Goldwater Rule: An informal ethical code that prohibits psychiatrists from offering opinions about the mental state of someone they haven’t personally evaluated. The rule has been accepted by the American Psychiatric Association since 1973; officially, it is known as Section 7.3 of the APA’s ethics principles.
The rule is named after Barry Goldwater, the U.S. senator and 1964 Republican presidential candidate whose extreme (for the time) conservative views prompted a survey, published in FACT magazine, in which 12,356 psychiatrists were asked whether Goldwater was mentally fit to serve as president. Almost half of the respondents answered that Goldwater was unfit, “describing him as ‘unbalanced,’ ‘immature,’ ‘paranoid,’ ‘psychotic’ and ‘schizophrenic,’ and questioning his ‘manliness.’”
The rule has been in the news during the current election cycle because of widespread claims, from professionals and laypeople alike, that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is psychologically unstable.
Trump and Goldwater, via History News Network
(Jeffrey Flier is an endocrinologist and former dean of the Harvard Medical School.)
“Trump’s Mental State Is Becoming a Talking Point” – NBC News, August 2, 2016
“Is Donald Trump Just Plain Crazy?” – opinion, Washington Post, August 1, 2016
“The Mind of Donald Trump” – by psychologist Dan P. McAdams, who set out to create “a psychological portrait of the man” without having met him, The Atlantic, June 2016
“Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In!” – Vanity Fair, November 2015
“Donald Trump: Narcissist-in-Chief, Not Commander-in-Chief,” Forbes, March 30, 2016
On August 3, the president of the APA, Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., issued a reminder that “breaking the Goldwater Rule is irresponsible, potentially stigmatizing, and definitely unethical.” The “unique atmosphere of this year’s election cycle,” she wrote, “may lead some to want to psychoanalyze the candidates, but to do so would not only be unethical, it would be irresponsible.”
In its coverage of the APA warning, the Washington Post noted that Trump is only the most recent candidate to be subjected to armchair psychoanalysis:
In 1972, Thomas Eagleton withdrew as George McGovern's running mate after it was revealed that he had had been hospitalized three times for depression and undergone electroshock therapy.
In 1988, both George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis insisted that they had never undergone psychiatric treatment, after the Washington Times reported on rumors related to Dukakis's mental health. Then-President Ronald Reagan drew some criticism for making fun of the Dukakis controversy by saying, "I'm not going to pick on an invalid."
Since the rule was implemented in 1973, the APA has on occasion modified it. Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, wrote in the New York Times in May 2016 that the rule did not cover scholarly studies of “historical” figures:
Yet the organization did not address whether the principle extended to living individuals. Still, it clearly aims to bar flip, off-the-cuff remarks to the media.
Klitzman concluded: “Our current presidential candidates present various psychological issues that we ultimately must all assess and weigh on our own.”
UPDATE: Internet friend WIIIAI reminded me of the mocking counter to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign slogan, “In Your Heart You Know He’s Right": In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts.”
Since that election, which Goldwater lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson, “In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts” has been associated with George W. Bush, Ted Cruz, Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan, Australia’s Tony Abbott, and, of course, Donald Trump. I’ve also seen it — with guts misspelled gut’s — attached to President Obama’s image.