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Letters to the Editor
Electoral History Lesson
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 6 page 29-29

In the May 18, 2007, issue the APA Ethics Committee reminded us of the "Goldwater Rule," which defines as unethical the expression of an opinion about a person who has not been examined. Readers today might be interested in some details of the embarrassing episode in the history of our profession that led to the Goldwater Rule.

The September/October 1964 issue of Fact magazine published the findings of its mail survey about the fitness of [Republican] Sen. Goldwater to be president. A questionnaire was sent to 12,356 psychiatrists, and 2,417 responded. A total of 571 said that "they did not know enough about Goldwater to answer the question, 657 said that he was psychologically fit, and 1,189 said that he was not," according to the article.

Excerpts from some of the responses were published, many characterizing the candidate as "immature," "impulsive,"" megalomanic," "paranoid," "rigid,"" narcissistic." A small number offered specific diagnoses, such as schizophrenia. Many characterized him as unstable, which was more than a simple description since "emotionally unstable personality" was a diagnostic term in the DSM. Some negative opinions were couched in nontechnical language. There were many psychodynamic formulations, spun from the limited information available (for example, "inwardly a frightened person who sees himself as weak and threatened by strong virile power around him—and that his call for aggressiveness and the need for individual strength and prerogatives is an attempt to defend himself against and to deny his feelings of weakness and danger.") Some respondents offered psychodynamic explanations of Goldwater's supporters. In the early 1960s psychological understanding was a major focus of American psychiatry.

Much was made of the fact that Goldwater had a history of " two nervous breakdowns," that such a person should never be president, that there was risk of recurrence under stress, and that he might then launch a nuclear attack.

In contrast, others pointed out that on the basis of a similar history, Lincoln might have been disqualified to be president. An anonymous psychiatrist in Florida wrote: "The names of psychiatrists and psychologists who answer this should be made public so we can see which ones use crystal balls."

Dr. Lawrence Friedman, dean of the Los Angeles Institute of Psychoanalysis, responded to the survey with guidance for psychiatrists who are asked to give an opinion about a public figure: "I shall do everything I can to help defeat Mr. Goldwater, but I shall point to his ideas, his statements, his political orientation, and his associations, not to his psychology. There is enough political evidence to defeat him with. I would like to see your magazine present that information, and not waste your facilities on an approach which is neither right nor effective."

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