[Author's note: these excerpts are from the story as it appeared at the NYT on-line yesterday. Following the above link today, however, will take you to a re-headlined, heavily edited version.]
'AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 30 - President Bush said today that American troops would stay in Iraq unless its government asks them to leave, using a joint news conference with the Iraqi prime minister to push back against a reported decision by an independent bipartisan panel to call for a gradual withdrawal.
In a joint news conference in Amman, Jordan, President Bush proclaimed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki "the right guy for Iraq." [Author's note: the original NYT link for al-Maliki has been changed to the Wikipedia article about Maliki.]
And in a reminder of the security challenge facing the country, the American military announced that Iraqi forces had discovered a mass grave containing 28 bodies near the troubled city of Baqubah and that an American soldier had died in combat in Baghdad on Wednesday.
Tensions have risen between Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki. On Wednesday evening, Mr. Maliki took the unusual step of backing out of a planned meeting with the president, an embarrassment to the White House that came on the heels of the publication of a classified memo from National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley that raised doubts about Mr. Maliki's leadership . . .'
Far from being the first time, the question arises about our President - what is wrong with this guy? Since the election, Doubleduh has been all over the place, saying everything from "we need a new direction in Iraq" (which is exactly what the Baker-Hamilton bunch are about) and "the people have spoken" to "screw you, I'm not leaving Iraq, no matter what anyone says".
There has been, during the past few years, occasional (but insufficient) speculation about Bush's mental state. I say "insufficient" because I think it goes without saying that a president's mental stability and healthy cognitive functioning is an important consideration for a man who has the ultimate decision-making power in areas such as a nuclear attack, an invasion of another country, or declaring domestic martial law and incarceration of thousands of Americans.
(I'm not going to diagnose Bush here. I'll let some sources below speak to it. I don't know enough and those who do aren't saying much. Let me say this . . . I worked for eight years when I was much younger as a fully licensed clinical social worker treating and administering programs for the treatment of alcoholics, other drug addicts, and persons dual-diagnosed with these illnesses and concurrent and/or related mental illnesses. I am also an addict and have suffered from bi-polar illness and borderline personality disorder. Note that I left the treatment field after recognizing the severity of my own illnesses. I have also taken time out from blogging when these illnesses have not been in control.)
(Several months ago I hospitalized myself for a severe manic episode during which I had severe delusions of grandeur, including being convinced I had a pipeline to god and could save the world. I'm lucky . . . I was fortunate enough, for several reasons, to be able to objectify those symptoms enough to get help. In other words, I was totally nuts for several days, but I knew it. Knowing it was the result of years of therapy and medication. A lot of manics enjoy these episodes - I found mine terrifying.)
(Finally in this parenthesis, when I was still a practicing therapist, my very wise clinical supervisor told me, "When I talk to God, that's called 'prayer'; when God talks to me, that's called 'schizophrenia'". That stuck with me.)
Here are some other sources on the subject, starting with a two year old Observer (UK) piece by Andrew Stephen, reprinted at Unknown News, "Bush's 'cognitive functioning' worries observers". Clip:
'It [the 2004 presidential election] will, we are confidently told, be the most important American election for generations. In the words last week of Dick Cheney, the voice of what passes for gravitas in the Bush Administration, Americans will have to make 'about as serious a decision as anybody is ever asked to make' when they go to the polls in 17 days' time.
The prophets of doom, whom Cheney exemplifies, are precisely right about the importance of this election. But the momentous decision awaiting Americans is not whether they return to power a President who is uniquely qualified to protect the US against terrorism, as Cheney et al would have us believe. It is whether they re-elect a man who, it is now clear, has become palpably unstable.
The evidence has been before our eyes for some time, but only during the course of this election campaign has it crystallized -- just in time, possibly, for the 2 November election. The 43rd US President has always had a much-publicized knack for mangled syntax, but now George Bush often searches an agonizingly long time, sometimes in vain, for the right words. His mind simply blanks out at crucial times. He is prone, I am told, to foul-mouthed temper tantrums in the White House. His handlers now rarely allow him to speak an unscripted word in public.
Indeed, there are now several confusing faces to the US President, and we saw three of them in the live, televised Presidential debates with John Kerry that culminated last Wednesday night in Tempe, Arizona. In the first debate on 30 September, watched by more than 62 million viewers, we saw Bush at his most unattractive: slouching, peevish, pouting, pursing his lips with disdain at what his opponent was saying. But he was unable to marshal any coherent arguments against Kerry and merely spewed out prepared talking points -- in what, even his ardent supporters concede, was Bush's worst-ever such performance.
In the second debate on 8 October in St Louis, Bush could not stay on his stool and leapt up to dispense what were -- certainly in contrast to Kerry's cogent recital of statistics and arguments -- frequently defensive, shouting rants. I assume that he was told by his handlers not to show displeasure at Kerry's words this time around, but, instead, he revealed his anger by blinking repeatedly.
The moderator tried to stop him talking at one point (both campaign organizations had agreed the order in which the candidates could speak, with time limits imposed on both), but Bush insisted on riding roughshod over the briefly protesting moderator, Charles Gibson. (What, I wonder, would have happened if Gibson had kept to the rules and insisted that Bush stop talking? We will never know.)
By the time of the third debate on 13 October, this one witnessed by more than 50 million people, Bush had adopted yet another baffling persona. This time, he was peculiarly flushed, leading a colleague to speculate whether he was on something. He had clearly been told to look positive -- that was his main thrust of the evening, with frequent assertions that 'freedom is on the march' -- and spent the evening with a creepy, inane grin on his face, as though he was red-faced after a festive Christmas dinner.
So what is up with the US President, and why is this election so crucial not only for America but for the world? I have been examining videos of his first 1994 debate with Ann Richards, the Governor of Texas, who he was about to supplant, and of his 2000 debates with Al Gore. In his one and only debate with Richards a decade ago, Bush was fluent and disciplined; with Gore, he had lost some of that polish but was still articulate, with frequent invocations of his supposed 'compassionate conservatism'.
It is thus hard to avoid the conclusion that Bush's cognitive functioning is not, for some reason, what it once was. I am not qualified to say why this is so. It would not be surprising if he was under enormous stress, particularly after the 9/11 atrocities in 2001, and I gather this could explain much, if not everything.
But I have heard wild speculation in Washington that he is suffering from a neurological disorder, or that the years of alcoholism might finally be taking their toll on his brain.
I think it unlikely that Bush was wearing a bug so that he could be fed lines in at least one of the debates, but it is indicative of how his capabilities are regarded these days that the suggestion that he needed advice is given credence, as well as passing mentions in the powerful Washington Post and New York Times.
It does not help that Bush now lives in a positively Nixonian cocoon. He does not read newspapers; he sees television only to watch football; he makes election speeches exclusively at ticket-only events, and his courtiers consciously avoid giving him bad news. When he met John Kerry for their first bout on the debating platform, it was almost a new experience for the President to hear the voice of dissent.
A senior Republican, experienced and wise in the ways of Washington, told me last Friday that he does not necessarily accept that Bush is unstable, but what is clear, he added, is that he is now manifestly unfit to be President.
This, too, is a view that is widely felt, but seldom articulated and then only in private, within the Republican as well as Democratic establishments in Washington. Either way, the choice voters make on Tuesday fortnight should be obvious: whether he is unstable or merely unfit to be President -- and I would argue that they amount to much the same -- he should speedily be turned out of office . . .'
Again, that piece is from two years ago. Interestingly enough, on November 13th of this year, the same Mr Stephen wrote the following in an article for The New Statesman:
I was asked on BBC radio a couple of days ago whether Democratic victories would temper Bush's recklessness. I replied that I could answer that only if I could peer into the strange mind of a 60-year-old recovering alcoholic named George W Bush.
'Rumours persist here (and I have heard them repeated at a very senior level in the UK, too) that Bush has actually resumed drinking; I throw this into the mix not to sensationalise, but because I have now heard the rumour repeated at a sufficiently high level that I believe we must face the possibility that it might be true.
Bush was huddled inside the White House eating beef and ice cream on election night with Rove, my friend Josh Bolten, and four other trusted aides who will stick with him to the end. He was not drinking on this occasion, I'm assured - but, more than ever, my depiction of an unstable man living out his final days in office inside his bunker seem no longer to be fanciful. Hemmed in by Democratic foes wherever he looks, determined to be remembered in history as an unwaveringly strong leader, and increasingly detached from reality: now that suddenly becomes a very frightening vision indeed....'
This next one is from a cached page of StuartWilde.com, a post in which he reprints a July, 2004 Capitol Hill Blue piece:
'Dr. Frank diagnosed the President as a "paranoid megalomaniac" and "untreated alcoholic" whose "lifelong streak of sadism, ranging from childhood pranks (using firecrackers to explode frogs) to insulting journalists, gloating over state executions and pumping his hand gleefully before the bombing of Baghdad" showcase Bush's instabilities.
President George W. Bush is taking anti-depressant drugs to control his erratic behavior, depression and paranoia, Capitol Hill Blue has learned.
The prescription drugs, administered by Col. Richard J. Tubb, the White House physician, can impair the President's mental faculties and decrease both his physical capabilities and his ability to respond to a crisis, administration aides admit privately.
"It's a double-edged sword," says one aide. "We can't have him flying off the handle at the slightest provocation but we also need a President who is alert mentally."
Tubb prescribed the anti-depressants after a clearly-upset Bush stormed off stage on July 8, refusing to answer reporters' questions about his relationship with indicted Enron executive Kenneth J. Lay.
"Keep those motherfuckers away from me," he screamed at an aide backstage. "If you can't, I'll find someone who can."
Bush's mental stability has become the topic of Washington whispers in recent months. Capitol Hill Blue first reported on June 4 about increasing concern among White House aides over the President's wide mood swings and obscene outbursts.
Although GOP loyalists dismissed the reports an anti-Bush propaganda, the reports were later confirmed by prominent George Washington University psychiatrist Dr. Justin Frank in his book Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. Dr. Frank diagnosed the President as a "paranoid megalomaniac" and "untreated alcoholic" whose "lifelong streak of sadism, ranging from childhood pranks (using firecrackers to explode frogs) to insulting journalists, gloating over state executions and pumping his hand gleefully before the bombing of Baghdad" showcase Bush's instabilities.
"I was really very unsettled by him and I started watching everything he did and reading what he wrote and watching him on videotape. I felt he was disturbed," Dr. Frank said. "He fits the profile of a former drinker whose alcoholism has been arrested but not treated."
Dr. Frank's conclusions have been praised by other prominent psychiatrists, including Dr. James Grotstein, Professor at UCLA Medical Center, and Dr. Irvin Yalom, MD, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University Medical School.
The doctors also worry about the wisdom of giving powerful anti-depressant drugs to a person with a history of chemical dependency. Bush is an admitted alcoholic, although he never sought treatment in a formal program, and stories about his cocaine use as a younger man haunted his campaigns for Texas governor and his first campaign for President.
"President Bush is an untreated alcoholic with paranoid and megalomaniac tendencies," Dr. Frank adds.
The White House did not return phone calls seeking comment on this article.
The exact drugs Bush takes to control his depression and behavior are not known. While Col. Tubb regularly releases a synopsis of the President's annual physical, details of the President's health and any drugs or treatment he may receive are not public record and are guarded zealously by the secretive cadre of aides that surround the President.
Veteran White House watchers say the ability to control information about Bush's health, either physical or mental, is similar to Ronald Reagan's second term when aides managed to conceal the President's increasing memory lapses that signaled the onslaught of Alzheimer's Disease.
It also brings back memories of Richard Nixon's final days when the soon-to-resign President wandered the halls and talked to portraits of former Presidents. The stories didn't emerge until after Nixon left office.
One long-time GOP political consultant who - for obvious reasons - asked not to be identified said he is advising his Republican Congressional candidates to keep their distance from Bush.
"We have to face the very real possibility that the President of the United States is loony tunes," he says sadly. "That's not good for my candidates, it's not good for the party and it's certainly not good for the country."...'
Also at Capitol Hill Blue is this September, 2005 piece by Doug Thompson, "Bush's Depression: Been There, Reported That". Slice:
'Capitol Hill Blue began reporting on Bush's mood swings and erratic behavior in June 2004 but the stories of an erratic, moody President circulating within the White House were ignored by the "mainstream media" until recently. Now more and more outlets have begun to report on what many administration staffers say is a President out of control.
"A president who normally thrives on tough talk and self-assurance finds himself at what aides privately describe as a low point in office, one that is changing the psychic and political aura of the White House, as well as its distinctive political approach," Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker wrote in The Washington Post over the weekend. "Aides who never betrayed self-doubt now talk in private of failures selling the American people on the Iraq war, the president's Social Security plan and his response to Hurricane Katrina."
That sentiment is echoed by former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
"I think the Administration realizes the larger system has failed," Gingrich says. "They are not where they want to be on Iraq. Katrina was an absolute failure."
"It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS," Evan Thomas wrote in Newsweek on September 19. Thomas talked to "several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president."
Thomas went on to report "Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him...Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as "strangely surreal and almost detached." At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange, especially in defeat." . . .'
It goes without saying that if anything has changed since these articles were written, it is only for the worse. The President appears more isolated, narcissistic, and erratic than ever before. The following are the President's words (from a White House press conference transcript) in October of this year:
'If any person in any party fails to live up to high standards, they ought to be held to account, Richard. It's important for there to be trust in the halls of Congress and in the White House, and throughout government. People got to trust elected leaders in order for democracy to work to its fullest extent. And I fully expect people to be held to account if there's wrongdoing, just like I expect corporate executives to be held to account for wrongdoing; just like I expect people throughout our society to be held to account for wrongdoing.
People do have to take responsibility for the decisions they make in life. I take responsibility for the decisions I make. I also understand that those of us in positions of responsibility have the duty to bring honor to the offices we hold. People don't have to agree with somebody's opinion, there's all kinds of opinions here. But in order to make this country work, and to make democracy succeed, there's got to be high standards, and people must be held to account to achieve those standards....'
One problem here is that this president has been pathologically incapable or unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions. For example, if he has final responsibility for the cataclysm in Iraq, why did he not himself resign, rather than firing Donald Rumsfeld?
Let me be clear. I am not concluding that George Bush is mentally ill. My own personal and professional experience (noted above) demands that that diagnosis be made only by an objective, highly trained psychiatrist after speaking to Bush at length and observing his behavior.
A more important question is, "what if he is crazy . . . what then?" Although Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution provides for a transfer of power from the President in the event of his "[i]nability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office", both that Article and the 25th Amendment indicate that the President must make that decision and convey it to the Vice President. But what if he doesn't?
I came across an excellent 1998 paper, "Presidential Illness and the 25th Amendment", prepared by The Center for the Study of the Presidency, which addresses this issue. (Please note that the paper is a PDF) Excerpts:
'Now, if there's disagreement between the president and the vice president and the cabinet as to whether or not the president is disabled, then Congress under the 25th Amendment, section four, needs to resolve that disagreement. And section four of the 25th Amendment says, Congress has 21 days to do that. And in order to basically keep the president from functioning, two-thirds vote in each house has to be in a sense in favor of the vice president and the cabinet. And if two-thirds don't side with the vice president and the cabinet, then the president has won that dispute, so tospeak, if I may put it in those terms.
And finally, section four -- I say finally, there's a lot more detail to it, but section four also gives Congress the power to substitute another solution, and that group would then function with the vice president. The vice president can't be removed under the 25th Amendment from the process. So it's the vice president, the majority of the Cabinet, the vice president, and another group that's set up by Congress that has the power to declare a president disabled. So that's the framework in which we're dealing. The only other comment that I'll make is that the term disability or inability is not defined in the 25th Amendment, nor is it defined in the original Constitution, either . . .
. . . the subject of presidential illness, and presidential disability until recently received very little attention. And I think this is unfortunate, because of the history of the American presidency. Of the 41 men who have served as president of the United States, 8 died in office, which means that 1 out of 5 presidents did not survive his term in the White House. Four by assassination, four by natural causes. Of the presidents who managed to survive their terms in office, two-thirds of themdied prematurely, after they left the White House. And of the presidents who died, the presidents who didn't die in the White House, an inordinately large number of them were ill, and often seriously ill during their periods of office. And I thought it might be interesting to introduce this general topic by looking at some of the episodes that have occurred throughout American history of presidential illness . . .'
At this point, the paper proceeds in some detail to review this history. It later continues . . .
'Now, the 25th Amendment has been very widely criticized. Some have suggested, for example, that it gives power to the vice president and the Cabinet, two groups, the vice president and the Cabinet, very unlikely -- it would be very unlikely to act to implement the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The vice president would find it difficult to invoke the amendment because he would not want to seem to be too aggressive. He would not want to seem to be trying to supplant, after all, his partner in the executive branch of government.
The Cabinet, according to these critics, would be unlikely to want to cooperate in removing the president, or removing at least the powers and duties of the president, because, after all, they're part of his official family, and they would feel bonds of loyalty to him, and a reluctance to act.
But I think these criticisms are incorrect. And I think they're incorrect for a number of reasons. First of all, it should be extraordinarily difficult for the powers and duties of the president of the United States to be removed. It should be. The 25th Amendment has established a difficult procedure. The procedure should be difficult. After all, this is a mature and a stable democracy, and a mature and stable democracy means, if it means anything, that the person who has been elected president of the United States, except under extraordinary circumstances, would continue in office until voted out of office at the next election. And so, in establishing this difficult procedure, I think it's establishing a very appropriate procedure.
Secondly, the vice president and the Cabinet are in close association with the president, they see him frequently, which means they're in a good position to judge whether or not the president, at any particular time, has become so seriously impaired that he should be separated from his powers and duties. These, in other words, are the people who are closest enough to the president to know this. And so I think the amendment puts people into the process who are the experts under that particular set of circumstances.
Thirdly, because the vice president and the Cabinet are close to the president, because after all this is his official family, any decision by this group is likely to be viewed by the American people as legitimate. And I think this is extremely important. If the vice president is going to be acting president, he will encounter difficulties enough. You can imagine how the difficulties would be compounded if the vice president should be viewed by the American people as having been the beneficiary of some sort of cabal that had taken place in the country. I think the present wording of the 25th Amendment alleviates this problem.
Fourthly, I think these criticisms underestimate the degree to which presidents, vice presidents and members of the Cabinet would rise to the occasion if the national interest demanded it. The critics are assuming that the national interest would be ignored by the vice president and members of the Cabinet. And I think this assumption is an unwarranted assumption. I think the vice president, and I think members of the cabinet would meet their responsibilities that the public need clearly required.
And, fifthly, as Dean Farak has suggested, the vice president's role in this process is absolutely mandatory. It has been suggested, for example, that the Cabinet should be replaced. That a different body should be established by Congress, because the Cabinet, for reasons I just explained, would find it so difficult to act. But, again, these critics forget that the vice president's involvement is absolutely mandatory. The vice president, unless there's a new constitutional amendment, the vice president cannot be replaced, which means any new body, no matter what it is, is going to have to win the consent of the vice president. If the vice president doesn't give hisconsent, the process will come to a standstill, and the president will remain in complete possession of his powers and responsibilities . .'
That paper was presented two years before George W Bush came to power. Given the current situation, it is extremely doubtful, for a number of reasons, that Vice President Cheney and the Cabinet would conspire to remove Bush from his office. They all have too much to lose. And even an unstable president serves them in many ways. If they did decide to declare Bush "disabled", you can be sure that they would do it not for clinical reasons, but for political ones that do not exist at present.
That this president has exhibited behavior that is immature, illogical, erratic, and volatile is well documented. So is his life history, a combination of factors which are commonly cited as causal antecedents of disabling mental illness. But without clinical diagnosis, the subject is all but moot. The absence of such a diagnosis makes accusations of presidential "insanity" just name-calling.
As a brief aside, I submit that words like "insane" are tossed around way too much in our society. And instead of having a compassionate connotation, they are used in a pejorative sense, often equating with "criminal".
One of the problems the American people face is that we tend to focus on the President, rather than the presidency. It is both the politics of culture and the culture of politics in a society enamored of celebrity and appearance. In this context, spending much time on whether Bush is crazy or not distracts us from real domestic and foreign policy issues. And maybe that's the point.
The truth is this president is but a worker bee, put in power by forces well beyond popular control to advance the agendas of globilization and international capital. Whether from within his administration or without, this is a man who is told what to say and do. And he knows who pays his salary and to whom he owes his office. That he is widely thought of as and been called "crazy", "dumb", "incompetent", and "a nitwit" is, in the end, of little consequence. It is much more important that we see and speak of this administrations policies as "dangerous", "destructive", "manipulative", and, perhaps, "unconstitutional" or even "treasonous".
Also keep in mind that our Congress has supported these policies in commission or omission for six years. And the "new" Congress is likely to the same, maybe under the smokescreen of different rhetoric. Even congressional name-callers have voted for these policies consistently. And, effectively, we will let him.
Are we all crazy?