Rand Paul’s empathy deficit

Rand Paul, who wants to be President, enjoys laughing at people with permanent, crippling pain.

Of course there is room for legitimate debate about the standards for granting disability payments under Social Security. But Rand Paul’s laughing comments about the problem reflect less a political orientation than a moral failing.

The audio on the tracker tape

is hard to decipher; Michael Hilzik makes it out as:

The thing is that all of these programs, there’s always somebody who’s deserving, everybody in this room knows somebody who’s gaming the system. I tell people that if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everyone over 40 has a back pain.

Jeremy Diamond at CNN points out that “over half” is absurdly contrary to the actual numbers: all the psychiatric diagnoses and all the musculosketal disorders added together don’t account for half the Social Security Disability caseload, and anxiety is a small part of the psychiatric caseload while back pain is a small part of the musculoskeletal caseload. Hilzik also shows the sort of anxiety and back disease that qualify for disability payments have nothing to do with routine pre-work jitters or backache.

The definition of disability for Social Security purposes is twofold:

1. The claimant must have a medical condition that severely limits his or her capacity do “basic work activities” including “walking, sitting, and remembering” that will either last more than a year or terminate in death.

2. The impairment must be such that the claimant is unable not only to perform his own job but any other job: a construction worker who loses an arm isn’t “disabled” if, for example, he could work as a call center operator or Wal-Mart greeter.

So the Senator either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or is simply making stuff up, in the great tradition of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” story.

But the affect is even scarier than the words. Rand Paul, who would like to have his finger on the nuclear trigger, thinks that people crippled by pain or psychiatric illness are funny. and he manages to get a laugh from the heartless crowd he’s addressing.

Not being a psychiatrist, and not having examined the Senator personally, I’m not qualified to make a diagnosis, but here’s Wikipedia’s definition of narcissistic personality disorder.

People who are diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder are characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance. They have a sense of entitlement and demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behavior. They have a strong need for admiration, but lack feelings of empathy.

 [emphasis added]

Sound like anyone you’ve heard of?

The political game here is obvious. The new Republican rules will forbid the Social Security trustees to make what would otherwise be a routine transfer from the Old Age Insurance fund to the Disability Insurance fund when the latter runs dry next year. The goal is to set up a battle between (richer, whiter) retirees and (poorer, darker) people with disabilities.

In answer to a question asked long ago to another Republican Senator: No. even at long last, Rand Paul has no shame at all.

Footnote Yes, I take this personally. For years I had the sort of back disease (spinal stenosis) which meant I had to decide every day between having a manageable level of pain and being mentally sharp. And that wasn’t nearly the level of problem that would qualify for Social Security disability. So, unlike the Senator from Aynrandistan, I have a bit of a grasp of what the people who are disabled by degenerative spinal disease have to go through. At the risk of sounding like a humorless liberal, it’s not funny.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

11 thoughts on “Rand Paul’s empathy deficit”

  1. Is there a term for the disorder that goes beyond empathy deficit to active disdain for empathy? (A printable one, that is)

  2. One aspect that tends to go unremarked is that as we raise the Social Security retirement age, we raise the demands on Social Security disability. Why? Well, as time goes on, disability begins to catch up with you.

  3. Not to worry. Random Paul won't be getting anywhere near any sort of important button. He's just too weird. The GOP money people will never go for him.

    And when I say weird, I also mean that he's not a robot like so many pols. For me, this counts for something (though of course, I'd never actually vote for him, or for any other GOP. I did once, and that was enough.) I do think he sometimes takes the trouble to think about the world. If he is at the same time an insensitive a**hole — and I don't know what % of the time he is such — well, who among us isn't? (The difference being, no one follows me with a camera!!! Heaven be praised.)

    He certainly isn't worse than the other GOPers, which is his compare group for me (since he, and they, only have entertainment value at this point. Their party is really that bankrupt in all important ways. As opposed to some of their followers, but that's their problem not mine.)

  4. I have a separate issue that pertains primarily to those with mental health disabilities, though there are some physical disabilities to which it would apply. The rules are that you only remain disabled so long as you are unable to work. However, one problem with mental health disabilities is that no one will hire you if they know that you have suffered from one even if you are now once more capable of working that job.

    For instance, I left my last real job in 2005 because of a complete nervous breakdown due to job stress. If I were open about that (and being open about my mental health issues has been an important element of recovery for me, like, you know, commenting on a public blog under my real name) no one would ever offer me a job even though I am not only recovered but that I can assure you that the job I'm applying for is a lot less stressful than making markets in options, which is what I did before.

    1. Hey, good for you!!! I developed panic attacks after a car accident, many years ago. One of the reasons I didn't sue was that I wanted to keep my privacy. Funny thing is, I found the whole experience so interesting that I kind of couldn't shut up about it. (So I guess I shoulda taken the dough.) It is one of those bad experiences that makes you see things you missed before. I imagine it is similar for you. You wouldn't want to change that you had it, right? (Ignore if too personal.) You have a lot more insight into others now, right? Well, anyhow.

      As for the work thing, well, you are making it harder on yourself, but if you find it meaningful then I applaud it. People are never more nasty and suspicious than when hiring. (Which I get, sort of.)

      1. No, I would definitely prefer to have missed out on suicidal depression. It may have gotten me to see things I didn't before but that's not a trade that's worth it.

  5. So, Mark … I don't want to ask directly but I am curious, so … what would be your advice to people with this back condition? I am fascinated by all the ailments that can be very serious and yet exist in that large gray area in which no medical professional can provide a clear answer. And back issues are often among them. Also any tips on prevention and what-not?

    But if it's too personal, forget I asked.

    Oh, also, if any medically knowledgeable people are around here … where online might one go to get evidence-based, but translated-into-(American)-English information (if this has been studied) about whether or not it is bad for you to take certain OTCs for …. well, years? Specifically, generic benedryl and generic pseudoephedrine (half dosed)? Every now and then it occurs to me that maybe this isn't smart. But then again, who would bother to study something so trivial? Who would pay for it?

  6. I heard that over half of the People who benefit financially from the Bush tax cuts don’t create jobs, and many of them don’t even work. Would Paul advocate a cut in such corporate or billionaire welfare? Paul is demeaning to his former profession as a physician by waging class warfare on the poor and disabled.

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