A Terrible Secret
The Psychology Behind George W. Bush's Decision-Making
By John P. Briggs, M.D. and JP Briggs II, Ph.D.
When we feel inadequate about some aspect of our lives, we work to submerge those feelings with compensations and
defenses. Evidence is that in the case of George W. Bush, deep feelings of inadequacy and powerful defensive behaviors
employed to submerge them and cover them up cripple the decision-making process he needs for his duties as president.
The dynamics of the president's cover-up involve a vicious psychological paradox: because he secretly anticipates the
humiliating failure he has experienced all his life, he behaves in ways that ensure that he will fail. He makes hasty,
risky, ill-informed decisions in which he relies on his defenses rather than judgment. When the decisions go bad, they
reconfirm his inner feelings of incompetence and heighten his fear of being "found out." The feedback loop forces him
into an ever deeper "state of denial" about the decisions and an ever-renewed tendency to make more flawed decisions.
If this dynamic is close to correct, then keeping the secret of his feelings of inadequacy has become a matter of life
and death for the president. The stakes for him are higher than we can imagine because, by becoming president, he raised
his expectations for the success he has sought for so long (the final escape from this secret fear), and he has inflated
his worst fear to its grandest scale. He is a man working with all his resources to keep his sense of himself
afloat--and he is in danger of drowning.
By applying to George W. Bush's well known history some basic principles of psychodynamics shared by different
psychological and psychiatric schools, we can glimpse how incompetence came to be the central, driving issue for the
George W. Bush was born into a family environment where excelling was the quality most prized and the surest way to
affection and attention.(1)
Young George's mother, Barbara, was the family disciplinarian, described by her friends as "sarcastic and mean," (2)
while his father was the man on the rise, regarded within the family as successful and competent in everything he tried
his hand at. The father was frequently absent during his son's early years. For the son, a resentment at those absences
would have naturally competed with a desire for the approval of this distant, and therefore somewhat legendary, figure.
We know that the elder Bush didn't go to his son's baseball games, for example. Coupled with the fact that, as a coach
reported, the first son "wasn't that talented," this absence would likely have generated an early feeling in the young
boy that he wasn't worthy of his father's time and attention, whether or not that was actually the father's sentiments. (3)
The senior Bush had been a star baseball player in high school and college, a highperforming student, a war hero, and a
successful oil man. When the son was sent away to Andover Academy in Massachusetts, he found himself surrounded by
images of his father's prowess. George senior had been Andover's "Best All-Around" fellow of his class, captain of the
baseball team, secretary of the Student Council, president of the senior class and winner of the Johns Hopkins Prize.(4)
The elder Bush was a phi beta kappa at Yale. During the time the younger Bush attended Yale, his alumnus father was frequently celebrated in the student
The son discovered early that he couldn't conceivably measure up to such accomplishments, and we can only imagine his
despair. Young George received poor grades and was not outstanding at sports. Some see evidence he may have been
afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder and Dyslexia that impeded his learning. He was a Caverage student—the genteel
form of failing at Yale.
Jeb Bush put the matter bluntly to an interviewer at the time of the presidential campaign in 1999. Referring to his
older brother, Jeb said, "There might be more to it for him than the rest of us, because he is the oldest and it is his
namesake, and he more directly followed my dad's path….A lot of people who have fathers like this, or moms, who have
lived such extraordinary lives, feel a sense that they have failed because they haven't reached the same level of just
being a human being as their predecessor—and it creates all sorts of pathologies." (5)
To compensate and defend against his feeling that he didn't measure up, George W. Bush began early to adopt the role of
clown, the life of the party. In the prep school where the father had been a baseball star, the son assumed the identity
of a parody sports hero. He was "high commissioner for stickball" and presided over meetings in a stovepipe hat. At Yale
he became the president of the hard-partying DKE fraternity and, in his senior year, publicly defended the grim DKE
hazing ritual of burning young pledges on their backsides. He became a heavy drinker, probably at least in part, to
narcotize his feelings of being the disappointment, the black sheep, who didn't fit the Bush family high-achievement
profile. He didn't have the ability to attain his father's approval, a prize which would have gradually become equated
in the young namesake's psyche with gaining his own internalized sense of self-respect and self-worth. A comment by a
second younger brother, Marvin, offers a snapshot of the dynamics between father and son. Marvin said he realized that
George junior could be easily provoked by their father into feeling that he alone had broken all the rules. "He would be
made to feel that he had committed the worst crime in history." (6)
Compare this to what the son had to say about Billy Graham in 1985, when he claims Graham "planted a seed in my heart"
that led him to end his substance abuse and focused him on his family and Christ. Graham, he explained, was a fatherly
figure, who "didn't make you feel guilty; he made you feel loved." (7)
Though he gradually learned ways to compensate for his feelings of inadequacy, the son could never let go of his
compulsion to simultaneously emulate and reject his father.
He clearly joined the Texas Air National Guard after college to avoid fighting in the Vietnam war, but told his
commander, "I want to be a fighter pilot because my father was." (8)
His military stint contained none of his father's seriousness and dedication, however. It was a form of playacting, a
send-up of his father's war service. These deformed attempts to mirror his father (or his image of his father) seem to
go far beyond the usual struggles children undergo to establish their identity. For example, he became engaged to be
married in his junior year in college at the same age his father had. The fiancée shied away, realizing that it was GWB,
"just duplicating what his father had done," according to a friend from that period. (9)
He followed his father into the oil wildcatting business (and lost millions where his father had made them). From early
on, the son's emulation contained its opposite--a resentment, a need not just to gain his father's approval but a
competing desire to rebel against him, beat him down, punish him—a resentment that came to the surface in the well known
incident when, at age 26, drunk, he challenged his father to go "mano a mano right here." (10)
Over the years, the pattern continued. It showed up in his compulsion to re-fight his father's war against Iraq, but
this time to topple Saddam. Salon's Laura Miller dramatizes the psychology of the situation when she imagines Bush thinking, "I don't want to kill my
father, he does, and to prove that I'm devoid of such bad impulses, I'll take him out." (11)
By re-fighting the war he could win a duel some thought his father failed to win with Saddam: so he could emulate his
father, show his contempt for him, redeem him, and go "mano a mano" with him all at once. His father had been praised by allies for creating a "new world order" of cooperation among
nations. The son pursued this second war by bullying the US Congress and the United Nations and creating a "coalition of
the willing" that was a parody of the grand international alliance his father had forged to fight the first war. The
irony, of course, is that instead of proving himself better than his father, the son tragically failed and showed his
father had been wise to avoid stepping into an Iraq quagmire.
In the Roman era and in the histories of English kings, wars fought because of filial psychology were common enough, but
for an entire modern democratic nation to be driven to war on such psychodynamics is thought provoking, to say the
We should not lose sight of the point, however, that GWB's emulation of his father and his opposite desire to punish him
and step away from his image and become "his own man" revolve around the son's profound inner question about his own
competence, adequacy and autonomy as a human being. He knew too well that his father and his father's name and influence
had kept him afloat above the black depths of his own failure and incapacity. It was in his father's name that he went
to elite schools and could claim their connections and prestige; his father set him up in business and his father's
friends bailed him out and made him money when the businesses crashed; his father's connections got him out of the
Vietnam war; his father's influence and his father's henchman, Karl Rove, made possible his election as Texas governor;
there is good reason to think that early national poll numbers that raised the son as a major contender for the
Republican nomination (above his better known, more accomplished, brother, Jeb) came from voters' confusing the son's
name with the father's; later, his father's friend James Baker, along with his father's appointees to the supreme court,
rescued his otherwise failed attempt to become president in 2000. From his father came his vice president and secretary
of state in a widely acknowledged move by Bush 41 to encircle his son of questionable competence with the experience of
old hands (and from his father's list of personal enemies came another old hand, Don Rumsfeld). Early in the son's
administration the father dispatched his former National Security Agency director Brent Scowcroft to warn against
invading Iraq. Then in November 2006 the father's agent was James Baker heading an "Iraq Study Group" to try and save
the disaster the invasion had become. The list is partial.
Thus, there is special poignancy in what the son told a reporter during an exuberant moment during his second campaign
for Texas governor: "It's hard to believe, but—I don't have time to worry about being George Bush's son. Maybe it's a
result of being confident. I'm not sure how the psychoanalysts will analyze it, but I'm not worried about it. I'm really
not. I'm a free guy." (12)
A psychoanalyst would observe the opposite seems true. He has been worrying about his fate as his father's son quite a
For a psychotherapist it's impossible to believe that GWB's private mind doesn't sting with a emotional awareness we
might imagine as follows: My father's "aid" has repeatedly turned my failures into apparent success. He has repeatedly indicated that he has little faith in me. In my secret heart I know that I have had no success on my own. I am not capable of it. Yet I
must never let on that I feel this way. In fact, I must refuse even to allow myself to feel this way. I must show my father and the world that I am own man though I am not. That is the inner conflict.
How, then, must this son react inside when his father breaks down in tears in December 2006 in front a meeting of
Florida state administrators, rambling on about the courage and rectitude that brother Jeb displayed in his gubernatorial defeat of 1994? Meanwhile, according to reporting by Bob Woodward, dad is "in agony,
anguished, tormented by the war in Iraq and its aftermath." (13)
It's like a scene out of Sophocles or Shakespeare. Huffington Post blogger Thomas de Zengotita captures the psychodrama
of dad's tears perfectly. It wasn't as much about Jeb as "it was all about W. Little George is hopeless, and always has
been—and Big George knows it, and always has, and so has the whole family…. Jeb was always the heir apparent. He was
supposed to be The One." (14)
Hopeless: The secret. GWB knows the secret; his family knows it. The trick is to keep the rest of the world from
knowing it. Keep them from seeing what they see: that the emperor has no clothes. The trick, somehow, is to prove it
isn't true. A difficult task.
In 2004 Senator Joe Biden told journalist Ron Suskind, ''Most successful people are good at identifying, very early,
their strengths and weaknesses, at knowing themselves… For most of us average Joes, that meant we've relied on strengths
but had to work on our weakness—to lift them to adequacy—otherwise they might bring us down. I don't think the president
really had to do that, because he always had someone there—his family or friends—to bail him out. I don't think, on
balance, that has served him well for the moment he's in now as president. He never seems to have worked on his
Biden misses, of course, that Bush has in fact worked on his weaknesses by developing defensive maneuvers that make
them seem to disappear (beneath an emperor's imaginary clothes). So GWB's public stage-show of competence and confidence
disguising the private agony of his sense of inadequacy plays out now, not in the stickball league of Andover Academy or
an "animal house" Yale fraternity, but on the world's grand stage.
Can we discern that secret sense of inadequacy and the defense mechanisms deployed to disguise it in the scenes that
have flickered across our television screens and news pages these last few years? Can we detect in these scenes what the
emperor is really (not) wearing?
A Few Scenes from a Secret
–––September 11, 2001. Bush himself describes his feelings at the moment when he learned the second plane hit the twin
towers: "I'm trying to absorb that knowledge. I have nobody to talk to. I'm sitting in the midst of a classroom with
little kids, listening to a children's story and I realize I'm Commander in Chief and the country has just come under
The video tape shows the President's Chief of Staff stepping away from informing him and the president continuing to
sit with the children, "blanched" as one observer later described it, with a stricken smile on his face. Seven minutes
pass until he stands up. Michael Moore couldn't even run the whole seven minutes in Fahrenheit 9/11, but he runs it long enough to capture the terrible feeling that he has no idea what to do.
Then the President vanishes from public view until his evening address. On "Meet the Press" that following Sunday Vice
President Cheney leaves the distinct impression that he, not the president, was in charge that fateful day.
Shortly afterward, attempts to rewrite the President's reaction result in contradictory and improbable explanations to
explain why the Commander-in-Chief failed to take charge. It takes three more days for Bush to arrive on the rubble pile
of the World Trade
Center. At that point, he seizes the bullhorn and issues bellicose statements about getting the terrorists who
perpetrated the attack. He promises a "crusade," calls for Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive" and vows to rid the world of
terror and "evildoers." Bush was, and still is, universally praised by the media for showing resolution, bravery and
strength following the attack. He has bristled at any suggestion that he was less than adequate in his response on that
day. But can we detect the feelings of inadequacy and cover up at play in this scene?
——April 2004. Bush refuses to testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission on his most decisive issue, and refuses to
face the commission alone. He says he needs Vice- President Cheney to come with him. Psychiatrist Justin A. Frank calls
this "his ultimate expression of dependency " and says it seems impossible to justify. (17)
Bush claims he needs Cheney there is so that commission members can "see our body language… how we work together." (18)
Can we detect the feelings of inadequacy working here?
——May 2, 2003. Bush arrives in a fighter jet on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in full flight gear (its codpiece
prominent) with a "Mission Accomplished" banner strategically plastered across the conning tower of the ship. He and his
handlers carefully craft the illusion that he has flown and landed the plane and media reports blur the distinction that
he was a passenger in the fight who was allowed to hold the stick for a few minutes. The host of a TV talk show,
"Hardball," Chris Matthews bubbles, "He looks for real. What is it about the commander in chief role, the hat of that he
does wear that makes him—I mean, he seems like—he didn't fight in a war, but he looks like he does." (19)
Why does a man in his late fifties who ducked out of his generation's war and dribbled away his service in the Air
National Guard feel the urge to dress up like Top Gun? (His father, of course, was a real combat pilot, and at 72
parachuted out of a plane.) As a strategy to cover a sense of inadequacy, the landing is brilliant. Most of the nation
comes away with the impression that the president must be highly competent because he looks so good in a flight suit.
——April 2004. A reporter asks the President GWB if he would accept any responsibility for either the intelligence
failures before 9/11 or the flagging Iraq war. His response: "I hope I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes.
I'm confident I have. I just haven't—you just put me under the spot here and maybe I'm not quick—as quick on my feet as
I should be in coming up with one." (20)
Not wanting to sound like he's made no mistakes, he reverses the double negative and actually says the opposite—he
hopes that he does sound like he hasn't made mistakes He also combines two clichés, being put "under the spotlight" and
"on the spot." Both give us the flavor of how he's feeling inside.
In two sentences he presents himself as both a man who arrogantly thinks he doesn't make mistakes, and a man who feels
inadequate and "under the spot" because he's not as quick as he should be about thinking of some. It's a confession and
a denial of what it confesses all at the same time. Bush is also betraying here the sophisticated defense of appearing
to laugh at himself. People find charming his willingness to make selfdeprecating jokes about on his own verbal blunders
and awkward moments. Here we can see, though, that there is both an aggressiveness and hopelessness in this defense.
——Some Bush scenes unfold over years. Early in his presidency, he pushes through his "No Child Left Behind" legislation.
Cloaked in the language of helping students and schools improve, the program enacts a stringent testing regimen that
soon forces teachers around the country to "teach for the test" and demotes the more subtle and individual aspects of
education. Most educators believe the program is a disaster, particularly since the president's budgets fail to fund it,
forcing school systems to divert scarce resources into compliance. People appreciate the irony of a president who was a
poor student himself insisting on testing standards that might have failed him outright had he been without his family
connections and resources. But is it more than ironic? What does the apparent cynicism of his sabotaging the program by
failing to fund it mean? Why is the punishing aspect of testing and "failure" so prominent in the language and thinking
of the law? Is this program Bush's attempt to help students learn where he failed to learn, or is he getting back at
educators and education for his humiliating experience? Is he recreating for hundreds of thousands of students the
despair he felt in front of the "tests" of his years as a student, being constantly forced "to measure up"? Consider the
emotional overtones of the phrase "No Child Left Behind" as it might apply to the boy George Bush. Are enacting the
program and then sabotaging the program gestures that express the sense of inadequacy and despair he felt as a student
(so he identifies with these failing students and wants to lift them to success), his urge to become the tester who
punishes others with standards as he must feel he was punished; or is it an attempt to disguise his own inadequacy with
regard to education by showing, I'm not like them, I made it; even as an inferior student I was not a failure like they are? "Is our children learning," the president famously asked.
——Early 2006. Reports say that behind the scenes the President's father has been trying to remove Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld and find a replacement.
Rumsfeld had interfered with the career path of the elder Bush and was the father's bitter enemy, so there are multiple
The president apparently rejects his father's efforts and when seven retired generals demand Rumsfeld's resignation,
the younger Bush reacts by declaring, "I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to
remain." Hard not to hear the echoes of a father and his teenage son arguing over who knows best, a father worrying that
his son isn't up to the job and enacting an "I told you so" for taking Rumsfeld in the first place; a son insisting he's
his own man. The sound of old buttons getting pushed. A few months later, after his party's stunning election defeat,
the son takes on his father's new Rumsfeld replacement, his father's crony Robert Gates, all the while insisting that
dad has nothing to do with the decision. When asked by Fox reporter Britt Hume about his father's influence on
decisions, Bush replies with fist clenched and smile crooked, "I'm the Commander-in- Chief." (22)
The Christian Defense
Bush's evangelical Christianity has been a chief way he has sought to insulate himself from his father's disapproval and
dispel any sense of his own inadequacy. Bush has carefully let it be known that he believes the decisions he makes in
office are directed by God. His famous claim to make decisions by "gut" ("I'm a gut player," he told journalist Bob
conflates with his claims of the spiritual inspiration he receives through his own and others' prayers. Whatever else
it is, this equation of his choices with God's will has seemingly unparalleled advantages. It creates the perfect
defense against any doubts he or anyone else might have that he is incapable of finding the absolute right answer.
Questions about the importance of engaging in analysis and exploring alternatives come off the table. He doesn't need
them. They're secondary, at best. He has his gut. He has God.
Being "born again" also allows Bush to present himself as having relegated to the past all those previously inadequate
behaviors of his younger days: the poor academic performance, the drinking, the failed businesses. He's a new man, no
longer incompetent Briggs 4/9/07 13 but now supremely competent as a result of his faith.
The Christian defense can, as psychiatrist Frank has pointed out," replace doubt with certainty" and "ambiguity with
dualism." And through it the president "cloaks himself in the certainty of being good, absolving the self of
responsibility even for destructive acts, disregarding the possibility that he could make a mistake." (24)
We emphasize that to point this out is not in any way to make a statement about Christianity or spirituality. Profound
and subtle religious ideas can be distorted by an individual psyche to defend itself against perceived threats. In
another psyche the very same ideas can foster an openness, creativity and affection for the world.
Perhaps one of the attractions for George W. Bush of the Christian message is that God loves him with an unqualified
love, as he had hoped his parents would. God is the perfect loving and accepting dad. One doesn't have to compete with
this Sublime Dad; one only has to follow the rules of the Bible (selectively interpreted) and listen to the directions
whispered into one's gut (though the directions may be in reality coming from the dynamics of one's own psyche).
When Woodward asked George W. Bush if he had consulted his father before invading Iraq, he replied, "He is the wrong
father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to." (25)
How wonderfully that appeal must seem to resolve the internal conflict about adequacy we have described above.
The Bully Defense
Bush's mother, Barbara (sarcastic, mean, disciplinarian, always with an acid-tongued retort), is probably the model for
another major defense Bush deploys to protect himself Briggs 4/9/07 14 against his feelings of inadequacy. A friend at
the time described Barbara as "sort of the leader bully." (26)
That bullies are insecure people is well known and fairly obvious. A bully covers insecurity with bluster and
intimidation so that others won't find an opening to see how weak the bully feels.
Much of the world outside the US considers George W. Bush a bully. "You're either with us or against us" is a bully's
threat that anyone can recognize. The Bush doctrine of preemptory strikes is a bully's doctrine. Like a schoolyard
bully, Bush governs by raising fear. It is the most stable commodity of his speeches. For his intimates and those closer
to home, Bush appears to be what is called an emotional bully.
An emotional bully gains control using sarcasm, teasing, mocking, name calling, threatening, ignoring, lying, or
angering the other and forcing him to back down or give way. Bush administration insider accounts describe this sort of
behavior from the president. He's well known for his dismissive remarks. His boyish penchant for giving nicknames to
everyone has its dark, bully's side. Naming people is a way to control them, particularly if the name diminishes them,
reduces them to one quality or characteristic.
Most nicknames, except in bullying situations, arise as a kind of mutual naming. The name is suggested; the recipient
accepts it as a sign of affection. It's not clear the people the president gives nicknames to feel they have that
In an article by Gail Sheehy in 2000, which was recalled recently by New York Times' columnist Maureen Dowd, we get a
glimpse of how Bush's pervasive fear of failure (his denial of his failure) and his bully defense go together. Sheehy
interviewed friends from his teenage years and college years. In basketball or tennis games he would insist points be
played over because he wasn't ready; he would force opponents who had Briggs 4/9/07 15 beaten him to continue playing
until he beat them. At Yale he would interrupt his fellow students' studying for exams (helping them fail) to compete in
a popular board game, "The Game of Global Domination," at which he was the player noted for taking the most risks, being
the most aggressive. (26,27)
Bullies usually get their way and people rarely stand up to them. Senator-elect Jim Webb is an example of someone who
did. His encounter with Bush illustrates how emotional bullying is used by the president.
Webb is a decorated former Marine officer and takes a strong position against the Iraq war. During the campaign he had
called Bush a "failed president." The president approached Webb at a private reception at the White House and pointedly
asked how Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq, was doing. Webb responded that he wanted the boys back home. "I didn't
ask you that," the president returned. "I asked how he's doing." "That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb
reportedly said and walked away.
Webb later admitted he was so angry at the president's attitude that he wanted to slug him, but kept his cool. (29, 30)
Because emotional bullying may not seem like bullying but appears to be some malebonding, bantering, fraternity thing,
it is difficult to counter and causes the most emotional damage to its victims.
If the President makes you angry, you can't react with your anger because he has all the power. So if it's in your self
interest, you may end up joining his gang (as Tony Blair did) and suppress or redirect the anger he's aroused. Bullying
creates supporters who are also victims. Bullies carefully select targets they know they can dominate because they have
the advantage (and what better advantage than being President of the United States).
Saddam Hussein was an easy target in this regard. His tattered regime provided an opportunity for GWB to aggrandize his
own sense of competence ("mission accomplished") and bully the stuffy, effete Europeans and allies who he felt had taken
a superior attitude toward him on his first trips abroad (in addition to using the war to demonstrate that father Bush
had been a wimp).
Stories suggest that Colin Powell was bullied (though not entirely successfully), isolated by Bush's other advisors.
It's likely that speculations about Vice President Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condaleeza Rice functioning as Bush's
puppet masters are 180 (or at least 160) degrees off. George W. Bush is the president; he can get his way, and they know
it. They have learned to channel his "gut" and give him policy advice that matches it. The manipulator is always also
the manipulated. They probably imagine they are steering him, not seeing the ways that he has bullied them, created
around them a "The Stockholm Syndrome" atmosphere where hostages come to identify with and even defend the very person
who is threatening them. This is the same dynamic evident in the behavior of battered spouses and members of gangs.
Bush's closest associates seem to have the same kind of unquestioning self-assurance he does (the result of their own
psychological histories). They exude competence, though they are, in fact, remarkably incompetent, as Rumsfeld and now
Cheney have shown.
Like Bush, they give off an air of absolute certainty which is a mask of competence.
Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice all possess an easy fluency with policy and abstract concepts, so they can make the rational
arguments to justify the president's emotional intuitions. They have become the earthly surrogate fathers and mothers
that, this time, he believes he controls. He can admire them for their seemingly ruthless competence (hiding
incompetence), and he can subjugate them. He counts on them, too. In news conferences they frequently flank him like
parents and props. But he's out front. They're like the leadership circle of a gang, with Cheney as the heavy-weight
Journalist Ron Suskind described the small group around the president: "A disdain for contemplation or deliberation, an
embrace of decisiveness… a sometimes bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questioners." (31)
The bully defense and the effects of the Stockholm Syndrome may provide some explanation for a Washington press corps
that has been remarkably credulous of Bush (as the New York Times belatedly admitted it was with Judith Miller's slanted-toward-Bush reporting on the rationale for the Iraq war). Bush
bullies reporters. He gives them his nicknames, makes snide comments about them. He denies them access. He froze out
Helen Thomas, whom presidents since John F. Kennedy have accepted as a press corps legend for asking barbed questions.
Jack Shafer of Slate observed: "Bush's slaps at Thomas are consistent with the psy-ops his information wranglers conduct day-in and day-out
on the White House press corps. Bush's news conferences have become increasingly scripted, with the president calling on
reporters from a pre-set list and refusing the follow-up questions that might trick him into saying something
Such bullying tactics combined with the well-known right wing strategy of constantly crying "liberal bias" to any
critical reporting critical have the effect of knocking the press back, making journalists unconsciously cautious about
negative stories, making them so eager to appear "fair" that they overcompensate by giving the president a much larger
benefit doubt than he deserves. (Now that they feel safe in numbers, the reporting has grown more critical, though not
necessarily deeper.) George W. Bush has given new meaning to the idea of the presidency as the "bully pulpit." His
recent attempts to bully the new Democratic congress are the latest example.
But, again, we should remember that inside the bully feels weak. He projects his own weakness onto his victims. Once he
can see others as weak, or compliant, he can overpower them. By this maneuver he hopes to overpower, or at least
conceal, his own fears.
The Mind of Splits and Oppositions
We have said that the president's emotional life is dominated by a major split between his private feelings of weakness
and his public persona of unruffled strength. He learned this split from parents who were highly adept at it themselves.
The story of the death of his younger sister, Robin, is hard to ignore in this regard.
When George was six, his parents didn't tell him that his 3-year-old sister was dying of leukemia. Instead, they
spirited her away from Texas to New Haven for treatment.
During one of these trips she died. Denying their own grief, the day afterward in Connecticut the parents went out for a
round of golf. When they returned to Texas, Little George was expecting to see his sister but instead learned she would
never come back.
His uncle reflected later that the boy was clearly "hurt by it, almost as if somebody had taken something away from him
that he had cherished very, very dearly… he was that young and had that kind of an adult reaction to losing a sibling."
Though his parents continued on as if nothing had happened, the boy was, according to his biographer, "engulfed in
constant nightmares." (33)
But in the Bush household, feelings weren't talked about. Robin's death was GWB's early, painful lesson in learning the
family tradition of keeping feelings to himself.
Repeatedly he has told interviewers that he is not a self-reflective person and does not indulge in self analysis. (34)
In other words, he learned this lesson.
Most mental health professionals would agree with psychiatrist Frank that "the best way to address such a loss is to
talk, to interact, to see the parents mourn, to share the loss, to help the child talk about his conflicting
feelings—his anger as well as his relief." Failing to do that risks creating a psychological split that attempts to seal
the feelings off, to stuff them and pretend they don't exist. Having such feelings makes him feel weak, inadequate to
face the world, hopeless—feelings anyone would have in such circumstances. The defense against such feelings (against
admitting them into full conscious awareness) creates, as Frank puts it, "a self-protective indifference to the pain of
As governor of Texas, Bush gloried in his role as executioner. In one shocking episode he mocked the death-row inmate
Karla Faye Tucker who had a dramatic conversion and sought clemency with widespread support from the religious
Talking to conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, Bush pushed out his lips in ridicule of the condemned woman.
"Please, don't kill me," he pouted. During the first presidential debates, Bush's "smirk" when he talked about executing
killers gave viewers a shock.(36)
As president, George W. Bush has insisted on the license to engage in the torture of terror suspects, never mind the
Geneva Conventions, the objections of military prosecutors, and a general consensus that torture doesn't yield good
Claiming the right to torture (despite Bush's obviously disingenuous affirmations that "we don't torture") is an
immensely curious position for an American president to take.
Certainly the bully, inured by his own defenses to others' pain, fosters an indifference or aggression toward the
vulnerability of others on the part of everyone around him. Bush has repeatedly told interviewers that he sleeps well
and suffers no psychological effects from the violence that has ensued from his life and death decisions about Iraq. His
anesthetized psyche showed itself three months after the 9/11 attacks when he declared in a public relations interview
published on the White House website, "But all in all, it's been a fabulous year for Laura and me."(37)
On the eve of the Iraq war, a foreign diplomat told Colin Powell about reading a news account where Bush said he was
sleeping like a baby. Powell replied, "I'm sleeping like a baby, too. Every two hours, I wake up, screaming."(38)
Powell freely admits his anxiety. Bush claims he has none. However, to a psychiatrist means he has pressed it to the
periphery of his awareness. He has split it off.
In the summer of 2006 the public heard the news that the President had been reading Albert Camus' existential novel, The Stranger. Evidently this was meant to demonstrate that the president is not as anti-intellectual as he is thought to be. But a
psychiatrist can only wonder at the decision to declare this particular book as such a proof. It's as if a patient had
come into a session with a dream whose manifest content contained a major theme of the patient's life. Meursault, the
narrator of Camus' novel, reveals himself as shockingly indifferent to his mother's death. Those around him, his
girlfriend, his boss, the public, show much more concern than he does. He lives an aimless existence, apparently
controlled by forces outside himself. Shortly after his mother's death, Meursault pointlessly shoots and kills an Arab
man. After a trial in which his callous attitude becomes a focus, he is sentenced to death by guillotine. The book ends
with these lines: "For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large
crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate." (39)
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said the president found the book "interesting and a quick read," an attitude that
both asserts Bush's anti-intellectualism and denies it at the same time. (40)
The dilemma of the book's protagonist certainly echoes Bush's own: boiling feelings beneath the surface—loss, anger—and
insouciance or only wooden (forced) compassion on top.
Being in the world for all of us involves the challenge to somehow integrate the opposites of our nature and to select
our way through the many opposing choices presented us in life. At the death of a sibling or a parent we feel both angry
and sad, helpless and driven to action. During developmental stages, the young child on the playground goes through a
phase where she feels an impulse to break free of her mother, yet runs back in fear of abandonment. The adolescent feels
the ambivalence of the urge to be different opposed by the urge to imitate his peers. How we handle life's ambivalences
determines our destiny. The oppositions within us can either be integrated, employed creatively, or polarized into a
Here's one example. Each of us contains the opposite qualities associated with the two sexes. To name a few, the male
attributes are: active, aggressive, logical, competitive, objective, interested in power. The female attributes are:
passive, nurturing, associate, relational, compassionate, interested in consensus. Males who have felt deeply threatened
in their lives may polarize these sex-associated qualities. They may adopt a machismo persona that suppresses their
"feminine" qualities. The feminine is then projected onto others who are "rejected" as inferior.
The bully polarizes the natural ambivalence (or internal opposition) everyone feels about whether they are strong or
weak, safe or vulnerable. Most of us adjust to the vicissitudes of our feelings and circumstances. A person who needs to
feel invulnerable and completely adequate all the time, or who always feels completely helpless and inadequate, has
polarized these emotions—and leads a deformed life. The degree of polarization in the psyche of George W. Bush appears
to be serious and extensive. The split between his public persona and his private feelings is vast. The opposites within
him are polar in both senses of the word. They are un-integrated opposites that in many cases make his behavior full of
harsh contradictions. They are also polar in the sense of creating a frigid, icy, distant quality to his being.
In the developmental stages recognized by psychologists, two normal periods of oppositional behavior stand out. The
"terrible twos" and the teenage years. In the first, the child is learning to separate his own will by saying "no" to
any parental request. In the second period of "adolescent rebellion," the individual is moving to solidify a separate
identity by "being different." Some of George W. Bush's responses (his 2007 "surge" plan for Iraq is the latest example,
a response that is the diametric opposite of what his father's colleagues advised) are a form of continued rebellion
against his parents. Most people get through these oppositional stages and establish their own identity. If an
individual is not at least relatively secure in his identity, however, such rebellious responses will continue.
Once you begin to notice the activity of opposites in George W. Bush, they seem to be everywhere.
Early in the president's first term, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords offered a list: the proclaimed uniter who was actually
a divider; the compassionate conservative who favors "those who need help least and neglect[s] those who need help the
most"; the president who proclaims his commitment to education, then refuses to fund it; the man committed to protecting
the environment who abandons all protections of it. The list goes on.
Jeffords described the Bush oppositions with the phrase, "saying one thing, doing another." (41)
Even more telling to a psychiatrist is the way polarized opposites show up unintentionally in Bush's speech, creating
many of the so-called "Bushisms":
"There is no doubt in my mind that we should allow the world worst leaders to hold America hostage, to threaten our
peace, to threaten our friends and allies with the world's worst weapons." (42)
"See, without the tax relief package, there would have been a deficit…" (43)
"Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction." (44)
"[A]s you know, these are open forums; you're able to come and listen to what I have to say." (45)
"They [the terrorists] never stop thinking of ways to harm our country and our people—and neither do we." (46)
To a psychiatrist, these are not mere malapropisms and mistakes in speech. They reveal a truth about what is going on
inside the individual's psyche. They suggest ambivalence oscillating chaotically between poles. They suggest the very
desperate uncertainty about everything that the president reflexively seeks to hide by taking absolutist, rigid
positions about "victory," "success," "mission accomplished," "stay the course," "compassion," "tax cuts," "no child
left behind," or a host of other issues.
So when he terms Iraq the "calling of our generation" and asks for "sacrifices" and then immediately urges Americans "to
go shopping more" we glimpse the strange, profound polarization of his ambivalence. The war is simultaneously everything
and nothing. (47)
This internal polarization fragments his psyche. Some of the split-off poles are projected onto other people. Frank
remarks, "Denying anxiety is not the same as experiencing and managing it… In his fear of being, or appearing, unafraid,
he may well be one of the most frightened men in America." (48)
For several years Bush has used his projected anxiety to manipulate the nation with terror alerts and dire warnings.
This is a bullying strategy. This fear that he raises in us is a reflection of his own internal fears, ultimately the
fears of his inadequacy to cope with the world around him. "When I was coming up it was a dangerous world and we knew
exactly who the 'they' were. It was us versus them and it was clear who 'them' was. Today, we're not sure who the 'they'
are, but we know they're there," he says.(49)
The Presidential Defense
Before 9/11 it was clear to many political observers that the Bush presidency would be lackluster, if not failed, headed
for one-term only, like his father. However, once he took the bullhorn at ground zero, he had found the ultimate defense
for his secret fears of inadequacy. As he told Bob Woodward, in Bush at War, "I'm the commander—see, I don't need to explain—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 say something, but I don't feel like I
owe anybody an explanation." (50)
He could be The Decider. As commander in chief, as a war president, he could assemble his other psychological defenses
around him. He could split the world into good and evil and the country would follow. His internal oppositions could be
projected without much resistance from the populace or his adversaries. He could be the gut, divinely inspired
proclaimer of decisions to save the country. He could clothe his own internal fears as a real threat waiting to happen.
He could take out the tyrant his father failed to beat. He could show his father up and gain his approval at the same
time. He could surround himself with loyalists whom he could emotionally bully, creating a new family that would admire
him and that he could control. The ambiguities of his position as president, complexities and nuances of political
decisions that can always be rationalized until viewed in the distant hindsight of history, would allow him to hide both
his sense of incompetence and the actual incompetence that flowed from it.
As much as the presidency is a perfect defense for disguising incompetence, it is also the perfect trap. It accelerates
the positive feedback loop that was set in motion when he "changed his heart" around age 40 (committing himself to God)
and presumably put his failures, and his feelings of failure behind him. No one can escape from failures and mistakes;
it isn't humanly possible. The more George W. Bush insists to himself and others that he has escaped from the demons of
failing to measure up, the more furiously the demons pursue him. The room to change direction becomes smaller and
smaller because each bad decision opens up a chasm of potential recognition that he has not changed at all but is still
that boy his father disapproved of and his mother scolded. So outwardly he seems to grow more certain, more "stubborn"
and more "isolated" as inwardly he moves closer to the abyss, the meaningless alienation that engulfed Meursault in The Stranger.
In recent months anyone following the news must have intuitively sensed from looking and hearing GWB that he would
reject the Iraq Study Group's report, co-authored by a person he must have felt was the emissary of his father come to
tell him that he had failed again. Quickly bullied his own generals and replaced them in order to choose token
escalation, the one solution most knowledgeable people agree cannot succeed, in order to keep alive the fiction that
success still lies in the future. If decisive failure comes, it must not be on his watch; it must come in a way that can
be construed as someone else's fault.
George W. Bush desperately wants us to agree with him that he is a strong leader and that history will vindicate his
decisions and non-decisions and see his presidency in the glorified resurrected terms of Jerry Ford or Harry Truman.
("After your presidency, you know, it's going to take a while for the historians to fully understand the decisions
you've made, if you're making big decisions," he has said.)(51)
In what therapists call his unconscious he is desperately holding on; in his consciousness he is defying the world with
an heroic gesture. The dynamic is becoming obvious to almost everybody. We feel like he's stuck in something inside. But
it's easy to rationalize the dynamics as driven by political or ideological reasons. Such reasons are there, but for
George W. Bush the primary drives are not political or ideological. They are psychological.
How much is GWB aware of this psychological dynamic and of the secret he's keeping? Not aware enough. That's the
problem. Psychotherapists use the term unconscious to describe the state of the split between conscious awareness and
deep, internal mechanisms of the psyche. But "unconscious" isn't quite an accurate descriptor.
We are aware of feelings, sensations and scripts that occur when one of these unseen mechanisms is triggered. So, when
an interviewer asked about the generals who demanded Rumsfeld be removed and the president knew his father had been
working behind the scenes to replace Rumsfeld, the question would not have triggered a conscious thought: There goes dad again trying to make me feel incompetent. Instead, the president may have felt a hollow sensation, or a flush of anger, an urge to form a clownish grin to cover
his watery feelings, and a script that would run about being the president and would come out of his mouth as "I'm the
decider." Beneath that would be the inadequacy and cover up dynamic outlined here.
The Secret's Smile
But we have seen that dynamic for many years in his smile. Many have remarked on it. Something puzzling and disturbing.
It both endears and repels. How could we describe it? Actually it's a collection of smiles, and an accompanying nervous
Frank portrays it as a "smirk" "at once arrogant and cowardly." (52 )
But there is also something of mugging in it, the goofy clown face that young Bush used to get his parents' attention
and at Andover and Yale used to draw attention away from his feeling that he wasn't competent enough to be a serious
person. In fact, there is the smile that follows that little pump of the head he makes after he's stumbled on a sentence
or concept and recovered by turning the moment into some platitude. There's a woefulness there, too, and, oddly, a
smugness. It's a smile of opposites. It's a smile if he's saying "no, really," like a little boy caught in a lie and
intent on brazening it out. Or it's a smile as if he were saying, "see, mommy-daddy, I did it," proud of himself and
wanting you to be proud, too.
Certainly, the smile seems boyish and can be charming for that. Or disturbing. It has a boyish uncertainty and childish
discomfort about it, but also the implied bully. It's a doorway to his unconscious. It's a smile like Willy Loman in
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, pitching to make what he knows is an unlikely sale. The smile of a man who seems not quite certain of himself but is
intent on convincing you that there's no doubt in his mind.
Diagnosis and Process
Any human psyche is an incalculably complex shifting matrix composed of many habits, meanings, appetites, apprehensions,
perceptions and beliefs, and other factors all interacting with each other through feedback. From moment to moment, the
net result is both chaotic and a kaleidoscope of recurring patterns. These can be described by professionals in the
psychologies in different ways, from chemical and neurological to transactional and behavioral. In the past few years
several diagnoses have been applied to George W. Bush by professionals, from the "dry drunk" theory (van Wormer) (53)
to a Briggs 4/9/07 28 description of him as a "narcissistic personality"(54)
and as an "authoritarian personality,"(55)
to Frank's extensive, more classical evaluation of him along several psychiatric dimensions. Each of these examinations
offers valuable insights and, though they may appear to contradict, in fact, they are alternative ways of looking at the
same complex material and coming to conclusions that would be complementary if the president were a patient in
Here, however, we offer no diagnosis, and these are the reasons. Persons sometimes feel reassured by a diagnosis because
it lets them feel they have a condition that can be dealt with. When mental health professionals try to diagnose
celebrities, however, the effort can seem like name calling. In practice, diagnoses help the professional formulate a
treatment plan. In this case, of course, no treatment is plausible. We believe that to a large extent, a president's
psychology and his inner secrets are his or her own business, except in one important area. That is area covered by the
question, "Does the psychology of this individual interfere with his or her ability to make sound decisions in the best
interest of the nation?" Recent history has certainly been witness to presidents with psychologies that have damaged
their historical legacies. Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon come to mind. But in neither case was the very ability to make
sound decisions compromised to the extent we believe it is with this president.
From many accounts one can conclude that Bush's decision-making process is a failed process; in an important sense, it
is no process at all.
Ambivalent feelings are normal at certain stages of the decision-making and creative process and the ability to tolerate
ambivalence has been shown to be the hallmark of creative thinkers. A reading of Robert Kennedy's account of the Cuban
missile crisis shows that President Kennedy himself encouraged his staff to take contrary positions as a means of
searching for the best alternative. If that ambivalence becomes immediately polarized and one of the poles is suppressed
or rejected (as it is in GWB's White House), then the high value of the ambivalence as a means of exploring alternatives
is lost and the thought process becomes impaired, incomplete and potentially dangerous. The inability to tolerate
uncertainty because one thinks it may imply incapacity brings decision-making to an end.
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and other Bush White House insiders describe a president who is disinterested in
alternative views about an issue because he has already made up his mind. O'Neill found himself astonished by the
president's failure to ask questions since he had experienced the opposite during his days with presidents Nixon and
Ford. The closed circle around the president, if we are right, has already been Stockholm Syndromed into staying with
the program. And the program is that GWB needs to avoid or disdain any situations where he might experience feelings of
inability to analyze alternatives and assess divergent information. Thus, instead of focusing on the process one needs
to arrive at a decision, he focuses on the defenses he needs in order not to feel incompetent. That doesn't leave much
room for exploring the alternatives that accompany competent decision making. So he's not interested in discussion or
detail (where the devil often lies). He wants something minimal, just enough so he can let the answer come to him; it's
his "gut," (read God) that will provide the answer. But these gut feelings are the very feelings associated with his
sense of inadequacy accompanied by his defenses against those feelings. GWB brags that he makes the "tough decisions."
But psychologically, he's making those "tough" decisions by employing defenses against the very feelings of uncertainty
that are the necessary concomitant to making tough decisions. His tough decision making is a sham.
Another facet of his decision-making dilemma shows up when he claims, on the one hand, that he always listens to his
generals and does what they ask him, but on the other hand paints himself as the aggressive decider. We are also
beginning to see that he never changes course, in fact, seems incapable of it, returning again and again to fixed ideas,
and so many of decisions are not to make any new decisions but only to appear to. Here we seem close to the truth about his process. Because activity and passivity are so polarized in him, he feels
incapable of making decisions and for that very reason bullies others into providing the decisions he feels powerless
make himself—and then he claims to have made them. The inner passivity and outward show of decisive activity is in
keeping with the central theme of his dynamic: a collapsed inner core covered by an aggressive outer show.
Listening to him one has the impression of going around in circles.
In the January 2007 maneuvering toward the "new strategy" in Iraq, we witnessed a great pretense of normal
decision-making: multiple perspectives presented, consultations, assessing alternatives. However, this was clearly
nothing more than pretense. The president made up his mind almost as soon as the "surge" alternative appeared and had to
find new generals to agree with him—and apparently had to cow his new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (his father's
man) in the process. The only real questions were how he could stage the decision to escalate so that it seemed a
plausible response to the many objections to it.
Something similar happened in the run-up to the Iraq war. Viewed from a psychological perspective rather than a
political one, it is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that John Kerry and other members of Congress didn't see
in 2002 and 2003 that Bush was going to go war with Iraq no matter what happened with the weapons' inspectors, and that
his working with the UN was a blatant pretense. The fact that we buy these pretenses and give so little credibility to
the evidence of our psychological antennae, is proof that the Stockholm Syndrome has power on a collective scale.
Following 9/11, of course, the nation was looking for a leader who could help it cope with the shock. As a result we
collectively didn't acknowledge what we actually saw in those first hours. (Two press people who raised questions about
Bush's poorly explained absence for nearly the whole day of 9/11 were fired).(56)
We were like children who had witnessed a moment of their father's helplessness and were unable to acknowledge it,
accepting a rhetorical cover-up instead.
All this is not to say that George W. Bush is inherently incompetent as a leader or intellect, but rather that by trying
to cover up his life-long feelings of incompetence, he has become incompetent, and his defenses have taken him to a
position at the head of the world's most powerful nation.
How does his incompetence arise? It arises out of decisions made with sketchy information. It arises out of decisions
made in angry rebellion because he is trying to show decisiveness to mask his ambivalence. His incompetence comes from
feeling so much anxiety about his ability to grasp the alternatives on which a decision must be based that he doesn't
even consider alternatives. His incompetence comes from polarized behavior. (Though he worried that the country might
face another terrorist attack, he first resisted the creation of Homeland Security and then under funded it and staffed
it with political hacks; so when Katrina and Rita hit, the nation was unprepared.) His incompetence comes from the
intellectual laziness and slackness that developed because he always had a safety net that protected him from the
consequences of any seriously inadequate behavior and decisions. His incompetence comes from the willingness of his
"gut" to favor the drama of the most reckless and grandiose options in order to beat back feelings of failure.
In this regard, news reports suggesting that evangelical ministers who write and preach about "Rapture" and the
imminence of the "end times" are advising the White House about "what will happen next in the Middle East." (57)
Bush has rather unconvincingly denied that he holds the end times view that Christ's return will be heralded by a
cataclysm in the Middle East. But there are signs that he may hold this apocalyptical idea of world history and that he
may be both seeking to avoid the biblical cataclysm and to "bring it on." In his Jan. 10, 2007, speech he called the
Iraq war part of the "decisive ideological struggle of our time" and described the absolute catastrophe he is sure would
ensue from "failure" in the Iraq war. He has said repeatedly that he believes he is engaged in a mission to "rid the
world of evil" and told Bob Woodward that he would willing to "export death and violence to the four corners of earth in
defense of this great nation," which to him is clearly a Christian nation. (58)
We don't know for sure if he sees himself as Christ's avenging agent on earth. But psychologically, his Christian
defense combined with his presidential and bully defenses make it possible. Put simply, as his personal proximity to
failure grows, the defenses against it may involve an inflating, bullying sense of divine mission. That mission brings
with it the balm of an unquestioning confidence that he must be right in his actions and risk-taking impulses because
they directed by his "higher father." He is absolutely certain we can never accept failure in Iraq (just as he cannot
personally accept failure) and to avoid it he may be willing to risk an unimaginable (but divinely inspired) global
For George W. Bush the failure and disintegration of Iraq is unthinkable (which is why he feels it so deeply) because it would be synonymous with his own internal disintegration.
As his decisions break down around him, his uncanny certitude that is troubling, though some may find it reassuring.
It's almost as if he expects to be despised and alone (perhaps, like Mersault, he has always has felt alone), as he has
long secretly expected to fail. One wonders if he has come to a place in his psyche where he can discount criticism and
stick to his illusion of success because he's still the decider and he can just keep deciding until he gets to success.
Hard not to feel something heroic in this—but it's a recipe for bad, if not catastrophic, decisions.
The truth is that GWB has received Americans support for so long because they have thought of him as "one of us." Most
of us feel inadequate in some way, and watching him we can feel his inadequacies and sense his uncertainties, so many
may admire him for "pulling it off." His model tells us, "If you act like you're confident and competent, then you are."
We are the culture that values the power of positive thinking and seeks assertiveness training. We believe that the
right attitude can sometimes be more important than brains or hard work. He's bullied us, too. We don't dare really
confront the scale of his incompetent behavior because then we would have to face what it means to have such an
incompetent and psychologically disabled decision-maker as our president.
It raises everyone's uncertainty. And that is, in fact, what is happening now.
What Can We Do?
Even many of his conservative followers have begun to recognize that something is wrong with George W. Bush, something
now seems dangerous about his tar-baby decision-making. Based on our assessment of his psychodynamics, fears of his
making diversionary, potentially disastrous, decisions such as an attack on Iran, are not Briggs 4/9/07 34 unfounded if
the possibility of facing undeniable failure becomes his alternative. But what can we do about it? Based on the dynamic
we've described here, we have two suggestions.
The first is to continue to react as we are beginning to react. We should not be bullied or drawn into his defenses, and
we should help those who are caught in his orbit free themselves from this influence. Bullies do back down when their
fear no longer works on others. Resisting him firmly but not belligerently will empower those around him to prevent his
taking precipitous action. If we don't confront his bullying, we risk an escalating assault on civil liberties and an
increasing usurpation of power as he maneuvers to avoid facing the unequivocal humiliation he fears.
The second suggestion may sound strange. There is substantial evidence that even people who are crippled by severe
psychological dysfunction can attain moments of balance and clarity when they are put in a creative environment. To the
extent that other politicians in both parties can engage him directly in collaborative decisions, he may be able to step
out of his locked-down role as "the decider." That role is both his defense and his trap. In a democracy whose
governance process is directed by one of the most creative social documents in history, George W. Bush is, in fact, not
the decider. Our nation's founders recognized that the adequate and competent governance of the republic must be a
We should all insist that he abide by that vision; that was the real message from the voters this November. Though it is
tempting for the Democrats to let the Iraq war remain Bush's war, and for his party to suffer the consequences, such a
position will not avoid other real dangers. If he can be made to work together on decisions, then the consequences of
them will not be his alone and he may have less fear of failure. He may Briggs 4/9/07 35 not want to engage in this way,
but he can probably be compelled to do it, particularly if members of his own party join in the effort.
For example, we suggest that if he could be encouraged to interact directly, not through intermediaries, in a give and
take on such issues as immigration, where some collective thinking seems possible, it might call on that creative self
which we all have and which can function outside of our internal dramas and complexes. He may resist this, not wanting
to step outside the protection of his presidential defense, but there is past experience of his working with the
Democrats in the Texas legislature that might make a creative collaboration attractive to him. That is the hope.
1 Bill Minutaglio, First Son (New York: Three Rivers, 1999) 21.
2 Pamela Kilian, Barbara Bush: Matriarch of a Dynasty (New York: St. Martin's 2002) 40-41.
3 Minutaglio 51.
4 Minutaglio 61.
5 Minutaglio 101.
6 Minutaglio 148.
7 George W. Bush, A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House (New York: William Morrow, 1999) 136.
8 Minutaglio 120.
9 Minutaglio 123.
10 Minutaglio 148.
Briggs 4/9/07 36 11 Laura Miller, "The inner W," Salon 16 June 2004 .
12 Minutaglio 312.
14 Thomas De Zengotitia, "Why Big George Broke Down Sobbing Today Over Medium George," The Huffington Post 23 Dec. 2006 http://huffingtonpost.com/thomasde- zengoita/why-big-george-broke-down_b_35643.html
15 Ron Suskind, "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush, The New York Times Magazine, 17 Oct. 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html
16 Allan Wood and Paul Thompson, "An Interesting Day: President Bush's Movements and Actions on 9/11, Center for
Cooperative Research, 20 Dec. 2006, http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/essay_pf.jsp?article+essayaninterestingday
17 Justin A. Frank, Bush on the Couch (New York: HarperCollins, 2004) 85.
19 "Mission Accomplished: A look back at the media's fawning coverage of Bush's premature declaration of victory in
Iraq," Media Matters, 23 Dec. 2006, http://mediamatters.org/items/200604270005
20 George W. Bush, Press Conference by the President, 13 April 2004, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040413-20.html
21 Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld (New York: Scribner, 200&) 31.
22 Dan Froomkin, "Bush Denies Reaching Out to Dad," Washington Post online, 5 Dec. 2006 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/ content/blog/2006/12/05/BL2006120500720_pf.html
23 Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002) 137.
24 Frank 69.
25 Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), p. 421.
26 Kilian 17.
26, 27 Gail Sheehy, Vanity Fair, Oct. 2000 and Maureen Dowd, "A Risky Game of Risk," New York Times Online, 12 Jan. 2007 http://select.nytimes.com/2007/01/13/opinion/13dowd.html?hp
. Tom Frank, "Concession Stand," The New Republic Online 1 Nov. 04, http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i+express+frank110104
Paul Krugman, "Two More Years," New York Times Online, 4 Dec. 2006.
32 Jack Shafer, "Screw You, Mr. President," Slate, 12 March 2003, http://www.slate.com/id/2080034
33 Minutaglio 46.
34 Minutaglio 152.
35 Frank 16.
36 Tucker Carlson, Talk magazine, Sept. 1999.
Briggs 4/9/07 38 37 "Presidential Highlights of Administration's First-Year Accomplishments, The Oval Office," http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/20011221-2.html
38 Betsy L. Angert, "No Graceful Exit for the Bully George W. Bush," Booman Tribune, 18 Dec. 2006, http://www.boomantribune.com/?ap+displaystory.sid+2006/12/18/13141/881
39 Albert Camus, The Stranger, trans. Trans. Matthew Ward (New York: Vintage, 1989) 142.
40 John Dickerson, "Stranger and Stranger," Slate, 14 Aug. 2006, http://www.slate.com/id/2147662/
41 Jim Jeffords, Statement of Senator Jeffords, Second Anniversary of Decision to Leave the GOP," 5 June 2003, National
Press Club, transcript, http://senate.gov/~jeffords/press/03/06/06052003.html
42 Frank 122.
43,44,45 Jacob Weisberg, "The Complete Bushisms," Slate, 5 Jan. 2007, http://www.slate.com/id/76866
46 George W. Bush, "President Signs Defense Bill," 5 Aug. 2004, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/08/20040805-3.html
47 George W. Bush, Press Conference by the President, 20 Dec. 2006, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/12/20061220-1.html
48 Frank 67.
49 Frank 126.
50 Woodward, Bush at War 145-6.
51 George W. Bush, interview on Hannity & Colmes, "President Bush on North Korean Threat, Presidential Decision Making Process," 1 Nov. 2006, www.foxnews.com/0,3566,226645,00.html
52 Frank 102.
53 Katherine van Wormer, "A Formal Intervention with a Dry Drunk President," CommonDreams.org, 30 Dec. 2006, http://www.commondreams.org/views06/1230-21.htm
54 Susan Anderson, "The Clinical Analysis," New York Magazine, 5 Feb. 2007: 32.
55 Oliver James, "So George, how do you feel about your mom and dad," Guardian Unlimited, 2 Sept. 2003, http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1033904,00.html
56 Allan Wood and Paul Thompson, "An Interesting Day."
58 Bob Woodward, Bush at War PAGE#.