Naivete about politicians

So: a Yemini journalist reports on a U.S. airstrike in Yemen, revealing that it killed 14 women and 21 children. He’s then imprisoned by the Yemini government. The Yemini government faces pressure to release him, and is all set to do so, when Obama calls the Yemini president to “express concern” about the journalist. As a result, the journalist remains in prison to this day.

But Kevin Drum says this cannot possibly be about punishing the journalist for embarrassing the U.S. government, because hey, this really wasn’t all that embarrassing, and only a “sociopath” would want to keep an innocent person in prison. But Obama can’t possibly be a sociopath, so he can’t possibly have done this. This strikes me as astonishingly naive.

For one thing, has there ever been, in human history, a truly benevolent dictator? Has there ever been a leader who got hold of despotic power and didn’t abuse it in one way or another? I certainly don’t know of any. But if Drum is right, and only sociopaths behave that way, that means that no non-sociopath has ever succeeded in becoming ruler of an undemocratic government. That seems rather unlikely.

A better explanation is that, for whatever reason, even seemingly normal people, when given too much power, will abuse it.  That gives us good reason not to trust anyone who claims the power to, say, order citizens of his own country killed without trial (among other things) on the grounds that we’re sure he’s different from all the other rulers that have ever lived.

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