The Magical Presidency of George W. Bush

By Dervin, Dan | The Journal of Psychohistory, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Magical Presidency of George W. Bush

Dervin, Dan, The Journal of Psychohistory

This may come as a shock to you, but I have found this to be an exhilarating, joyous experience.

-President George W. Bush, Washington Post, 2 Feb 2007

At the annual Gridiron Dinner in March, 2008, President Bush suddenly appeared on-stage in a cowboy hat as part of a trio and delivered a "good ol' boy version of 'Green Grass of Home,'" with allusions to "Scooter Libby's conviction, Saudis getting richer from our oil-guzzling, Brownie's dismal Katrina performance, and Dick Cheney's winsome habit of withholding documents."1 At other events Bush cracks jokes about not becoming a lame-duck president 'unless Cheney accidentally shoots me in the leg." (Wash. Post, 1 Apr 07). Cheney later gets praised as the "best vice-president in history." Then pausing while the authence recalls his father was a former VP, he adds mischievously, "Mother may have a different opinion. But don't tell her I said this, but my opinion is the one that counts." (Wash. Post, 11 Feb 08) With such mixed messages, the president clearly has Maureen Dowd (and the rest of us) flummoxed. "The more terrified Americans get" over the economy she writes, the "more bizarrely carefree he seems.. ..goofily happy in recent weeks, prickly no more but strangely liberated and ebullient."

Marking the 5th anniversary of an unpopular war that has dragged on longer than World War II, taken over 4,000 American lives, left many thousands more with permanent physical and emotional wounds, whose costs so far have exceeded 1/2 trillion dollars (Wash. Post, 7 Jan 08, and may reach $3 trillion),2 the public must wonder how the president whose approval ratings sag at 31% can remain so emphatically upbeat. With polls also showing Americans unhappy with the war and a mere 16% agreeing the country is on the right track (the lowest since 1992, Wash. Post, 13 May 08). With Republican Congressmen bailing before the fall election and losing former safe seats along the way, Bush declared, "I think 2008 is going to be a fabulous year for the Republican Party!"3 In full panic mode, or what Dana Milbank labeled EAD (Election Anxiety Disorder) GOP leaders met to "re-brand" the Party and came up with "The Change You Deserve," a slogan for the antidepressant Effexor. (Wash. Post, 15 May 08, p. A3)

Meanwhile, In his same euphoric spirit, Bush has proclaimed the "rebirth of Iraqi civil society" and a return to "normalcy."4 The legislative successes in Baghdad over the past four months have been remarkable," the overall successes "undeniable."5 These upbeat claims reprise several from 2004 to 2006 of turning-comers and milestones being passed.6 Did Bush believe his own spin? In an April, 2008 interview with ABC News, he allowed he was being "Pollyannaish" to bolster troop morale. (Wash. Post, 14 Apr 08). But did he also need to engage in wishful thinking to boost his own morale? Along with his unrelenting sunny forecasts has been a we/them morale-boosting rhetoric that casts "Democrats as defeatists" prescribing "retreat."7

Thus, I find ongoing support for Helene Deutsch's "as if" personality's narcissistic features as they interact with the all-or-nothing cognitive style of the borderline that guards the self-core by splitting and externalizing negative images.8 Referencing Bush as a child joking and clowning to cheer up his parents may not account for the adult's shenanigans but at least traces a consistent line. Other disturbing borderline traits have come to the fore. Wide disagreement persists over how Paul Bremer handled the post-war situation in Iraq: whether he should have foreseen the vacuum incurred by his disbanding the Sunni military units in late May of 2003 and enlisted them in the recovery rather than empowering the future insurgency. The decision evidently bypassed the normal chain-of-command, including the cabinet, and was personally made by the commander-inchief.9 But did he make it? And assuming so, did he take responsibility for its consequences? …

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