Policy as Psychodrama

Many articles critical of the Bush administration, including some posted on The Dubya Report site, conclude that Bush's opposition to popular policies like Social Security and Medicare, his support of programs like his so-called economic plan that benefit an elite minority, and his apparent willingness to ignore his allies and world opinion in prosecuting war in Iraq are the result of a commitment to a conservative ideology. Yet from time to time there are glimpses of a more personal source of such anti-populist if not downright anti-social policies. In The Right Man, former White House speech writer David Frum reports that Bush told him, "there is only one reason I am in the Oval Office…I found faith. I found God. I am here because of the power of prayer." According to Christianity Today, Bush told a Baptist congregation in Houston, TX, that he "believed that he had been chosen by God to be a good steward of the nation."

This is the person who, when told by Philadelphia journalist Bill Hangley on July 4, 2001 that he was "very disappointed in your work so far," responded "Who cares what you think?" "His face stayed photo-op perfect but his eyes gave me a look that said, if we'd been drinking in some frat house in Texas, he'd've happily answered, 'let's take it outside.' A nasty little gleam. But he was (fortunately) constrained by presidential propriety," Hangley wrote in the version of his encounter that circulated the Internet during the summer 2001.

This is also the person who, in an interview with Tucker Carlson for Talk magazine mocked death-row inmate and born-again Christian Karla Faye Tucker, imitating her on a supposed Larry King Live broadcast saying, "Please don't kill me." (In fact the exchange between Tucker and King never took place.)

And this is the person who repeats ad infinitum that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the US despite CIA analyses to the contrary, and who promised that "we will bring to the Iraqi people food, and medicines, and supplies and freedom" while the UN estimates 500,000 direct and indirect Iraqi casualties from a US military attack, as well as more than 3 million starving people and close to 1 million refugees.

Setting aside, for purposes of discussion, the propaganda component in Bush's pronouncements, we see an individual who believes he has been chosen by god, who holds to certain beliefs regardless of logic or fact, and who demonstrates an inability to empathize -- in this case with those who are on the receiving end of his policies. This is very close to the description of psychotic grandiose delusions.

S.R. Shearer of Antipas Ministries, a Christian group that among its activities monitors right-wing evangelicals' involvement in politics, calls Bush's behavior "messianic leadership." Bush, Shearer suggests, "has gradually (and easily) come to see himself as an agent of God who has been called by him to 'restore the earth to God's control', a 'chosen vessel', so to speak, to bring in the Restoration of All Things." A "messianic mission" is one of the possible characteristics of "delusional disorder." Delusional disorder was distinguished from paranoid schizophrenia in 1987, in the revised third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). Its characteristics are:

a persistent specific delusion not accompanied by the deterioration in personality and negative symptoms of anhedonia [inability to experience pleasure], lack of motivation, and social withdrawal that characterize chronic schizophrenia.

Types are assigned based on characteristics of the delusions. The "grandiose" type exhibits:

delusions of inflated worth, power, knowledge, identity, or special relationship to a deity or famous person

As Drs. Jorge Mascareñas Ruiz and César Mascareñas de los Santos have noted in their psychohistory of the "Light of the World" cult in Mexico, delusional disorder has features in common with narcisstic personality disorder, with the following distinction:

... in psychosis true identity is unknown and delusion is real, while sometimes in narcissism pathological grandeur is simulated to obtain advantages and gratification by deceiving others.

Both diseases show delusions of grandeur and paranoid behavior added to a great lack of sensibility for other human beings as well as an excessive demand for personal attention.

Noting that "Many people, inside and especially outside this country, believe that the American president is nuts, and is taking the world on a suicidal path," Dr. Carol Wolman includes narcissistic personality disorder among the possibilities in her "differential diagnosis" of Bush. From DSM IV, the narcissistic personality:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance- exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or
    high-status people
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement- unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her
  • Is interpersonally exploitative
  • Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes

Wolman notes in passing that "This set of characteristics may describe Rumsfeld and Cheney better than Dubya." She suggests, however, that Bush may exhibit traits of antisocial personality disorder, as well:

  • There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 18 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

    • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
    • Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
    • Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
    • Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
    • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
    • Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
    • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

While his harmful actions as governor and president affect large numbers of people, biographers Bill Minutaglio and James Hatfield have documented antisocial behavior dating back to Bush's late adolescence. As we've reported elsewhere in The Dubya Report, Bush was apparently arrested for drunk driving in September 1976, and his campaign acknowledged an arrest for disorderly conduct in 1965 or '66. He was also detained by police in Princeton, NJ in 1967. During the same period, Bush defended the practice of branding fraternity pledges with heated coat hangers -- a practice that had come to public attention through an article in the New York Times: "George Bush, a Yale Senior, said that the resulting wound is 'only a cigarette burn."

Bush may also have had a drug-use offense expunged from his record in exchange for performing community service in Houston, TX in 1972 -- an allegation investigated by Salon.com in 1999. When Online Journal reporters Bev Conover and Linda L. Starr learned that Bush had his driver's license number changed in March 1995, author James Hatfield speculated that Bush's time working as a youth counselor for several months at Houston youth program Project P.U.L.L. was, in fact, court assigned community service. In the afterword to his controversial Bush biography, Fortunate Son, Hatfield reports that his speculations were not denied by P.U.L.L director, Madge Bush, and were confirmed by three confidential sources. Moreover, Hatfield reports that when he questioned Bush campaign spokesman Scot McClellan about the Project P.U.L.L. episode, McClellan first exclaimed under his breath, "Oh, shit!" followed by a terse "no comment." The Bush campaign and others subsequently sought to discredit Hatfield in the press, because he was a convicted felon. (Hatfield had pled guilty in 1991 to one count of making a false statement on a government document.) Hatfield committed suicide in July 2001.

The possible diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder is noteworthy in the context of Bush's apparent dyslexia. Among school children, learning disorders are often found to coexist with other psychiatric disorders, including "conduct disorder," which is essentially antisocial personality disorder in children under the age of 18. Although there is not much evidence from Bush's elementary school years, anecdotes suggest that his antisocial behavior had an early beginning, as for example, when he threw a football through the glass of his third grade classroom window. But writing in The Baltimore Sun in September 2000, Myriam Miedzian author of author of "Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence" notes that as a child Bush enjoyed putting firecrackers into frogs and watching them blow up, adding:

Cruelty to animals is a common precursor to later criminal violence. But in rural West Texas, where George W. grew up, it was not uncommon for some boys to indulge in such cruelty....

His blowing up frogs or shooting them with BB guns with friends does not have the same significance it would have if, for example, a city boy blew up the family cat. In fact, George's childhood friend, Terry Throckmorton, openly and laughingly admits, 'We were terrible to animals.'

But there were surely many boys in George's hometown of Midland, Texas, who would have been repelled at the thought of blowing up frogs. So how much importance should we attribute to this early behavior?

Is boy George's lack of empathy and cruelty not just childhood insensitivity, but rather a personality trait still present in the man? If so, we have much to be concerned about.

Apropos Miedzian's question, Alvin Wyman Walker has pointed out recently that much of Bush's early childhood was spent in a single parent home, with his father frequently away traveling on business. Bush's younger sister, Robin, died of leukemia when he was seven and she was not quite four years old. Robin's illness and death had apparently been concealed from "Junior." When his parents returned home after a memorial service, he was surprised that his sister was not with them, according to biographer Minutaglio.

The trauma of events surrounding Robin's death found visible expression in Barbara Bush's hair, which turned white while she was still in her twenties. Dr. Walker speculates that Bush's mother was likely pre-occupied with her dying daughter during the period of illness, and may additionally have been depressed. As a result, he suggests, she would not have been available, at least emotionally, to "Junior."

"Lack of parental availability typically leads to lack of parent-child attunement. And lack of parent-child attunement often makes for deficient empathic ability and a relative inability to identify with others," Dr. Walker writes. The behavior characteristic of conduct disorder/antisocial personality disorder may be "in part, as a covert communication to an unresponsive, emotionally distant parental figure."

But the diagnosis offered by Drs. Walker and Wolman that presents the most pathetic and disturbing picture comes from a Freudian perspective. Characterizing Bush's obsession with Saddam Hussein as "developmentally immature and regressive," Walker describes Bush's Iraq adventure as an attempt to "'defeat' the idealized father" to whom Junior could never measure up, by defeating Saddam Hussein, whom "Poppy" couldn't vanquish.


Walker, Alvin Wyman "'Shrub' Bush's Pathological Focus On Saddam Hussein" The Black Commentator 6 Feb. 2003

Sarchus, Andrew "Saint George" democraticunderground.com 17 Jan. 2003

Hill, Michael Ortiz "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" CounterPunch 4 Jan. 2003

Carnes, Tony "Bush's Call to Prayer" Christianity Today 14 Dec. 2000

Shearer, S.R. "George Bush, The 'promise Keepers,' And The Principles Of Messianic Leadership" Antipas Ministries. 28 Nov. 2002

Wolman, Carol "Is the President Nuts? Diagnosing Dubya" CounterPunch 2 Oct. 2002

"Delusional Disorder" PsychologyNet.org 2002.

Mikkelson, Barbara and David P. "Who cares what you think?" Urban Legends Reference Pages

Hatfield, J.H. Fortunate Son New York:Soft Skull, 2000.

Parsia, Bijan "Nice Guys Don't Mock the People They Execute" monkeyfist.com 25 Oct. 2000

Miedzian, Myriam "Growing up is hard to do" The Baltimore Sun 12 Sep. 2000

Reiter, Amy "Bush up to his arse in allegations!" Salon.com 25 Aug. 1999

Shiflett, Dave "A Noble Hypocrisy" Salon.com 24 Aug. 1999

Minutaglio, Bill. First Son New York: Three Rivers, 1999

Langsford, Shane et al. "Prevalence and Comorbidity of Child and Adolescent Disorders in Western Australian Mainstream School Students." Centre for Attention & Related Disorders, The University of Western Australia. 1999 (?)

de los Santos, César M. and Jorge M. Ruiz
"A Psychoanalytic Study of Leader-parishioners Relationship At 'the Light Of The World' Church (la Luz Del Mundo)" Centro de Investigaciones del Instituto Cristiano de México. 1997 (?)