Reactive Attachment Disorder, a rare psychological condition

Donald Craig Mitchell

OPINION: It has been almost a week since Sarah Palin rocked the news cycle by announcing her intention to quit her job as Governor of Alaska. Since then, pundits from Karl Rove on the right to Mark Shields on the left have offered diverse answers to the two questions that every Alaskan has been asking every other Alaskan: Is Sarah Palin really the Whack Job that Tina Fey made her out to be? If she's not, then What Could the Woman Have been Thinking?

Here is what Sarah had to say last Friday at the news conference she held on her lawn in Wasilla about her decision to be the first sitting governor in United States history to walk away. The incoherence is worth the length of the quote:

As I thought about this announcement that I wouldn't run for re-election and what it means for Alaska,  I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks . . . And then I thought, "That's what's wrong." Many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and milk it.

I'm not putting Alaska through that. I promised efficiencies and effectiveness. That's not how I'm wired. I am not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual. I promised that four years ago – and I meant it. It's not what's best for Alaska.

I am determined to take the right path for Alaska even though it is unconventional and not so comfortable. With this announcement that I am not seeking reelection . . . I've determined it's best to transfer the authority of governor to Lieutenant Governor Parnell. And I am willing to do so so that this administration – with its positive agenda, its accomplishments, and its successful road to an incredible future – can continue without interruption and with great administrative and legislative success.

My choice is to take a stand and effect change. Not hit our heads against the wall and watch valuable state time and money, millions of your dollars, go down the drain in this new environment. Rather, we know we can effect positive change outside government at this moment in time, on another scale, and actually make a difference for our priorities. And so we will. For Alaskans and for Americans.

No wonder the pundits are confused.

After watching Sarah think for the past three years, my view it is that her big decision to quit was the logical result of several smaller decisions. Like a Slinky flopping methodically down a flight of stairs, each of those decisions flowed one after the other from Sarah's realization at the conclusion of the 2008 presidential campaign that she had transcended politics. That thanks to media like People Magazine and the National Enquirer, she now is playing way above the rim with cultural icons like Paris Hilton and the recently deceased Michael Jackson, rather than below it with common vote-grubbing politicians like Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.

After watching the Friday news conference, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said that he thought Sarah "seemed more like a spoiled celebrity than a serious public official."

What Gerson got wrong is that Sarah is a spoiled celebrity. But it's not entirely her fault that she's spoiled. Because the media attention that has swirled around Alaska's governor-girl for the past ten months has altered the brain chemistry of a narcissistic personality that somewhere way back along the line was damaged decades previous.

An Australian friend of mine has theorized that Sarah's odd behavior suggests that she has been afflicted since childhood with Reactive Attachment Disorder, a rare psychological condition that is described in volume four of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders. Many of the symptoms do seem to fit: superficially engaging and charming, lacks cause and effect thinking, inappropriately demanding, engages in lying, lacks a conscience, has poor impulse control, has abnormal speech patterns, etc. But I am not a psychiatrist. So I don't know if that's Sarah's problem.

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