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The Couch: Bush Is On It And Congress Should Be

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Lawrence Velvel
Message Lawrence Velvel
February 15, 2007

Re: The Couch: Bush Is On It And Congress Should Be

It is terrible to find oneself in agreement with an authoritarian thug, with a KGB man who therefore might be by definition (and conduct?) a murderer. But there can be no doubt that the authoritarian thug, Vladimir Putin, was right when he recently said that the United States is "Undermining Global stability" (in the words of a New York Times headline) by '"unilateral'" and "'illegitimate'" military actions that '"have not been able to resolve any matters at all'" and "'bring us to the abyss of one conflict after another'". All of this is so true of our actions in Iraq (not to mention our actions toward Iran, North Korea (at least until earlier this week) and, a few years ago, Syria) that one could cry. Nor is it surprising, therefore, that the only Senators the Times quoted -- in order to show umbrage at Putin's remarks, one notes -- were three Iraq wackos, McCain, Graham and -- you guessed it -- Lieberman of Connecticut, the putative Democrat. One wonders: were these three the only ones the Times asked for comments? The only ones who were willing or available to comment? The only ones who were willing to comment unambiguously? Using them and them alone, and not even mentioning attempts to get comments from others, was a form of editorializing, a form of one-way-street-journalism, or both.

Nor, despite all this, was it too shocking to read that Putin also said that Bush "'is a decent man, and one can do business with him.'" Aside from being the diplomatic thing to say -- especially, if very ironically, in the context of softening what The Times said Putin had warned was a "tough talk to come" -- Bush and Putin, as best one can tell, seem very much alike: cold -- which Bush hides under a hail fellow, falsely affable exterior -- very non empathetic, and completely ruthless.

That one finds oneself agreeing with an authoritarian thug, a probable murderer, with regard to Bush's actions in Iraq shows how low our government has sunk, one supposes.

Strangely -- or, conversely, maybe expectably? -- nobody, but nobody, in the mainstream media seems to have taken any notice that Putin was right. The closest I've seen in the MSM was a column by Tom Know It All in the New York Times. He said we made a terrible mistake, one which really upset Russia, by enlarging NATO to include former Russian allies in the east bloc, but excluding Russia itself. This caused Russia to think itself a target, said Know It All. On the internet, there was at least one writer who understood and set forth the truth that Putin was right. That was the -- as I understand it -- very conservative libertarian Paul Craig Roberts, who was, if I remember correctly, an Undersecretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration.

That so few media types understood that, for once in his life, the thug who heads Russia's government was right is testimony to the misguided views prevailing in the United States. These prevailing misguided views are only the more dangerous because of the personality of Bush himself. Cold, unable (and unwilling) to think, obdurate, a bully -- this is the personality that has drawn us into our second major guerrilla war in less than half a century and our third in just over a century (the Philippines and Viet Nam being the other two, of course). So dangerous to America is this kind of personality that Bush has once again become the subject of analysis from afar by psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. And while this writer does not generally have much truck with certain views of those who practice the talking cure, some of the things they are saying about Bush do resonate with one's life experience and one's everyday experience.

One preliminary thing of importance here is the apparently correct claim that psychiatric analysis from afar is not the unheard of, never done, professionally reviled matter that an ignoramus like this writer might have thought. Justin Frank, who seems to have started the public shrinking of Bush a few years ago, points out that there is a tradition of shrinking public figures on the basis of available knowledge of them. He says Freud did it in regard to historical figures, and that the CIA has done it as a normal matter to try to help determine what foreign leaders might do in given situations. This has the ring of truth, and, if the CIA is doing it, one can bet that intelligence services around the world have likely been doing it - MI 5 and 6, the Mossad, the former KGB, etc., etc. So it would seem that, regardless of whether this kind of analysis may be right or wrong in individual cases, it is far from unknown and is not automatically disreputable.

With regard to the specific analyses of Bush, there seems to be wide agreement that Bush is a sociopath, defined, one gathers, as someone who feels no empathy with others, who cannot feel for others, who does not feel or care for their pain (to use Clintonian jargon). (One shrink, at least, says this is also the definition, or at least a definition, of a psychopath.) That Bush is utterly devoid of empathy seems plainly true to me. Unlike Lincoln or even Lying Lyndon Johnson, who sent people to their deaths but agonized over it, Bush is thought by the shrinks, and appears to the lay eye, to give not one damn about how many Americans he kills, let along Iraqis.

When it comes to reasons for this sociopathic lack of empathy, the shrinks seem to have ideas that, to the uninitiated lay eye, seem to possibly be varying but, one supposes, may not vary as much as the uninitiated might think and, in any event, are probably congruent with each other. One view is that Bush has a narcissistic personality. Due to insecurities, he has constructed a grandiose vision of himself and is thus immune to the criticisms or views of those who do not go along with his views. Because he is no intellect (to put it mildly), he dismisses intellect entirely, and utilizes his strength, personal affability, to win over others. Narcissistically, he apparently will do anything to protect his psyche from the destruction of being shown wrong -- including causing the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis in pursuit of a mere long shot opportunity to succeed.

Much of this analysis rings true to this writer; it mirrors stuff one saw during teenage years in a seminouveau riche society, saw again in college, and saw during much of a career in both academia and the practice of law. One saw people with huge egos -- grandiosity, you know -- who nonetheless obviously were somewhat insecure, who put down intellect because they lacked it wholly or in part, who put on a mask of being or maybe really were personable and charming (the equivalent in this connection of affability), who put down others by nasty teasing, and who did not care whom they hurt, or how much, in service of their own goals. There is resonance here, whether one calls it narcissism or uses or makes up some other word or phrase entirely, e.g., gigantic a**hole.

Another analysis is possibly more complicated, and seems to have many elements, not all of which seem to the untrained eye -- or to the linear trained eye -- to hang together in completely logical fashion. As best I can reproduce it (and I'm not at all sure I have it all right), it is something like this. When Bush was very young, he suffered a giant loss in the death of his sister. He had to get through this alone: his parents, in their grief and other concerns, were not there for him (and by father never was there for him). This experience caused him to develop a personality of getting through things by himself; it caused a bunker mentality that rejects the views of others whom he thinks are telling him what to do. Both his father and the public on November 7th are perceived as telling him what to do in Iraq, and he is therefore going to do the opposite. As well, his psyche requires he be proven right; he would feel unbearable shame at being wrong. Were he to do as the public decreed on November 7th, he would unendurably be proven wrong. So he forestalls the day with a surge in Iraq.

In regard to all of this, Bush, as indicated, also has a major problem with his father, who was in many ways (sports, war, popularity at Andover, in business) a success where Bush was a failure. Whatever his old man suggests, he will automatically reject. He has, as well, developed a grandiose and delusional personality, apparently as a defense mechanism; whether this developed because of his sister's death, or to "ward off" his father so to speak, or for some other reason is something I don't quite grasp.

Given his defense mechanisms, one gathers, and his psychology of having to overcome obstacles, overcome his father, etc., one gathers that Bush is a sociopath (or another word for it, a psychopath). Using charm as a vehicle for aggrandizement, he can't allow himself to feel guilt and so feels no empathy for all those he smashes up in pursuit of his grandiosity and delusions.

Now, as said, I don't know that I've got all this right with regard to what shrinks think, although the suspicion is that I'm not far off. Anyway, here again much resonates with life. Having to rely on oneself because of a sibling's death at an early age, a bunker mentality, rejection of parental views, and doing the opposite of one's parents are all things one has seen or experienced. Of course, these factors do not lead everyone affected with them to grandiosity, delusion and lack of empathy, but it is not shocking that they can lead there and, in Bush's case have, especially since he never could compete by thinking, reading and making thoughtful, well considered decisions instead of going with his "gut", and because until about age 40 he was often a failure and in business was a continuous failure.

Everything considered, what shrinks are saying about Bush seems to ring true to one who ordinarily puts no more faith in their views than in Kipling's "reeking tube and splintered shard." One has seen this kind of stuff before in life, maybe even often, and so it's no surprise here. As has been said before in these posts, one thinks that, in the long run of 50 or 100 years, this period may be of more interest to historians for the psychological aspects of America than for the rationales of its actions -- because the actions so often lack any worthwhile rationales.

But Bush shouldn't be the only one who contemporaneously is being put on the couch instead of being analyzed solely in traditional terms of policy and politics. The Congress too deserves -- I use the word in its pejorative sense -- psychiatric scrutiny instead of merely scrutiny in terms of politics and policy. What kind of people is it, after all, who fiddle while American soldiers die in the hundreds and thousands, and while we are responsible for Iraqis dying in the thousands and tens and scores of thousands? What kind of people is it who seek to evade their responsibility for decisionmaking while these disasters occur? Who lie -- let me repeat that word -- who lie by saying that cutting off funds will leave our troops hanging out there unprotected when it is the troops' presence there, not withdrawal, that is killing them and when they know very well that there are cut-off bills pending in Congress which specifically provide that, notwithstanding the general cut-off, funds nonetheless can be used to protect the troops during withdrawal -- who, to repeat the word again, lie about a cut-off leaving the troops unprotected? Who debate about whether to debate? Who cannot bring themselves to debate even a non binding resolution? Who, when they do debate a resolution, debate only a non binding one? What kind of people are these?

As said, we are used to discussing these people only in traditional terms of policy and politics: who will gain or lose election votes because of what policies, which policies allegedly will work and which allegedly won't, what are the requirements of loyalty to party, and so on. One thinks, though, that the shrinks ought to start assessing the personality characteristics and kinds of people who are in Congress. True, there are 535 of them, so maybe it's too much to shrink all of them as individuals. But maybe pick out 10 or 20 who are leaders, or are otherwise representative. Or maybe start assessing the personality types who run for (and win) office in this country -- one would wager there are currently some near universals in personality types, and that they are not necessarily or always good. (E.g., what personality type is it that sees politics and electoral office as the acme, the summum bonum, of desire, that will go along with the crowd to achieve and keep office even if this requires one to do wrong, to do bad, that will say whatever they think might sound good regardless of whether it is right or wrong, that will not speak up about wrong, and so on.)

It seems to me that people in today's America who seek and reach office are different from you and me and other decent people in this society. They are willing to say and do things that would make a lot of the decent people gag, maybe make all of the decent people gag. Psychiatry should investigate, should analyze, what kind of people these are who will say and do these things, and why they are like they are. Why investigate and analyze this? For the obvious reasons. So that we can know what we are faced with, and can start looking for and electing a better kind of person.*

This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@mslaw.edu.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com
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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.
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