Feel sorry for him if you like, but we must get him out of the role of president, out of power.
I am just wrapping up Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President by Justin A. Frank, M. D.
Doctor Frank takes a hard look at George W. Bush, his family history and his behavior and draws conclusions about W’s mental health that many of us have suspected, but because we lack the education and experience, cannot call our diagnosis any more than suspicions. Fortunately, Frank has both the education and experience.
This book is important. It spells out, with good examples, how Bush is ADHD, sadistic and suffers from a serious and hugely damaging (to us, the world) Oedipal complex. I started to write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the book but found that I wanted to quote nearly the whole book. That does not make for a short synopsis, (and I think Dr. Frank would have a problem with me republishing his work :-) .
Instead, let me share what I have learned and some of the more telling quotes from the book... His assessment of Bush is based on well-documented history (press, biographies, memoirs) of the Bush family and observation of Bush in his first three years as president, this period includes Bush both pre and post 9/11. Armed with the data and a deep understanding of psychoanalysis, Frank sets out to describe the mind of George W. Bush. Read the Forward [here].
Anticipating the skeptics of psychoanalysis-from-a-distance, Frank reminds us that
Somewhere in the bowels of the George H. W. Bush Center for Central Intelligence in Langley, Virginia psychoanalysts are currently reviewing audio recordings, videotapes, and biographical information on dozens of contemporary world leaders, using the principles of applied psychoanalysis to develop detailed profiles for use by the CIA and the U.S. government and military. (p. xiii)
He also reminds us that the U.S. “at-a-distance” leader personality assessments date back to 1940 when the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) commissioned two studies of Hitler. (And a cool factoid: The analyses of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin played an important role in Jimmy Carter’s handling of the 1978 Camp David negotiations.)
Bush suffered a terrible loss at age 7. His sister died. Here’s how it was dealt with:
Robin died in New York in October 1953; her parents spent the next day golfing in Rye, attending a small memorial service the following day before flying back to Texas. George learned of his sister’s illness only after her death, when his parents returned to Texas, where the family remained while the child’s body was buried in a Connecticut family plot. There was no funeral.
Mom and Dad went golfing the day after their child died. No funeral... Bush, growing up with ADHD, had a hard time learning to empathize. Couple that with a cold and distant mother, and it is no wonder we can tell he is full of ... when he “feels” for the victims of Katrina or mourns for the lost soldiers from Iraq.
Frank suggests that Bush suffers from ADHD (attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder) and that he likely had some learning disorders. His affable nature is one way he compensated for his academic shortcomings. Some of the examples he cites:
Bush “never anguishes over decisions” (short attention span, observed by Bush’s own staff). Bush keeps a strictly regimented daily routine, short meetings and regular exercise sessions (his method for burning off energy) and when it comes to the “hard thinking” part,
Bush advisors admitted that the staff usually limits him to three or four thirty/forty-five minute ‘policy time’ sessions per week, about what Bill Clinton engaged in per day. Then more often than not, the president sloughs off responsibility with the admonishment, ‘You guys decide it.’” (p. 26)
About the ADHD - Frank points out that ADHD and learning disorders often go together (and there is family history;
Neil is dyslexic. Furthermore, Bush freely admits that he does not read the papers. He also does not take notes during briefings, debates or press conferences (unless he needs to go to the bathroom :-)). The family did not have an encyclopedia, he was and is a recreational reader, “readers for fun”, and Bush has been known to throw down typed briefings and ask his aides to digest the material more thoroughly. (p. 29)
These deficiencies placed young George at a distinct disadvantage when he was obliged to fend for himself at two of the nation’s most intensely competitive academic environments… Phillips Academy (Andover) and Yale. (p.32)
Frank has little to report from the Phillips years. Bush did not excel and at least one teacher suspected he was wrestling with learning disabilities. Frank suggests that the way Bush hid from his academic challenges (and athletic insecurities, both dad and grandpa were excellent athletes, W was not.) was by calling attention to his personality, kidding around, calling people names, and “declaring himself high commissioner of the stick-ball tournament.”
Melanie Klein ( bio) writes that the destructive forces we fear most are those we can turn against ourselves. Dealing with those fears can be a lifelong struggle; if we do not confront them directly, we are likely to project our fears onto external forces that we then feel we must extinguish to be safe. (p.37)
One way Bush has dealt with his inner demons is Alcohol. This chapter spends considerable time dissecting the role of alcohol in Bush’s life. Chapter 4 covers Bush’s substitute for alcohol, God. A telling quote:
The pattern of blame and denial, which alcoholics work so hard to break, seems to be ingrained in the alcoholic personality; it’s rarely limited to his or her drinking. The habit of placing blame and denying responsibility is so prevalent in GWB personal history that it is apparently triggered by even the mildest threat; when Jay Leno, on the eve of Bush’s DUI revelation, asked him if he’d ever done anything he was ashamed of, he replied “I didn’t” -- and proceeded to tell a humiliating story of his brother Marvin urinating in the family steam iron. (p.41)
The DUI became known before Dad was elected president. So we’ve known about Bush’s ability to deny since 1988!
Frank also shows why religion is so important to Bush
Religion doesn’t just replace doubt with certainty; it replaces ambiguity with dualism – something that would make a person like George W Bush, whose worldview has likely remained split and unintegrated from infancy, much more comfortable. The world of terrorism, of course, is fertile ground for a perspective divided into good and evil. In the war on terror – in which Bush’s opponent was first Osama, then Saddam, then terrorists in general – Bush can see himself as the force of light against darkness. Banishing ambivalence and nuance from his mind, he envisions himself in a belief system as fixed as his fundamentalist faith – which can be used to justify all kinds of behavior, since it views the world as full of one kind of infidel or another. (p. 69)
So here, we have one of the many techniques Bush can use to mentally justify illegal wiretaps, or a trillion dollar war in Iraq.
When it comes to Bush’s religion and political dividends,the more voters he manages to convince that he was chosen by God to lead the nation, the more likely he is to be re-elected. In soliciting the voters’ mandate, Bush is seeking consensus verification of his otherwise unverifiable tenets of faith – tenets on which he has based both his presidency and his personal salvation. Bush’s countless steps to blur the boundary between church and state are merely extensions of his efforts to order his internal chaos through the rigid doctrines of religion. Unfortunately, for those who don’t share his convictions, he is less sensitive to the personal stakes others might have in keeping those boundaries intact. Nor is he particularly tolerant of others’ own quest for salvation; Faye Tucker’s plea that her spiritual conversion should spare her from execution on the grounds that such conversions are common in prison – and somehow less genuine than his own conversion, amid the person prison of despair fueled by alcoholism and business failure. (p, 74)
Frank suggests that Bush is an outlaw,
Bush was born into a family that was simultaneously of the law and above it (p. 79)
This also helps him justify his illegal wiretaps plus it explains his reactions to the press or others who ask tough questions:
Living outside the law turns any questioner into a policemen in Bush’s mind. He behaves more like a criminal who sticks tenaciously to his story, often in the form of random stock phrases that may or may not apply to the point at hand. In his April 13, 2004, press conference, he laced his answers to a variety of questions with the same few epigrams: “Prior to 9/11 the country wasn’t on a war footing” (the same sound bite, word for word, that Condi Rice had delivered to the commission on April 8), or “now is the time to talk about winning this war on terror,” or “a free Iraq will change the world.” (p. 81)
What we see in the combination of political power and amoral behavior common to the Bushes is a sense of omnipotence – both psychological and social. (p. 82)
And a bit later,
No limitations, no accountability: It’s a recipe President Bush might recognize. “The interesting thing about being the president,“ he explained to Bob Woodward in Bush at War, is that “I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.” (p. 83)
Frank suggests that this probably explains his behavior in front of the 9/11 commission – no oath to tell the truth, and Dick Cheney at his side.
Frank suggests that Bush suffers from Magical Thinking (from adolescent omnipotence) and he sites the “Mission Accomplished” banner as a perfect example of the thinking (and the attempt to deny it was his idea as evidence of the alcoholic denial pattern). Of course, Frank does not need to point out, but he does anyway,
The danger of magical thinking comes when one acts as if the magical beliefs are real, as in Bush’s justification for invading Iraq. (p. 87)
For example, did Bush make the link between Saddam and Al Qaeda because Cheney and others convinced him…or is there another possibility – namely, that he actually believed the two were linked because he wanted so badly for it to be true?
Frank proceeds to describe symptoms of magical thinking he has observed in Bush.
A nice summary
The ease and frequency with which Bush misrepresents the truth gain new resonance when seen in the context of a personality that considers itself exempt from the laws that govern others. Why doesn’t he tell the truth? Because he does not have to. Bush gets away with lying not because he is good at it – he’s not – but because in his formulation there’s nothing to get away with: The laws of accuracy mean little or nothing to him. (p.90)
From here Frank spends time on Bush’s ability to deny. Here is where I think we’ll find Bush’s greatest weakness
Since new knowledge poses a threat to his fixed ideas and fixed worldview and exception... GWB must narrow his horizons in order to avoid the kind of discordant information that might threaten his sense of omnipotence and cause psychic discomfort. Not only does he fear discovery - the threat that ultimately motivates stonewalling techniques like the “Kenny who” defense [Bush denied knowing Ken Lay, of Enron fame (a former business colleague), by saying “Kenny Who”] and his refusal to turn documents over to various investigatory commissions; more deeply he fears discovering, having to take in any evidence that his way of thinking is flawed – the kind of evidence that he might encounter, for example, if he were so bold as to pick up a newspaper on his own. (p. 96)
I believe that the more real information that is forced on him, the sooner he will “crack.” By forcing Bush to see how different the real world is from his fantasy world, the sooner the cognitive dissonance will render him incapable of filling the role of president. Cindy Sheehan and Katrina are good examples of ways to rub reality into Bush’s nose. (both of these “events” happened after Frank finished his book).
There is so much more to this book, but I have run out of steam and time. I would love to write about his “twisted tongue.” In his 2003 state of the union speech, he promised a 50% increase in funding for AmeriCorps - “good works that deserve our praise”- only to cut its budget by 80% in the following year.
Also, Bush’s use of “language of substitution” vs. “language of achievement”
The speaker who relies on the language of substitution paints his conversational partners into a corner, leaving no room for substantive dialog, erecting verbal barriers to any further substantive dialog.
(See last nights “Daily Show” for a clever skit demonstrating ‘language of substitution’). “Your either with us or you are the enemy. (or a terrorist)” “I am a uniter, not a divider.”
There is a whole chapter on his oedipal complex and how he is destroying (or has destroyed) everything his father accomplished as president. The chapter, Oedipus Wrecks suggests that Bush is filled with rage at his absent father (off discovering oil wells and AWOL much of the time) And how Bush is the AWOL president (Do we need to talk about Bush vacations to Crawford?)
Dr. Frank’s diagnosis
The combination of paranoia and protective delusions lead inexorably to the crux of the formulation: The summary analysis of Bush’s psychic state. A careful consideration of the evidence suggests that behind Bush’s affable exterior operates a powerful but obscure delusional system that drives his behavior. The most precise psychiatric term to describe his pathology is most frequently used to identify a particular condition exhibited by schizophrenics. See: Megalomania (p. 200)
I jump to the epilogue for the good doctor’s recommendations (which appear to be consistent with my assessment.)…
Frank reminds us that he does not treat people who don’t admit they have a problem. Bush would have to admit his issues. But as long has he has his anxiety suppressors…
The first stage of treatment would be to begin to compromise his defenses by making him anxious. In this approach, the patient is discouraged from resorting to his customary means of controlling his anxiety. (p.214)
One way to “rattle” Bush is to keep him in Washington – force him to miss a few vacations in Crawford. Or perhaps, make him spend more time in meetings and miss his exercise sessions. Once the anxiety suppressors are removed, Bush would have to integrate his split worldviews…
I could go on, but I’ll conclude by saying read the book, and Dr. Franks words:
For the moment though, George W. Bush still inhabits a uniquely favored position of power, and the enterprise he is poised to add to his history of failures is the future of our nation. Our collective denial helped put him in that position. And unless we overcome that denial, it will keep him there.
Our sole treatment option – for his benefit and for ours – is to remove President Bush from office. It is up to all of us – Congress, the media, the voters – to do so before it’s too late. (p. 219)