Bush's "delusion": a psychiatrist's perspective
by paul minot (psychiatrist living in Maine)
paul minot's diary...
Bush's irrational consideration of a "surge" in the wake of the
ISG report--which apparently defies all credible counsel--has begun
to generate speculation regarding his sanity. References to Bush's
"delusions" have appeared in the MSM (notable on "Scarborough Country")
and throughout the blogosphere. As a psychiatrist, I understandably
get concerned when I see clinical terminology bandied about in political
discourse, and thought it might be of interest to share my own perspective
on this question.
First of all, let me state up front that I probably hate Bush
as much (or nearly so) as anybody here. I think he has done more
damage to our country than Osama Bin Laden ever did, and probably
is the manifestation of OBL's most wicked fantasies following 9/11.
Frogmarching him to the Hague (along with Cheney, natch) is too
good for him. I think the guy is both stupid and evil, and I have
no intention of cutting him any slack here. But in the political/
clinical tradition of Dr. Bill Frist's school of diagnostics, I
have a distinct clinical impression that I think explains most of
his visible pathology.
First and foremost, George W. Bush is a Narcissistic Personality
Disorder. What this means, mostly, is that he has rather desperate
insecurities about himself, and compensates by constructing a grandiose
self-image. Most of his relationships are either mirroring relationships--people
who flatter him and reinforce his grandiosity--or idealized self-objects--people
that he himself thinks alot of, and hence feels flattered by his
association. Some likely perform both functions. Hence his weakness
for sycophants like Harriet Miers, and powerful personalities like
Even as a narcissist, Bush knows he isn't a great intellect, and
compensates by dismissing the value of intellect altogether. Hence
his disses of Gore's bookishness, and any other intellectual that
isn't kissing his ass. Bush knows that his greatest personal strength
is projecting personal affability, and tries to utilize it even
in the most inappropriate settings. That's why he gives impromptu
backrubs to the German Chancellor in a diplomatic meeting-- he's
insecure intellectually, and tries to make everyone into a "buddy"
so he can feel more secure. (Pathetic, isn't it?)
The most disturbing aspect about narcissists, however, is their
pathological inability to empathize with others, with the exception
of those who either mirror them, or whom they idealize. Hence Bush's
horrifying insensitivity to the Katrina victims, his callous jokes
when visiting greivously injured soldiers, and numerous other instances.
The guy simply has no capacity to feel for others in that way. When
LBJ was losing Vietnam, he developed a haunted expression that anybody
could recognize as indicative of underlying anguish. For all his
faults, you just knew he was losing sleep over it. By the same token,
we know just as well that Bush isn't losing any sleep over dead
American soldiers, to say nothing of dead Iraqis. He didn't exhibit
any sign of significant concern until his own political popularity
was sliding--because THAT'S something he can definitely feel.
Which brings us to his recent "delusion". To be blunt, I don't
see any indication that Bush has any sort of psychotic disorder
whatsoever. The lapses in reality-testing that he exhibits are the
sort that can be readily explained by his characterological insensitivity
to the feelings and perceptions of others, due to his persistently
self-centered frame of reference. By applying Occam's Razor to the
question of what is psychologically driving Bush to endorse this
"surge", I think it can be readily explained by his narcissism as
follows. (Warning: Rampant speculation to follow!)
Bush knows that things aren't going his way in Iraq, and he knows
that it is damaging him politically. He also sees that it is likely
to get worse no matter what he does, and in fact it may be a lost
cause. However, he recognizes that if he follows the recommendations
of the ISG, that Iraq will almost certainly evolve into a puppet
state of Iran, and given his treatment of Iran he will completely
lose control of the situation--and he will be politically discredited
for this outcome. The ONLY chance that he has to avoid this political
disaster, and save his political skin, is to hope against hope for
"victory" in Iraq. Advancing the "surge" idea offers Bush two political
advantages over following the ISG recommendations. One is that if
it is implemented, maybe, just maybe, he can pull out some sort
of nominal "victory" out of the situation. The chances are exceedingly
slim, granted, but slim is better to him than the alternative (none).
Alternately, if the "surge" is politically rejected, he gains some
political cover, so when things inevitably go to shit, he can say
"I told you so" and blame the "surrender monkeys" for the outcome.
Most people probably won't buy it, but some (his core base) will.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking--is George Bush willing
to risk the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands more American soldiers,
on an outside chance to save his political skin, in a half-baked
plan that even he knows probably won't work at all? Damn straight
he is. Because George Bush is that narcissistic, that desperate,
and yes, that sociopathic as well.
Anyway, that's MY two bits.
Some more thoughts on this: Narcissistic Personality Disorder
is frequently associated with alcoholism. The insufferable "holier
than thou" attitude associated with "Dry Drunk Syndrome" is indicative
of underlying narcissism.
Also, the way that Bush embraces Christianity is characteristically
narcissistic. Rather than incorporating the lessons of humility
and empathy modeled by Jesus, Bush uses his Christian faith to reinforce
his grandiosity. Jesus is his powerful ally, his idealized "buddy"
who gives a rubber stamp to any cockamie invasion he thinks up.
Finally--and this will sound VERY familiar--NPDs are notoriously
unable to say they're sorry. Admitting error is fundamentally incompatible
with their precarious efforts to maintain their sense of "okayness".
Any friend, partner, or family member that has this character flaw
almost certainly has NPD.