The brazenness of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly attempting to sell a U.S. Senate seat and securities trader Bernie Madoff allegedly bilking investors (including charities) of about $50 billion in a Ponzi scheme may seem inexplicable. But having evaluated dozens of white-collar criminals and very violent offenders over the past decade (and having testified about them in local, state and federal courts), I've realized many of them share recognizable psychological characteristics with convicted murderer Scott Peterson. Peterson, you will recall, is the Modesto, California man who murdered his wife Laci and his unborn child Conner in the midst of an affair with massage therapist Amber Frey, then helped lead the search for his victims.
Like Scott Peterson, Blagojevich and Madoff (if guilty) have to possess a sense of narcissistic entitlement that allows them to feel justified in manipulating others to their ends. Probably to hide internal feelings of unworthiness, weakness, or impotence, such men (or, in other cases, women-including, perhaps, Blagojevich's wife) create an over-inflated sense of self. Their minds build towering fortresses of ego immune to the reticence most of us would feel about putting ourselves first and everyone else second.
The narcissistic traits of Peterson, Blagojevich and Madoff (none of whom I interviewed) mean that they not only feel entitled to live special lives that don't include following rules - they may well believe they are so intelligent or clever that they will never be caught breaking those rules. That partly explains the outlandish nature of each man's behavior.
Peterson fashioned his own cement anchors to weigh down his wife's body in the San Francisco Bay. It didn't occur to him that making anchors and taking his boat out on the bay might implicate him in the disappearance of Laci.
Blagojevich challenged authorities to monitor him and even reportedly wheeled and dealed on a telephone he knew was tapped.
Madoff delivered outsized returns to his clients every year, apparently not worried about the fact that doing so seemed impossible to some. In his own mind, he was that special. He never lost - until it was all over.
Narcissism, however, doesn't explain all of Scott Peterson's murderous violence or Blagojevich's and Madoff's alleged schemes to sell a piece of the United States government or steal money. There also has to be a failure to recognize both the importance of the rule of law and a failure of empathy. All three men were seemingly unmoved by the rights or the suffering of others. To steal a life may seem wholly unrelated to stealing someone's life savings or someone's vote, but they are closer cousins than you might believe.
Unfortunately, the outsized nature of what is likely the Peterson-Blagojevich-Madoff brand of personality structure attracts, rather than repels people. Peterson had no shortage of women. Blagojevich had no shortage of voters. And Madoff had no shortage of investors. They seem so certain of everything, so much larger than anything that might contain them, that they seduce mere mortals, burdened as we are by self-doubt and respect for others - and a respect for our society and the rule of law.
Dr. Ablow is a Fox News contributor and the author of the New York Times bestseller "Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson."
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.