass murder, like gang violence.

The best framework for understanding rampage shootings at Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and many others is not bullying, mental illness, or gun violence, but terrorism, only without (usually) a political agenda. In terrorism, the true target is society itself; the people who are killed are, grotesquely, a means to this end. Likewise for mass shootings, as forensic psychiatrist Paul E. Mullen wrote in a 2004 article, “Vengeance usually directed against society at large is part of the motivation.”

The particular reasons that drive each shooter are idiosyncratic. The common element is that mass shooters suffer from some toxic, paradoxical mix of narcissism and weak ego that brings them to make a deliberate choice to blame their frustrations on the world as a whole rather than on themselves.

The mass shooting provides a means for the perpetrator to fulfill his unrequited grandiosity and hatred. The motive is not fame but infamy. Mullen writes, “they are eased towards their self-destruction by fantasies of how others will react and by the effects they believe their deaths will produce.”

Like political terrorism, the mass shooting is a crafted public spectacle, a theater of violence in which we are the unwitting yet compliant audience. The report describes the shooter’s obsessive interest in prior massacres. But among its many inconclusions is that it finds “no clear indication why Sandy Hook Elementary School was selected.” Perhaps the answer is too sickening to be sayable: the shooter deliberately chose a target that would maximize the horror and ensure his place in the pantheon of anti-heroes.

Trying to make ordinary sense out of these extraordinary crimes is fruitless. It leads reporters to broadcast the shooters’ manifestos and scribblings, to search for any scraps of frustration or injustice they suffered that might somehow explain their actions.

But this devoted attention is just what allows the shooters to control not only their actions but the meaning of them. Putting a stop to mass shootings begins by agreeing that, once a person has resorted to the mass slaughter of indiscriminate victims, speculating on his motives means spreading half-truths that might encourage others to follow in his footsteps.

 

By: Ari Schulman, Time Magazine, November 26, 2013

November 29, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Good To Be A Prince”: Once A Privileged Abuser Of Power, Always A Privileged Abuser Of Power.

Romney would be able to dismiss the bullying story as ancient history if it didn’t confirm what we already suspected about him—that he’s a serial abuser of power.

It is a good general principle that we ought not hold teenage wrongdoing against middle-aged people. Mitt Romney has run a business, run the Olympics, run a state, run for the Senate, and run for president. Surely we can and should judge him on his performance of those public duties.

But what if childhood conduct helps shed a light on adult behavior? Romney’s teenage bullying hurts him because it is consonant with his adult record. Voters may well conclude: once a bully, always a bully; once a privileged abuser of power, always a privileged abuser of power.

If the Washington Post reports of his teenage behavior are true—and even Romney does not dispute them, except to disingenuously say he doesn’t remember—what adult traits do those actions presage?

First, abuse of power. Romney was tall, handsome, and rich. But he was not athletic, at a time and a place when athleticism among young men was the coin of the realm. So he became a cheerleader. Like fellow cheerleaders George W. Bush and Rick Perry, he adopted a macho swagger, perhaps overcompensating for his lack of ability on the field. Maybe that’s why he didn’t confront his nonconformist classmate alone but rather took the coward’s path: assembling a posse in an episode one classmate described as like “Lord of the Flies.”

A less-commented upon part of the Post‘s story on Romney’s teenage years is nearly as cruel as the bullying of his classmate. Cranbrook, Romney’s elite private academy, had a teacher who was so visually impaired the kids called him “The Bat.” Romney and a pal walked The Bat up to a door. Romney beckoned The Bat to walk through first, making a sweeping motion toward the door as if it were open, but it wasn’t. The Bat walked into the closed door as Mitt collapsed in fits of sadistic laughter.

One can draw a straight line from the young man who pinned down a terrified teenager and walked a blind man into a closed door, to the adult who put the family dog in a kennel and strapped it to the roof of the car, to the businessman who laid off hundreds of people, cancelled their health benefits, and paid himself millions while their company went bankrupt. And the line continues: the governor who slashed education and raised fees on the middle class, and the possible president who would use his power to cut taxes on his fellow millionaires while pushing for the gradual demise of traditional Medicare.

Then there is the aura of someone who acts as if the rules don’t apply to him. The Post reported that the abused boy was ultimately expelled from Cranbrook—for smoking a cigarette. Really. The victim got expelled for smoking a cigarette, but Mitt faced no sanctions for maliciously victimizing a vulnerable student and a teacher. It’s good to be a prince. Maybe that’s why Romney felt entitled to take a $10 million bailout for Bain, but opposed President Obama’s bailout of the auto industry. He thinks there’s one set of rules for the privileged, and another for the rest of us.

This is why Romney’s ancient misconduct at Cranbrook haunts him today: it helps illuminate the man who seeks to become the most powerful person in the world.

 

By: Paul Begala, The Daily Beast, May 11, 2012

May 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lying Through His Teeth”: The Anatomy Of Mitt “The Jokester”

Today, let’s do a favor for Mitt Romney.

Not on your to-do list?

Indulge me.

You have undoubtedly heard the story about a bullying episode during Romney’s high school years. The Washington Post quoted former classmates who said that Mitt had led an attack on a kid who had bleached blond hair that he wore over one eye. While the others held the boy down, Romney cut off the offending tresses.

Let me say right off the bat that stuff politicians did when they were in high school shouldn’t count. And while this appears to be a particularly mean, and possibly homophobic, incident, it is really a good idea to stick to that rule. Otherwise, we would have to go back to the question of whether Barack Obama ate dog meat in Indonesia and we will never move on to health care reform.

But about the hair-cutting story. When Mitt was asked about it, he said he did not “recall the incident.”

This puts a whole new spin on things. The idea that Romney could have absolutely no recollection of this event is way more shocking than the incident itself. Did he engage in this sort of behavior so often that things just sort of ran together?

I don’t believe he’s that lacking in feeling. So I propose that we give him the benefit of the doubt and agree that he is lying through his teeth.

Yes! And, honestly, it’s a good bet. We have seen far less evidence of Romney as a guy with a mean streak than of Romney as a robotic campaigner who finds it impossible to speak in an open, unprogrammed manner — particularly about any incident that makes him look bad.

He probably looks back at what he did and feels terrible. Then he represses that genuine emotion and tells Fox News that it’s all a blank to him, but that, if anyone was offended by the thing he doesn’t even recall happening, he is very, very sorry.

He is incapable, really, of admitting past errors. Perhaps you may remember that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter stuck in a cage on the station wagon roof. When he was originally asked about it, he claimed the dog “loves fresh air.”

This was more than four years ago. What would have happened if Romney had just said: “Boy, in retrospect that really does sound like a bad idea. But you have to remember that we had five boys under the age of 14. It was like living in a vortex; we did all kinds of stupid stuff.”

Do you think the nation — particularly the part that has ever tried to drive long distances with a car full of children — would have been understanding? I personally would never have mentioned the incident at all.

But since we haven’t gotten that sort of input, I kind of feel free to bring it up now and then.

Romney supporters have made a vague attempt to lump the hair-cutting incident in with Mitt’s long history of pranksterism. “You know, you hold the scissors close to his ear and you make a lot of snipping sounds, and you may traumatize the guy a little or scare the guy a little, but no harm, no foul,” Gregg Dearth, another Romney classmate, told ABC News.

It certainly is true that Mitt has a longstanding affinity for practical jokes. Let’s revisit a few:

• Invited to the wedding in which his wife was one of the bridesmaids, Romney livened up the afternoon by snitching the groom’s shoes and using nail polish to write H-E-L-P on the soles so all the guests could see it when the happy couple knelt down to take their marital vows.

• On his first visit to the White House during the Clinton administration, Romney protested when he was handed a red visitors’ badge with the letter A. “I’m not the one that cheated on my wife. He should be wearing the scarlet A, not me,” Mitt said, repeatedly, to the fun-loving White House security staff.

• During his stint in France, Romney entertained a homesick and undoubtedly edgy fellow young missionary by coming to his door wearing a sheet and impersonating a French terrorist/bandit.

• A teacher who students enjoyed making fun of for his poor eyesight was walking with Romney and some of his classmates when they came to two sets of glass doors. Mitt opened the first for his professor, swept his hand forward to indicate the second set was open as well, and then laughed hysterically when the teacher smacked into the closed door.

That last one was in high school, so we’re not counting it. Except as part of a lifelong pattern of fun.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 11, 2012

 

May 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , | Leave a comment

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