Saturday, December 25, 2004

The pathology of George W. Bush
In the ideal spirit of the holiday season, I'd like to take a moment to admit that I have probably misjudged George Bush. I still think he's a shallow, petty, and vindictive wanker, but I no longer think he's as intentionally mean as I once did.


I'll elaborate. There is an old cliché among columnists that you can never go wrong comparing the political scene to school cliques. That might not be entirely true, but it's a helpful way of looking at Bush 43. I often say of Bush that there hasn't been a president since Nixon who has so demanded amateur psychologizing from those who would understand him. What is the deal with his father? Is he trying to redeem his father by completing his unfinished agenda or show him up? What's the deal with his inability to admit to even the smallest mistake? I don't know the answer to all of those questions, but I think I've had an insight into one of his more annoying characteristics.

For the last four years, those of us who are not lock-step supporters of Bush's every utterance have faced the irritation of his rhetoric of inclusion. "I'm a uniter," he says, while his actions are clearly the most divisive in a generation. Is it hypocrisy? Is it pure spin? Is he insane? Coming from his staff, it is calculated hypocrisy and spin. There's no question there. But when it comes out of his mouth, you get the feeling that he really believes it.

After the election, Bush made his famous statements about "political capital," implying that he had a mandate do whatever he damn well pleased. But at the same time he suggested that he was once again reaching out to the Democrats. He offered to let us support his program. "That's awfully damn white of you," I thought. As propaganda framing, that's a fairly unremarkable trap. When congress reconvenes in January and our senators object to his incompetent or extremist appointments, he will look wounded and claim that he tried to reach out an we rejected him. This will be followed by Frist eliminating the filibuster and the Republican caucuses ruling congress as if they were the only party in town. Again, I have no doubt that his staff is operating on a purely political and cynical level. But Bush, does he believe this on some level? I think he does.

The Bush boys are all bullies (at least the older three are; I know nothing of Milton). However, there is more than one kind of bully in this grade school of ours. Our usual motion picture cliché of a bully is a lower class brute. Abused at home he preys on more vulnerable children at school as a way to restore his demolished self-esteem. It won't work; he's on a one-way ticket to a life of crime and a bad end (think Scut Farcus in "A Christmas Story"). Rich kids have another kind of bullying open to them. They can form packs of sycophants and psychologically terrorize social outcasts (think of all the recent alpha girl movies or Draco Malfoy in "Harry Potter").

Whatever home trauma made him a bully, Bush is a bully of the second sort, privileged, arrogant, the leader of a pack of rude sycophants. So how does this make him less mean than I originally thought? When Bush offers to let us support his program, he probably really does think he's making a concession. He could leave us out of the game entirely, but instead he's picking us to play on his softball team. When he was in eighth grade at an expensive private schools, such big man behavior probably was enough to co-opt his critics.

Alcoholics are famously immature, rarely growing beyond adolescent self-absorption. Bush probably doesn't get that we might care more about the actual issues that about being allowed to play on his team.

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