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Bush on the Couch What makes him feel safe doesn't work for the rest of us
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
September 16, 2004

Back a few months ago (http://www.zeppscommentaries.com/ VRWC/miller.htm), a Doctor Henry Miller was brought in by the far right to intone that "Al Gore appears to suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is not treatable with medications. Consider the diagnostic criteria for this malady: 'A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts,' as indicated by the following: 'a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).' Gore demonstrated his grandiosity repeatedly. Who can forget his notorious claim that he had been responsible for creating the Internet?"

Just the last claim, that Gore said he invented the internet, shows that Miller was an uninformed hack whose "analysis" was no more legitimate than those of fellow revilers Charles Krauthammer ("Al Gore is off his lithium") and Rush Limbaugh.

I was pretty disgusted with the VRWC for the "Al Gore is crazy" campaign, and revolted that a licensed physician would lend his name to such a shoddy undertaking.

It was about that time that "Bush on the Couch" showed up on my radar, and I pretty much ignored it. After all, I couldn't exactly whip around and castigate the VRWC for conducting warfare through attack masquerading as phony psychoanalysis, but then embrace a book that, at a glance, seemed to be doing the same thing.

But I kept hearing things about it that piqued my curiosity. First, there was the fact that this was a book that was over 200 pages long, based largely on verifiable evidence from such sources as media coverage, authorized biographies, and interviews with people who knew Bush. Obviously, that meant more than repeating an inaccurate construct fabricated by the right wing in order to smear a man's sanity. In fact, given the unblinking nature of the glass eye of the media, it's possible that the public record contains more details of Bush's life, upbringing, and thoughts than most patients ever share with their psychotherapists. That made it harder to dismiss as simply a horseback diagnosis. Then, too, there was Bush's behavior in and of itself: the inappropriate smirks, the glib and often ridiculous lies, the brittle refusal to face any dissent. Something about that boy clearly just isn't right.

In truth, I had asked myself what my antipathy towards Bush was based upon. I could rattle off a number of reasons easily enough as to why I didn't like him; the method by which he seized office, his smirk, his lying, his utter contempt for the rule of law and such things as the public good and the environment. But that didn't explain why I saw him as an absolute threat to America. After all, Reagan annoyed me, and I found his policies reprehensible, but I never felt he was trying to destroy America.

With Bush, I do feel that way, and I wanted to know how much was based on a cold reality, and how much was my imagination.

So when a friend, a retired psychiatrist, brought a copy of the book into my office for me to read, I was predisposed to do so. My friend and I had discussed the ethics of using psychological analysis as a political weapon at the time of Miller's remarks, and I knew we were of a mind on the issue. My friend isn't the sort to abandon an ethical stance for nothing more than political competitiveness. That, combined with the fact that my friend had an entire career in psychiatry upon which he could base his opinion of the book and he clearly thought well of it, convinced me that I wanted to read this book.

Dr. Justin A. Frank doesn't waste any time demonstrating to the reader why his level of professional alarm over Bush's state of mind warranted the writing of the book. On page three, he writes: "George W. was six years old at the beginning of the tragic episode that he has said yielded his first vivid childhood memories‹the illness and death of his sister. In the spring of 1953, young robin was diagnosed with leukemia, which set into motion a series of extended East Coast trips by parents and child in the ultimately fruitless pursuit of treatment. Critically, however, young George W. was never informed of the reason for the sudden absences; unaware that his sister was ill, he was simply told not to play with the girl, to whom he had grown quite close, on her occasional visits home. 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."

Even a layman would recognize what a load of alienation, confusion, and guilt, and what a blow to self-confidence, something like that would have on a kid, and Dr. Frank does a good job of demonstrating how it echoed down the years to reverberate in America's 43rd president.

From there, chapter by chapter, the doctor examines various facets of Bush's make-up, examining his tendency to use clowning and affability to keep people at bay, his alcoholism, his fundamentalist Christian beliefs (which he adopted late in life), his tendency to believe himself to be above or outside the law (something that has become more pertinent in the latest round of stories regarding the preferential treatment he received in the Guard), his lack of empathy and even sadism, his competition with daddy (which, in conjunction with his religious beliefs, is why he fits so well in the GOP, which I've previously half-jokingly called the Party of the Stern Authoritarians - daddy and Jehovah), and finally, the effect of his being placed in an extreme position of authority has had on all these other elements.

At one point, Frank compares the reaction of the American public in general and the media in particular to that of members of a family in which the head is an alcoholic - "enabling" is the term. It's a theme he returns to throughout the course of the book. In effect, the doctor is saying, "Yes, he's a monster, but he's a monster of our own making, and until we recognize that, he will remain a threat to us." I don't know if the doctor is familiar with the Samuel Clemens epigram, "The main trouble with a democracy is that the people pretty much get the type of government they deserve", but it's clear that his book is an appeal to the American people not to save themselves from Bush, but to save themselves from themselves, and take steps to acknowledge the danger a man with his personality manifests in such a high office.

I approached Frank's book with trepidation and concern. I feel strongly that the use of psychoanalysis as a instrument of attack in a political campaign is an abuse of a profession already subject to public skepticism, and of course, that would just add to the list of hurdles our generally lunatic system has put in the path of presidential aspirants that lead me to conclude that only those emotionally unfit for office would have the makeup needed to attain it.

However, I don't believe the doctor is playing the role of partisan attack dog. I believe he has seen a clear and present danger presented by the psychological make-up of the man in the Oval Office, and is sounding a warning. While I already held a similar, if less informed opinion already, I was prepared to find fault with the book based on the unpleasant actions of a couple of self-styled psychologists (Miller and Charles Krauthammer) in recent months to discredit dissidents.

I also think that as a political tactic, it's self-limiting, since the public is markedly impatient with what they perceive as "psychobabble." Had Dr. Frank simply written an attack piece meant to discredit or wound, it would have backfired, both among Republicans and Democrats.

If you accept that the book is meant as a warning, rather than as a political polemic, then you will find it an engrossing and disturbing read. If you believe that this book must be nothing more than a partisan attack, go back to your Fox News, and try not to be too surprised when everything comes unraveled. Unfortunately, the doctor has made it clear that as President - the only job that could make Bush feel safe - he makes the rest of us markedly less safe.

Posted: September 20, 2004


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