Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Psychoanalysis of President Bush

Via Political Outsider.

A rather dark analysis of what's going on in the President's noggin.
It's a long read, too long to post here in its entirety so I'll put down some snippets and opine a bit along the way:

The true rule in determining to embrace, or reject anything, is not whether it has any evil in it, but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost every thing, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded. - Abraham Lincoln, June 20, 1848

In defiance of his circumstances as an unpopular, lame duck president with a minority party in Congress, George W. Bush pursues a sharply autocratic tone. He has intimidated both parties in Congress and violated the Constitution. Through dissimulation and delay, he has forced the nations of the world to conclude they must wait until his term ends to negotiate any serious treaty on the imminent perils of climate change.

Quoting Abraham Lincoln (a quote that foreshadows much of the analysis) and then reflecting on the Constitutional violations of President Bush seemed ridiculous until this bit:

He thinks of himself making decisions in a similar fashion to Lincoln. (Greenwald 64-65) The problem is Bush lacks precisely the characteristic that made Lincoln a profound decision-maker: an ability to tolerate the ambivalence of situations long enough to perceive the shades of positive and negative, and emerge with what Lincoln called "our best judgment of the preponderance between them" (see epigraph).

A bit cryptic but I think they're leaning in the direction of "small evils for a greater good" in defining Lincoln. His scope of leadership entailed the ability to see beyond the immediate and the self and envision an outcome. As such Lincoln's "tyranny" as some would call it (suspending habeas corpus for example) was acceptable. Where as President Bush:

Bush's Christian defense supplies divine inspiration in the form of what he calls "gut" feelings that tell him, without much thought, what's right and wrong, good or evil. He feels this form of magical thinking absolves him of the fear that his incompetence or confusion might lead to a wrong or "stupid" choice. In his glaring reluctance to admit mistakes, he's like a child confronted by his parents. But for him, admitting a mistake may be even more threatening than the child's fear of losing his parents' love. By admitting a mistake, he would acknowledge the deep inadequacy he secretly believes defines him. So, he assures himself his spiritual gut feelings can never be mistakes or failure because they come from his attunement with God. But what Bush hears in his gut is not the divine; it is the workings of his own psychology organized to deny and transcend the family image of him as a failure that circulates in his head and has become his image of the world.

Bear in mind I'm bouncing around this article and so the snippets I provide may not resemble the original order they were published. On torture:

Bush's torture rationale echoes that of an extreme form of Christianity found among his personal "spiritual" advisers and the prominent televangelists he regularly consults. The religious justification for his worldview has prompted him to bestow billions of dollars on radical "faith-based" activities and to sanction an extremist Christian transformation of the military - actions that foster the idea of the US as a theocratic state called on "to rid the world of evil," as the president has asserted. As reported by Truthout last June, many of the religious figures associated with Bush believe the final battles of the apocalypse are near, with fires that will spread from the Middle East. Where James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye and John Hagee once pressed Bush hard for war with Iraq, they now clamor for one with Iran. The president cloaks himself in the innocuous terms "Christian," "evangelical" and "born again," and carefully avoids stating his beliefs specifically. But the type of Christianity most influential on his thinking is clearly radical or extremist rather than evangelical; it has an authoritarian, punishing, us-versus-them flavor; it views Christ less as a figure of tolerance and forgiveness than as a five-star general coming to wreck vengeance on anyone who has failed to join His army.

I'm bothered by the accusation of "a Christian transformation of the military." I'm further bothered by the supporting link (to their own article) and it's lose ability to support this claim. I suspect the Christian "flavor" of the military (specifically the NCO "backbone") is driven much more by socio-economics and demographics than by executive design. On his oft painful to watch public speaking ability:

For example, the president tries to control his environment (speaking only to friendly audiences), and consistently seeks to avoid or deflect definitive "tests" of his competency (though he is eager to test the competency of school children). His plain speaking style, rigidly on message, or laced with platitudes and moralistic bromides, compensates to cover his fear that he is unable to cogently think through an argument. He often looks as if he is trying to remember what he's supposed to say because he's fears he'll say the wrong thing.

Actually I'd say Bush struggles when reading a tele-prompter or delivering a structured speech. His "off the cuff" performances (think 9/11 and that bullhorn, for example) show him to be very comfortable when speaking in an unscripted fashion. He lacks polish, perhaps, but manages a steady and confident manner when he's in full control of the situation. Which leads us here:

Despite his best efforts, his feelings of anxiety about his own inadequacy constantly spill over. Spillage through his body language is notorious among reporters. In a Washington Post article following his failures to respond to Katrina, Dana Milbank closely observed movements as Bush underwent pointed questioning by NBC's Matt Lauer. "The president was a blur of blinks, taps, jiggles, pivots and shifts ... He had the body language of a man wishing urgently to be elsewhere,"
he wrote. When Lauer asked Laura Bush about the strain on her husband, he jumped in with a mocking third-person statement about himself: "He can barely stand! He's about to drop on the spot." In this abrupt defensive reflex, Bush denied his inner feelings by aggressively ridiculing thoughts he was afraid the viewer might just have had. Explaining his need to have Cheney with him at the 9/11 Commission interview, he said he wanted commission members to "see our body language ... how we work together." Another unconscious leak. What exactly did he think the commission would see except his own exposed inadequacy? His attempt to hide it, revealed it.

Definitely when "put on the spot" Bush is very hard to watch without cringing. This in addition to the above suggests Bush is in his element when he's in control of the dialogue or situation which lends one to realize that sudden or surprise disruptions in routine are his bane and illustrate his deficiencies in both effective snap decision making and quick analysis. The conclusion:

Members of Congress can stop being victims of the president's abusive psychology. You can confront a polarizer about his behavior without yourself becoming a polarizer. Instead of splitting ambivalence as Bush does, ambivalence can be used it to think through a clear course of action . The Constitution helps, in this case. The Democrats might, for example, articulate their balancing duties under the Constitution and carefully and firmly distinguish them from acts of partisan opposition. They might publicly acknowledge that this president, with the past complicity of Congress, has damaged our institutions. They could insist on the investigative and deliberative process called for by our system of government. Methodically holding Bush and his administration to account for his abuses (such a thing has never before happened to him) may be the most effective way to neutralize the further acting out of his dangerous psychology. It would empower others in his administration to resist him. It would refocus Congress on its own responsibilities in the constitutional process. Of course, to accomplish this would require some adults and "profiles in courage."

Read the entire piece here.


Anonymous said...

It's a puzzelment.

Dan tdaxp said...

Psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience. IIRC, psychoanalytic therapy has a efficacy rate the same as spontaneous remission. A reading of Bush's star sign would have just as much intellectual value.

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of psychoanalysis either, but I think it's important to think about the cognitive biases that distort individual decision making and how the people around a decision maker use those biases. Not only does George go with his 'gut', but more often than not it is supported and reinforced by those around him, particularly Cheney. WaPo did a great series on how Cheney acts as the President's gatekeeper awhile ago. His input is the most important in any decision, and he acts like a chief of staff almost. If anyone knows the truth about Bush's psyche, it's him, only because he's distorted it so much to get what he wanted.

Part 1 of the Post series:

Jay@Soob said...

Hi dd2, the President is a curious leader, isn't he?

In light of your comment:
"“America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success.” Sigmund Freud. Oops...

Steve, thanks for the link I'll give it a read though, off the cuff, I think the "puppet master" aspect of Cheney is generally a bit more celebrated than vindicated.