In 1938 Helene Deutsch first wrote about what she called the "As If" Personality. This was one of the earliest descriptions of what later became known as the Borderline Personality Disorder. Her clinical descriptions and psychodynamic explanations were wonderfully evocative though her theorizing was later to be superseded by the work of many other Psychoanalysts, especially Otto Kernberg and Heinz Kohut in the 1960s. Her early descriptions were vivid and illuminating: (from Answers.com)
In 1934, and again in 1942, Helene Deutsch described what she called the "as if" (als ob) personality type. She was referring to individuals who leave other people with an impression of inauthenticity, even though they seem to enjoy "normal" relations with those around them and even though they complain of no disorder. They appear perfectly well adjusted, and are even capable of a certain warmth, but in a number of circumstances they betray a lack of emotional depth.
This phenomenon does not correspond to a type of repression but rather to a "real loss of object cathexis. The apparently normal relationship to the world corresponds to a child's imitativeness and is the expression of identification with the environment, a mimicry which results in an ostensibly good adaptation to the world of reality despite the absence of object cathexis" (1942, p. 304).Their creations are, on observation, "a spasmodic, if skilled, repetition of a prototype without the slightest trace of originality" (p. 303). "Another characteristic of the 'as if' personality is that aggressive tendencies are almost completely masked by passivity, lending an air of negative goodness, of mild amiability which, however, is readily convertible to evil" (p. 305).
Such individuals looked like normal people and often acted like normal people, but typically once involved in a more intimate (intense) relationship the shallow nature of the constructed persona (what Winnecott later was to call the "false self") became revealed and the underlying desperation and aggression would eventually contaminate the relationship. Relationships with such people tended to fail dramatically.
I am not using this description to diagnose any of the current Presidential Candidates but to point out that every Presidential candidate has some "As If" characteristics, by design and by virtue of the way in which races are run and covered by the news media that provides the majority of the information upon which the electorate must base their votes. Some Candidates lend themselves to such "false self" construction more than others.
Again, this is not a diagnosis of any individual. That would involve knowing much more about their personal relationships and their inner life, and would require a much closer look than is available to an outside observer. A particular candidate might in fact be a loving, mature individual yet have a campaign that depicts him as shallow and unknowable. A different candidate could well have a true Character Disorder but his public persona, a necessarily constructed persona, would reveal nothing of his inner emptiness or unstable self-representations.
Whether or not a particular Candidate presents himself as an "As If" Candidate is important for two reasons.
First, he leaves many people wondering about the level of inauthenticity his public character displays. As an example, I very much doubt that Mitty Romney is as inauthentic and shallow as he was portrayed when he was in the race. It is hard to imagine that someone as inauthentic as he was portrayed could, in reality, have maintained a successful family and been extremely successful in the world of business. His appearance of being "too perfect" probably reflected the fact that he was an improbably remarkable man, though, of course, no one is perfect.
Second, and more important, the "As If" Candidate is always one mis-step away from the collapse of his constructed persona.
[A brief digression here would be instructive. As noted, "As If" (now Borderline and Narcissistic Characters) typically have unstable relationships. They enter relationships that are based on idealization. The idealized other is a requirement to stabilize and enhance their own damaged sense of self (and the fragile self-esteem that emerges from the damaged self) and, because they typically find people who have complimentary psychopathology, they serve as an idealized object for their partner. Because they each serve as "need satisfying objects" or "self objects", when they no longer can fulfill the function, their value in the relationship is lost and they become devalued objects, worthy of scorn.
As an example, a young woman in her late 20s, suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder once came into my office to proudly and defiantly announce she had met the perfect man, the man she was going to marry and who would solve all her problems. The fact that he was 15 years her senior, had only ever dated teenagers before, lived with his mother, and had never had a relationship that lasted more than 2 months, was not germane. He was brilliant, wealthy, creative, and simply perfect. Two and a half months later, when he disappointed her by neglecting to offer her an adequate gift on her birthday and, after the subsequent fight, suggesting they should date others, he suddenly became a selfish mama's boy, immature, and a lousy lover, to boot.
Although early in a relationship there is always a fair amount of idealization that occurs, relationships based primarily or predominantly on idealization are always rather fragile and cannot survive disappointments.]
You do not have to be a Conservative to recognize that I am referring primarily to Barack Obama in this post, though all the candidates to some extent are constructed phenomena who may reflect the underlying person to a greater or lesser degree.
Barack Obama has run a brilliant campaign thus far. To a certain extent, his campaign strategy was forced upon him by his early success. His major advantages over Hillary Clinton were his vote against the Iraq War, which gave him bona fides with the left wing base of the party, his tabula rasa record, and his ability to give an impressive speech. His speeches have been beautifully presented and, as noted by almost everyone who has listened to or read them, devoid of much in the way of specific content. At the same time, he has been a breath of fresh air after the "go for the jugular" campaigning we have grown accustomed to in the last 20 years and is now likely to ride the wave of "Change" to the Democratic nomination. Yet we are already seeing some signs that those who have been swept along in the wave of idealization are beginning to have uncomfortable second thoughts. Can he really be so perfect and what about his ideas? The reason he is so threatened by the pictures of him in traditional Somali Muslim dress is precisely because he has run as an "As If" Candidate. He has been a mirror. Once his audience begins to notice he is not exactly who they think he is, his campaign will become much more difficult.
The one great advantage of our prolonged (interminable?) election season is that Barack Obama will have time to be tested in ways in which he has never been tested before. If he stands up to the attacks sure to come his way from the Republicans and the MSM (especially once they begin to resent their part in having been used to construct his persona), were he to ultimately win in November, we may have some confidence that he will be more able to stand up to the inevitable attacks that will come his way from our enemies, who are unlikely to ever find themselves awestruck by his idealized persona.