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George W. Bush's Second Term: Saving the World, Saving the Country

By Dervin, Dan | The Journal of Psychohistory, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

George W. Bush's Second Term: Saving the World, Saving the Country


Dervin, Dan, The Journal of Psychohistory


Following the 2004 IPA Panel on the Bush Presidency, two psychoanalytic studies appeared, providing new perspectives while staking out opposing positions on the President's psyche. Rush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (NY: HarperCollins, 2004) is by Justin A. Frank, a professor of psychiatry and teaching analyst at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute. His Kleinian developmental approach is situated in the infant's elemental tasks of integrating libidinal and aggressive drives that split the maternal-image into the shorthand terms of good-breast/bad-breast. Barbara Bush, the family disciplinarian whom her children named "the Enforcer," was herself the product of deficient mothering. Beautiful and aloof, her mother (Pauline Pierce) was an emotional no-show. Wrapped-up in her daydreams and freely dishing-out hair-brush spankings, she inflicted a toxic mix of mothering that was defensively internalised as denigration of self and idealisation of others imagined as enjoying more glamorous, carefree lives. The daughter's reflexive self-putdowns would in the course of time be directed to her own offspring. During a marathon George Bush ran in 1994, his father cheered him on while his mother "yelled, There are some elderly women ahead of you,'" a sarcastic slam which Renshon in his pyschobiography melioristically portrays as an attempt to "alert him." (Cited below, p. 88) More pessimistically, Justin Frank discerns "Two deep strains running through her mother's family into her own: a continuous undervaluing of the self and a need for detached discipline." (p. 5)

A "watershed event" in the family occurred when George was six. (Frank, p. 5) Without explanation, his younger sister Robin was removed from the home due to illness (leukemia) and never returned, dying in a distant hospital with the parents in attendance. George and his younger brother Marvin were sent to live with friends in Texas during this seven-month period. After young George began having nightmares, his mother eventually told him about Robin's death. (Frank, p. 15) The parents evidently strived to put the loss behind them and move on, apparently curtailing the mourning process. "The capacity to feel sorrow is a prerequisite for the ability to be compassionate, to feel concern for others," and essential to both personal growth and empathy, (p. 16) Instead, Bush adapted by making himself the in-house clown to cheer up the family, (p. 21) His unresolved anxieties played out in hyperactivity and disturbed thought processes, manifested in the strange verbal locutions he has since become noted for. Frank's retrospective diagnosis is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), (pp. 22-4) Quoting Bush's remarks on 9/13/01 about feeling sad and angry, a media specialist similarly traces a tendency "to jump away from grief and straight to rage," bolstered by threats of revenge.1

Mourning enables one to work-through the feelings of guilt accompanying loss, but denial works to externalise such painful feelings. A degree of denial is inevitable, but it is pushed to extremes in Bush's refusal to admit any mistakes in the conduct of the Iraq war. In its manic form, denial glosses over feeling by joking and poking-fun. Bush's mimicking a deathrow inmate's plea for mercy has been viewed as callous and rneanspirited, all the more so for her being a woman and claiming a religious conversion not unlike his own.2 His initial response to 9/11 was a gag-line: "there's one terrible pilot!"3 Bush continued to disregard the emotional devastation of the attacks, keeping a safe distance from the bereaved families, and declaring in December, "All in all it's been a fabulous year for Laura and me."4 The inappropriate affect reappears in a photo of Bush on his hands and knees in his office looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction, as though the political leader was still playing the clown and college cheerleader in his latest role to get a few chuckles and cheer up the distressed national family.

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