progress in their moral reasoning (i.e., in their
bases for ethical behavior) through a series of
levels... The first is "the Preconventional Level,"
where one usually finds oneself in elementary
school. The first stage of this level is where
George, I believe, makes his home.
called: Stage Zero." If George wasn't driving
the world down the road to extinction with his
wars, his environmentally disastrous choices and
world alienating policies--"Look at me, ma, no
hands" he says while sitting behind the wheel
of our children's future--I'd think he was almost
fascinating. Fascinating the way one who is steeped
in myriad psychological issues is. I'm a psychotherapist.
And, having never seen George in therapy, despite
my open invitation, it would be unethical for
me to make an official diagnosis of him. So, I
won't. But, I can kick some thoughts around.
Tom Hanks' movie, "Big," when the kid, by an accident
of fate, finds himself turned into an adult, playing
grown-up roles he is not developmentally ready
for? This is George. I don't mean this maliciously
or satirically; I really mean it. I think developmentally
speaking George is a big kid. Lots of people are.
The difference is they don't have the means to
bomb human beings into "pink mist," obliterate
the infrastructures of countries, and poison the
world with coal and pesticides and carbon dioxide
and depleted uranium and napalm, as they play
grown up. Nowhere was George playing grown-up
more conspicuous than his staged re-election photo
op on the USS Lincoln. When I saw him all dressed
up pretending to be a naval aviator, I kept waiting
for him to pull out his GI Joe doll with karate
action, sit down and start playing: "Bring 'em
on. We can take 'em. Huh, Joe? Take that--heeeyah,"
while making Joe do a big karate chop as the real
soldiers look on, saluting their Commander in
now KB Toys has come out with an Elite Force Naval
Aviator Action Figure to immortalize George's
"historic" day of pretend play. And with that,
in a moment of unintentional, yet brilliant psychological
mindedness, they have placed George, the pretend
combat-ready naval aviator, exactly where he belongs--in
the make believe world of the 10 and under set.
In short, George is stuck. Without getting into
too much psychobabble, in human development terms
this means he had some significant issue or trauma
at one stage in his development that precluded
him from advancing to higher stages.
theorists would argue that we all have developmental
issues to one degree or another. And we do. But,
again, most of us are playing out our intrapsychic
havoc in the battlefields of our minds, not the
battlefields of the world. Our casualties, disastrously
enough, are often our relationships, not the lives
of U.S. soldiers and civilian mothers and children
bombed out of their homes in far away neighborhoods.
There are many ways to think about human development.
One could explore cognitive, psychosexual or psychosocial
suspect George is developmentally stuck in many
ways, so we could look at any of these. But perhaps
more than any other president I can think of,
George evokes pure morality as a rationale for
his policy decisions. This, as opposed to choices
based on reason and facts and evidence informed
by morality. [Example: George's rationale for
going to war were WMD's that were an imminent
threat to the U.S. Oops. No WMD's. Now George
says in essence, "Yeah, well, so? Saddam is bad.
Really bad. And we're good. So, us being good
and Saddam being bad justifies all the lying and
misleading about this illegal war."]
while I don't psychologically assess people from
a moral perspective, it makes sense for George.
You have to meet people where they are. A preeminent
theorist on moral development is Lawrence Kohlberg,
a famous Harvard professor, who demonstrated through
his scientific studies that people progress in
their moral reasoning (i.e., in their bases for
ethical behavior) through a series of levels.
He delineated three levels, further broken down
into six stages.
first is "the Preconventional Level," where one
usually finds oneself in elementary school. The
first stage of this level is where George, I believe,
makes his home. It's called: Stage Zero. Kohlberg
writes: "Stage Zero: Egocentric judgment. The
child makes judgments of good on the basis of
what he likes and wants or what helps him, and
bad on the basis of what he does not like or what
hurts him. He has no concept of rules or of obligations
to obey or conform to independent of his wish."
I know! It's uncanny. We saw George's egocentric
judgment during his college years as he publicly
argued for the right of his fraternity, DKE, to
use cruel hazing rituals, such as branding, on
its pledges. After all, George said, "the resulting
wound is 'only a cigarette burn.'" (New York Times,
November 8, 1967).
saw it in AWOL George, who didn't see the need
to fulfill his obligations, his promised duties
in the National Guard because it didn't align
with his wishes. And we have seen unprecedented
self-serving judgment time and time and time again
during Bush's tenure as president. One example
among thousands: The current administration is
seeking to create legislation that will make some
18 year old kid who wrongly downloads a song off
the Internet without permission a felon. A felon.
Such a label will dog her and impede her for the
rest of her life. This, as Kenneth Lay, who robbed
countless families of their life savings is not
held accountable, but is running free, living
not off his wife as he pretends, but off the fruits
of his manipulation. So, what's the moral here?
Rob a corporate buddy of George's of a buck fifty
and, because it's technically illegal, you're
a corporation, be a buddy of George's, rob your
employees of thousands upon thousands of dollars
and, although it's illegal, you're still good.
A summation of George's egocentric philosophy
might very well be his words to Bob Woodward:
"I am the commander, see. I do not need to explain
why I say things. That's the interesting thing
about being the president. Maybe somebody needs
to explain to me why they need to say something,
but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
a profoundly childlike thing to say (not to be
confused with childish). It sounds to me like
a kid trying desperately, yet transparently, to
convince people he is fit for a role he secretly
is unsure he can fulfill and discuss. An appropriate
response by Woodward to George's subtext might've
been, "Such a big boy, Georgie! Yes you are!!"
not a big Clinton fan, believe me, but can you
imagine those words coming out of his mouth during
the absurd Lewinsky debacle? An interviewer asks:
"But didn't you say you did not have sexual relations
with that woman?" "I am the commander, see. I
do not need to explain why I say things. That's
the interesting thing about being the president...I
don't feel I owe anybody any explanation." Now,
we all know many a president has lied and distorted
the truth in office. But, the difference is they
kept in mind the concept of rules and obligations
that they had to at least pretend to obey and
just George, but this entire administration has
completely flouted what every other administration
previously has not--the need to pretend to play
by the rules. The rules are forever changed, they
tell us. Remember 911! Speak brashly and carry
a big photo of Ground Zero is their new philosophy.
And Remember 911! is the battle cry that drowns
out any dissenting skirmish this administration
finds itself in. Remember 911! Is the catch-all
response that replaces any obligation to account
for their actions. It is the cozy, protective
cloak that has made the Bush administration all
but impervious to questioning and doubt. And not
on;y can they be heard crying, Remember 911!,
but Beware The Terrorist Hiding in Your Underwear
Drawer! Code Orange. Code Orange. Duct tape at
course, a terrorist attack could absolutely happen
again. We'd be foolish to think otherwise. But,
this in no way negates the fact that the Bush
administration has brilliantly and unabashedly
exploited our post-911 apprehension. There is
no greater fuel for righteous indignation and
the resulting lack of critical thinking than fear.
And the Bush administration is fanning the flames
of fear every chance it gets.
through our post-9.11 eyes, many of us have very
understandably come to see the radical (yes, the
Bush administration is not conservative, it is
radical) egocentric judgment of the Bush administration
as truth. And in many cases, it has become law.
The Patriot Act is the radical, egocentric judgment
of a few, turned law. And it is from the same
Stage Zero mindset that a plethora of alarming
legislation is being passed as hard fought civil
liberties are being overturned.
is from Stage Zero that John Ashcroft and the
proposed "Patriot Act II" will be enforced. Ashcroft's
egocentric judgment--the same judgment that spent
$8,000 of taxpayers' money to cover a stone breast
apparently too titillating for John's libido--is
going to determine who is a terrorist and who
isn't, who can be expatriated and who can't. It
will be Ashcroft, the same man who reportedly
thinks Calico cats are signs of the devil, who
is the final arbiter of right and wrong, good
and bad. And let's not forget that Rumsfeld was
reportedly all too recently considered so way
out there his colleagues didn't take him seriously.
the causes of all this egocentric morality are
beyond the scope of this article, it is worth
saying that, in George's case, it is surely informed
by his particularly privileged background that
has left him without a realistic sense of how
the vast majority of us live and struggle. As
he said in a moment of uncharacteristic truth
telling to Reverend Jim Wallis, "I don't understand
how poor people think."
addition, his morality and subsequent choices
are surely informed and perhaps superceded by
his addiction issues and by his deep-seated shame
and desperate need for validation. George's egocentric
judgment is also given credibility under the auspices
of his religious conviction. I do believe George
is a religious man. But, he has in many ways prostituted
his religion to serve his true dogma--the advancement
of the corporation. So, for all his touting of
religious and moral imperatives, George's policy
decisions constitute nothing less than a moral
failure. They have nothing to do with God, despite
George's fantasy of divine rule, they have nothing
to do with compassion, and they have nothing to
do with helping you and me in any real way. Intrapsychically,
they have everything to do with George's wish
to finally be more than what he fears he is--a
moral/business/personal failure. And interpersonally,
they have to do with paybacks and power jockeying.
I believe George's handlers exploit his insecurities,
posing him as an Air Force Naval Aviator here
and a Friend of the Poor there, feeding into his
need to play those roles.
the same time, it fills their need to have an
affable, malleable front man, willing to please
and needy enough to believe the roles in which
he is cast. Karl and Dick and Co., I believe,
are to a certain extent manipulating George just
as they are trying to manipulate us. So, why don't
we all see through this and call them on it? Because
George's handlers and speechwriters and the rest
of the gang are very adept at pretending to be
at a stage where they aren't: Stage 5. Kohlberg
writes: "Stage 5: The social-contract legalistic
orientation. Right action tends to be defined
in terms of general individual rights and standards
that have been critically examined and agreed
upon by the whole society... The result is an
emphasis upon the "legal point of view," but with
an additional emphasis upon the possibility of
changing the law in terms of rational considerations
of social utility...The "official" morality of
the American government and Constitution is at
this stage." This is where most of us Americans
believe we are, or at least we used to. Because
this is much of what our country was founded on.
And the Bush administration knows this and they
exploit it. They talk the talk of Stage 5 as they
walk the walk of Stage Zero. But such incongruity
is crazy making. It's like a mother who beats
her child as she tells him she loves him and would
never hurt him.
the abused kid, many of us want to believe George
is telling the truth and is looking after our
best interest. He seems like a nice enough guy.
We try to contort our sense of morality and reality
to fit his, questioning our own. But, while we
hear George tell us the economy is recovering,
we see thousands upon thousands in our communities
laid off with no future job prospects. And we
can only contort and deny so long until finally
something gives. So now, the facade is cracking
and many people are starting to see the real,
ugly, self-serving picture behind George's wall
of pretty words. And it is through this crack
that activists, progressive politicians and those
of us concerned about the once unimaginable state
of our country must thoughtfully, respectfully
and gently enter and begin to mobilize and organize.
final of Kohlberg's stages is Stage 6. Again,
Kohlberg writes: "Stage 6. The universal ethical-principle
orientation. Right is defined by the decision
of conscience in accord with self-chosen ethical
principles that appeal to logical comprehensiveness,
universality, and consistency... At heart, these
are universal principles of justice, of the reciprocity
and equality of the human rights, and of respect
for the dignity of human beings as individual
believed many people never truly reach Stage 6.
But, I think it is not unreasonable to hope that
the man who is running our country and our world
should aspire to this stage. Having a Stage Zeroling
behind the wheel is a sure sign our world will
be driven into an enormous ditch before you can
say Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.
help clients move through the stages, Kohlberg
believed a therapist should present him or her
with moral dilemmas to discuss. Never have I considered,
nor do I plan on doing therapy with clients this
way. But, I think it is my patriotic duty to help
our morality-touting Commander in Chief rise out
of Stage Zerohood and step into a stage more fitting
of his position. So, again, I invite you, George,
to come see me in therapy and work out some of
your moral development issues, just as I invited
you to work out some of your shame issues a while
back. In the meantime, here is a moral dilemma
for you to chew on to help you work your way up
the moral ladder. Hope it helps.
Dilemma: You are an exceptionally privileged man
who has a long history of personal and business
failures. Despite yourself, you find you are appointed
to the most powerful position in the land through
the help of friends and family in high places.
You say you are compassionate (burning the flesh
of others aside). Yet in your short tenure in
office, you have instituted public policies and
norms that have irretrievably pockmarked the face
of the world such as walking away from international
treaties, years in the making: The Kyoto Treaty,
the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the International
Criminal Court Treaty, and the Land Mines Ban
Treaty, making our world infinitely more dangerous.
have created the largest federal budget deficit
in American history, as you blithely accept the
highest unemployment rate in decades, (the upturn
of the last economic quarter was mostly due to
payments to the coffers of a few defense contractors.
So only a few of your friends have seen the benefits
of the slight upturn. And the small unemployment
decrease was due to people so frustrated they
just dropped out of the job market). And as the
US now boasts the highest proportion of children
born into poverty in the "developed" world (22%)
and 43 million Americans have no health insurance,
your administration is slowly but surely gutting
all our country's safety nets, which will ultimately
add fuel to your privatization frenzy and create
a truly vicious cycle.
this same privatization, you are pilfering the
jobs and futures of millions of federal employees
in the name of national security, effectively
gutting the Civil Service Act of 1883, dragging
federal employment practices back to the good
old days of nepotism and cronyism while you do
your best to pass a law to cut the overtime pay
of hard working citizens.
administration reportedly instructed the EPA to
lie to the people of New York City about the toxic
air they have been breathing since 9.11, which
has caused very serious respiratory illnesses.
You ask soldiers to continue to die, to expose
themselves to higher and higher levels of toxic
depleted uranium that promise years of subsequent
health problems, as you show a uniquely George-esque
brand of "supporting our troops"--ignoring the
demands of the family members of active troops
who are clamoring for some answers and accountability
for this war; trying to block the pay raises of
those on active duty; and pledging to veto a bill
that would overturn an old law that, in effect,
makes veterans pay for their own benefits.
you have Laura look up what the word compassionate
means in the dictionary and pick a new, more appropriate
word like, say, self-interested? Do you have a
moral reckoning and become the man you pretend
to be? Or, do you forever remain "...a white Republican
guy who doesn't get it..." as you said to Reverend
Jim Wallis and, true to your pervasive pattern,
continue to pull an Orwell and tell us War is
Peace, Occupation is Liberation, and Self-Interest
is Compassion? Discuss.
--- Carol Norris is a psychotherapist, freelance
writer and member of CODEPINK: Women for Peace.
She can be contacted at: email@example.com.
October 8, 2003