"I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do," former Reagan and Bush official Bruce Bartlett told reporter Ron Suskind. Suskind's 8,500-word article on Bush's faith-based approach to government appeared in the October 17 New York Times. Based on interviews with members of Congress, government officials, and others who had met with Bush during his first term, the article aroused the administration's ire by revealing that Bush had bragged to wealthy supporters in a closed meeting that he would announce plans to "privatize" Social Security soon after his re-election.
But to many readers of Suskind's article, the overall portrait of Bush as someone who makes decisions of national and global import based on little more than his personal hunches and whims, while believing that he is a divine agent, is at least as alarming as the revelation of likely policy choices in another Bush administration.
Plato regarded forms of government as phenomena parallel to the mind of the leader. From that perspective insight into Bush's mental processes may inform analyses of the policies and practices of his administration and his election campaign. If as an individual one does not allow fact to intrude on one's view of the world, it follows that policy initiatives may be named and promoted as if their effect is the opposite of what is actually the case; if one is an agent of God, then fraudulent campaign practices are justified because one's opponents are evil. In Bush on the Couch, psychoanalyst Justin Frank, M.D. turns applied psychoanalysis -- a recognized body of techniques used, for example, by the CIA to analyze foreign leaders in advance of negotiations or crises -- on George W. Bush. The results are extremely disturbing, but provide a consistent framework from which to view Bush's strange behavior (mannerisms, malapropisms), the systematic deception employed by his administration, and the efforts of his campaign to subvert the election process.
"We Create Our Own Reality"
In one of the more telling episodes in Suskind's account he writes of a meeting in December 2002 between Bush and high-ranking members of Congress from both parties, to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There was general agreement that the armed forces of some European countries, such as France and Germany, would be unacceptable to either side as peacekeepers. Senator Tom Lantos of California, born in Hungary and the only holocaust survivor in Congress, suggested that the Swedish army might be more acceptable. (Sweden has what Suskind describes as "a well-trained army of 25,000.") "I don't know why you're talking about Sweden," Bush told Lantos. "They're the neutral one. They don't have an army." In his European diplomatic way Lantos suggested that Bush may have misheard him, and that he was referring not to Switzerland but to Sweden. Bush was adamant. "No, no, it's Sweden that has no army," he insisted.
Frank writes, "Bush is anxious to limit new input, because any new information that challenges his beliefs can make him anxious about the choices he has already made." "...[C]onscious limiting of input is also common among adults with ADHD," Frank writes, "who are constantly struggling with the impulse to respond to new stimuli -- a phenomenon that manifests itself as distractibility and difficulty maintaining focus." This, Frank suggests, is evidenced in the heavy scripting of Bush's public appearances, and his repetition of simple phrases. As Suskind notes, the concern is that open dialogue may create doubt, which could in turn create a loss of confidence "in the decision maker, and, just as important, by the decision-maker." Nothing is more important than staying on message. Suskind quotes a phrase Bush has repeated throughout the campaign, which could as easily be applied to the "world" of Bush's mind as to the world of international affairs: "By remaining resolute and firm and strong, this world will be peaceful."
Nonetheless, Bush uses language as an effective defense, Frank suggests, as a tool to communicate messages "wildly divergent from their surface meaning."
From his boyhood creation of an affable, joking, persona within a distant, grieving family, to his youthful efforts to distract others from his learning disabilities, to his adult investment in the denial surrounding his drinking problem and questionable business skills and practices, Bush has historically used language to hide while appearing to reveal.
For example, Suskind points out that, although Bush has been called the "CEO president," he actually never ran "anything of consequence" in the private sector. The small oil companies that he did run generally lost money, and were of value mostly as tax shelters to this father's friends who were often the investors. People who've worked in the Bush White House told Suskind that Bush's Harvard Business School training may be as much a liability as an advantage for someone with minimal real-world business experience. The HBS "case study" approach uses static descriptions of corporations, with the result that the solutions the students develop have narrow applicability. Suskind suggests that HBS grads who find themselves in management roles learn quickly that the real world is much more dynamic than their academic case studies. But without such experience, Bush resembles a 1975 HBS graduate with little direct experience of the changes in corporate America over that last 30 years, suddenly dropped into "the most challenging management job in the world."
At a gathering of Democratic senators that Suskind attended in March, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware described a meeting he had with Bush a few months after the invasion of Baghdad. Biden expressed a range of concerns: winning the peace, the potential for civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, dismantling the Iraqi army, securing oil fields, etc. Bush responded matter-of-factly that the US was on the right course and that there was no cause for concern. "How can you be so sure when you know you don't know the facts?" Biden finally asked. "My instincts," Bush said, putting his hand on Biden's shoulder, "My instincts."
There's evidence, however, that Bush believes his "instincts" are in fact divine guidance. In June 2003 then Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was quoted in the Israeli paper Haaretz saying that when he met with Bush and Sharon, Bush had claimed divine guidance. "God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did...," Bush said, according to the Haaretz account. More recently, in July 2004 Lancaster Online reported that Bush told a group of Amish "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job."
According to several accounts, Bush's conversion to fundamentalist Christianity began with a series of conversations with the Rev. Billy Graham after incidents of alcohol-assisted antisocial behavior had alarmed his parents. This "might have been a sign of newfound maturity," Justin Frank writes, "however the evidence suggests that [Bush's] conversion to Christianity served primarily as an excuse to insulate himself from responsibility for the excesses of his youth." Frank cites a PBS Frontline report that Bush is not even a regular churchgoer.
Frank calls Bush's "quasi-divine sense of calling to the presidency, and to defeat Saddam Hussein" a classic example "of the megalomanic overvaluation of the self."
A megalomaniac sees himself as the center of the world, the one figure who has all the answers. He tolerates no disagreement, and sees external reality as either threatening or nonexistent. This view stems from a need to triumph over insecurity and fear, to deny and annihilate internal fantasies of persecution and fears of being attacked.
Frank's description seems consistent with accounts of the workings of the Bush White House, where, as Suskind put it "open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value." Suskind recounts a meeting with an unidentified "senior adviser" to Bush after Suskind had written and article for Esquire that presented an unflattering portrait of Bush aide Karen Hughes. People like Suskind, the advisor said, were "'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'" Suskind acknowledged the categorization, and made reference to empiricism and the Enlightenment. The Bush staffer cut him off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Though his faith gives Bush strength ... the rigidity of his patterns of thought and speech, and of his schedule, point to a considerable fragility. His fears -- of everything from disagreement to terrorist attack -- are at times painfully visible, even (or especially) through his denials.... Just beneath the surface, it's nor hard to believe that he suffers from an innate fear of falling apart, a fear too terrifying for him to confront. Though Bush might be loath to concede any insight to the man who brought us the New Deal, there may be nothing he fears more than fear itself.
Evildoers and Exceptions
The us-against-them mentality is not confined to the international sphere. Speaking to Suskind in 2002, Bush media advisor Mark McKinnon took a combative tone.
"You think he's an idiot, don't you?" I said, no, I didn't. "No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!" In this instance, the final "you," of course, meant the entire reality-based community.
In recent weeks numerous reports have surfaced of GOP election officials and get-out-the-vote efforts engaging in fraudulent activities -- in some cases leading to criminal charges
- In South Dakota, six Republican notaries public face charges that they notarized absentee ballot applications without seeing the voter sign the application. The number of affected applications is estimated between hundreds and thousands.
- Arizona-based Sproul & Associates, a political consulting firm founded last year that received more than $500,000 from the Republican National Committee since July, according to election records, is under investigation in Oregon and Nevada after employees alleged that they were instructed to register only Republicans and destroy forms completed by Democrats. Canvassers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania made similar complaints.
- In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell tried to destroy thousands of new voter registrations because -- he claimed -- they were not printed on 80-pound card stock. Blackwell has apparently backed off under public pressure. Meanwhile, in heavily Democratic Cleveland, voters have received automated phone calls informing them (incorrectly) that their polling places have moved.
- In heavily Democratic Broward County, Florida, potential voters were turned away when the electronic voting system crashed after an hour of operation of the first day of early voting. Republican Secretary of State Glenda Hood also ruled that voter applications would be considered invalid if registrants didn't check the box affirming US citizenship, even if they affirmed their citizenship elsewhere on the form. The Guardian (UK) reports that three times as many Democrats as Republicans have been excluded as a result.
- In Wisconsin, the Republican official in charge of printing ballots in Milwaukee County, a Democratic stronghold, ordered 250,000 fewer ballots than the election board requested -- fewer, in fact, than were used in the 2000 election.
Although Bush has tried to present himself as above the campaign, in August the New York Times cited aides who confirmed that he is heavily involved. In addition to national security updates from Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney, Bush's morning briefings now include a campaign overview from Carl Rove. The Times report noted that Bush, along with political advisor Karl Rove, was a "driving force" in the attacks on Democratic candidate John Kerry, and closely monitored the grass roots campaign efforts, particularly in swing states. Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, told the Times "He had an understanding of the makeup of the district, of the nature of the registration and of the voting patterns." Representative Rob Portman of Ohio agreed, "He knows what it takes on the ground to win a campaign."
The apparent attempts to subvert the election are part of the official Republican party "Victory" program, according to the Guardian (UK). Former South Dakota Republican governor and congressman Bill Janklow told the Associated Press in late October that the "Victory" program includes a range of fraudulent activities. "These people are cheating. When you tamper with it, you cheat the system. And cheating in elections is the worst form of cancer because it's uncontrollable," Janklow said.
Justin Frank notes that a review of Bush's family and personal histories "reveals a long and rewarding pattern of evading the law and making up rules...." As we've noted elsewhere in The Dubya Report, Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, and Prescott's father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, had extensive financial ties with Nazi businessmen, at least until 1942 when the US government forced them to stop doing business with German industry. Bush and Walker's highly profitable enterprises, which contributed substantially to the accrual of Bush family wealth, violated the federal Trading with The Enemy Act. Nonetheless, Prescott Bush was later elected to the US Senate, and his illegal activity ignored.
Bush himself reportedly sold fake ID cards to schoolmates while a student at Andover, profiting from enabling others to break the law. He was detained at least twice during his college years for disorderly behavior, and gained notoriety when his branding of fraternity pledges with a heated coat hanger was reported in the New York Times. (Bush dismissed the branding incident, saying it was "only a cigarette burn.")
Bush has downplayed these events as harmless pranks, but Frank sees them part of a pattern of denying responsibility, related to Bush's alcoholism. "For George W. Bush," Frank writes, "drinking and evading responsibility have always coexisted -- a fact that became dramatically clear when his DUI arrest was made public in the closing days of the 2000 presidential race."
Freud identified a character type that he termed "the Exceptions." Exceptions are people who feel that normal laws don't apply to them. Bush, suggests Frank, sees himself as an Exception. Frank views the extreme secrecy of the Bush administration as evidence that the living outside the law, denying responsibility, and keeping secrets that were part of Bush's early experience have not really changed. The secretive behavior may have reached a high point with the "continuity of government" plans put in motion following September 11, 2001, in which members of government were quietly transported to one of two underground facilities on the East Coast. The "continuity of government" procedures remained secret until March 2002 when reports appeared in the Washington Post and elsewhere. Commenting on the secret procedures in Worse than Watergate, former White House counsel John Dean observes, "It is difficult to trust a co-presidency hell-bent on enhancing its powers through secrecy, demanding that it be held unaccountable, and willing to mislead the nation into a war."
A Wrecking Ball to the World
Frank notes that the combination of political power and amoral behavior that characterizes the Bush family history reveals a sense of omnipotence. Psychoanalysts view omnipotence as rooted in early childhood, ironically during a period with the infant is completely dependent on his caregivers. "Omnipotent fantasies help the baby cope with the helplessness and frustration caused by his limited ability to manipulate his environment," Frank writes. When the baby's mother responds to his cries, and feeds or tends to him, the infant interprets this as evidence of omnipotence. Typically, however, the period of omnipotent feelings is followed by a period in which "reality intrudes and we learn about our limitations."
A delusion of omnipotence can be seen in the sense of invincibility that is common in adolescents. In adults it transforms into grandiosity and fantasies of immorality.
When [Bush] says he is going to hunt Osama bin Laden down and get him -- along with destroying all other terrorists one by one -- he appears to believe it, his magical thinking telling him that the agents at his disposal can to anything.... To many, his insistence may seem to be an attempt to inspire confidence in others; far more likely, though it's simply an outward manifestation of his own grandiosity.
Numerous volumes over the past several years have documented what Frank rather diplomatically refers to as "Bush's many misrepresentations." A brief list of the subjects that Bush has distorted or lied about includes: his military service, his business dealings, his arrest history, his record as governor of Texas, his political opponents, his justification for invading Iraq, and the effects of his policies. Frank notes "a continuity between [Bush's] past defiance of authority and his current failure to live up to his word. Now that he holds office, the authority he defies is his own."
Here is a businessman who missed four consecutive SEC filing deadlines for reporting his Harken stock trades. Here is a candidate who alleges that his opponent "will say anything to get elected," and then proceeds to do the same himself. Here is a contested winner of the Florida popular vote who says "we have a responsibility to respect the law and not seek to undermine it when we do not like its outcome" and then complains that "the court cloaked its ruling in legalistic language." Here is a president who proclaims, "We must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September 11th," and then fights the commission formed to do just that. Here is a man who declares, "I take personal responsibility for everything I say," and then evades and dissembles when the media try to hold him to his promise.
The person living with fantasies of omnipotence must expend enormous psychological energy in maintaining psychological defenses against blame or internal conflict. The simplest defense, Frank suggests, is to project destructive behavior. The world must always be categorized into good and bad, and anyone who disagrees with the deluded individual must be eliminated. Yet the delusion of omnipotence masks a pervasive fear, as was evident when for twenty minutes after being informed that the first World Trade Center Tower was hit, Bush continued to read a children's book to the elementary school class he was visiting. Bush's surface "bring 'em on" bravado is contradicted by what Frank calls "the unprecedented security measures with which he surrounds himself." Bush's denial of the devastating effects of war, apparent lack of concern for civilian casualties, minimal recognition of the sacrifices of US service personnel, are additional layers in the effort to disguise his fears. These denials, says Frank, are "but a step away from abject cruelty."
George W. Bush evacuates his fear by spreading it throughout the nation he fears he cannot protect. The terror of which he promises to rid the world is in fact a different fear altogether: his intractable dread of his own individual punishment. And now that Bush has, in his grandiose imagination, identified himself with the entire nation, the nation has become the target for the personal retribution he fears is his due.
Freud suggests that in normal adults, infantile megalomania is transformed into pride and self-respect, but in an undernurtured and uncontained child it becomes arrogance -- a defense to protect against the pain of maternal rejection. Arrogance brings with it indifference, contempt, and a paranoid view of the world as a hostile place. "Just as important, with arrogance comes an inner alliance and deep idealization of the destructive parts of the self. Megalomaniacs love to break things: it makes them feel all-powerful."
As president, Frank suggests, Bush's embrace of deficit spending, which threatens to "diminish future progress" is an unconscious attack on his own parents. "...[H]is need to destroy their creative power is far greater than any need to adhere to a conservative philosophy of fiscal responsibility. "Fundamentally, argues Frank, Bush is terrified...."
In his own mind, the megalomaniac person can never lose. His battles are less about political beliefs than about securing triumph. By preserving his delusions, he becomes a great destroyer, ready to take a wrecking ball to the world, even though what he is actually attacking are the pain and suffering of real life.
For George W. Bush, tragically, all the world's a stage.
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, and voters -- to do so, before it is too late.
Suskind, Ron "Without a Doubt" New York Times October 17, 2004
Frank, Justin A. M.D.Bush on the Couch New York: Regan Books, 2004.
Floyd, Chris "Global Eye: Errand Boy" The Moscow Times 27 Jun. 2003
Kamen, Al "Road Map in the Back Seat" Washington Post 27 Jun. 2003
Brubaker, Jack "Bush quietly meets with Amish here; they offer their prayers" Lancaster Online. 16 Jul. 2004
"Questionable Absentee Ballots Lead To Criminal Charges" Associated Press. 22 Oct. 2004
Moulitsas, Markos "Hollow Victory" Guardian (UK) 20 Oct.2004
Dean, John Worse than Watergate New York: Little, Brown, 2004
Nagourney, Adam and Elisabeth Bumiller "Bush Takes On Direct Role In Shaping Election Tactics" New York Times 29 Aug. 2004