How to Be a Narcissist in Three Easy Steps

By now you’ve no doubt seen the latest episode in the reality show known as Obama’s White House. In this installment, “Uncle Joe” once again demonstrates his apparent belief that women are meant to be touched, preferably by him, and preferably on national television. The vice-president’s penchant for showing physical affection to females of all ages has been extensively documented and analyzed, and the debate about the appropriateness of his serial touching is not likely to end any time soon, as the VP is not known for fastidiousness in either his speech or behavior. What can we expect next from “Hands” Biden? You’ll have to tune back in to find out.

Yet as I watched the video of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s swearing in, the thing that I found most cringe-inducing was not the touching itself. It’s possible (difficult, but possible) to attribute that to social ineptness, stupidity, or both. Vice-President Biden is hardly the first public figure for whom touching has become a touchy subject. No, what I find most disturbing about his behavior is the highly visible nature of it at a time when it was clearly not called for. A man who has just taken an oath of office and is following that oath with some reflections on the occasion is upstaged by the vice-president’s inability -- or refusal -- to stand aside and respectfully observe the proceedings. The behavior strikes me as less lecherous than narcissistic. Lechers and sexual predators don’t tend to go after their prey in full view of the prey’s closest protector, but in the shadows, where the prey makes an easier mark. Narcissists, on the other hand, crave an audience. Here are some hallmarks of narcissistic behavior that in my opinion are strongly reflected in Vice-President Biden’s Six-Year Touching Tour.

  1. Narcissists operate in public. As previously mentioned, what they desire more than anything is attention. So they desperately seek it out wherever they can find it, and sometimes the easiest place to find it is on someone else’s stage. A narcissist is not content to stand by while the focus is on someone else. Instead, he must insert himself into the picture. The touching, whispering, and kissing that routinely permeate this type of vice-presidential appearance reflect an inability to let someone else have the spotlight. Every touch screams, “Look at me! I’m here, too! You may be the new defense secretary, but I’m the vice-president, dammit, and I’m not gonna let you forget it!”
  2. Narcissists thrive on control. So they not only do whatever they can to draw attention from someone else to themselves, they do so in a way that leverages their own power in the situation. You know what I’m talking about. The boss who routinely turns staff meetings into an opportunity for his own aggrandizement; the relative who looks at every family gathering as a stage for her latest personal drama; the friend whose impetuousness and mood swings keep everyone walking on egg shells. Narcissists take advantage of the tolerance and forbearance of others, who often opt to weather the narcissist’s storm rather than rock the boat and risk capsizing it. In the case of the vice president, what better place to get a power high than on the international stage, where to rebuff a vice-presidential advance would stir more political poop than to simply smile and wait for the unpleasantness to be over.
  3. Narcissists objectify people. They don’t see other human beings as individuals with their own identities and lives and feelings, but as props for their own machinations. The vice president seems to have little awareness that the spouses and children he insists on cuddling are not always comfortable with the attention. People are mere scenery, after all, and scenery doesn’t have feelings. How refreshing when one of those props refuses to stand still. Leave it to a child to have the guts to stand up to the bully.

Now, whether Joe Biden is truly a narcissist, I don’t know. A clinical diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder would require examination by a mental health professional. But the times in which we live are nothing if not narcissistic, and our politicians are a reflection of the times. And considering that Vice President Biden has had six years of on-the-job training from the Narcissist-in-Chief, it makes sense that he might have learned a thing or two.