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Justin A Frank MD
Bush On The Couch

Extended Book Review
By Harry Rosenberg

Frank confirms our worst fears pieced together from other sources. He does not use the terms sociopath or psychopath, rather he prefers the Freudian terms sadism, omnipotence, anal stage, grandiosity, paranoia, megalomania, and Oedipal complex. Yet he vividly illustrates how socio-psychopathic behavior arose in the most powerful man on earth. Using original sources, including family histories and biographical information, Frank analyzes the Bush family behavior as being dysfunctional and absentee, not by design or to blame, for Bush's parents were themselves products of dysfunctional socialization. [This inter-generational phenomenon must be removed from violent societies if peace is ever to reign.]

Frank gives us a rare and vital opportunity to follow child and adult development sequences to their culmination in omnipotence, megalomania, and sadism, the most basic roots of human violence. He makes a strong case for the influence of nurture as giving rise to Bush's behavior. His explanations make eminent sense. They also provide a more complete theoretical framework for how Bush came to be how and what he is. Frank's characterizations agree with most other observers on Bush's dysfunctionalism--meaning here: unreality and fantasy as a way of life.

Quoting Frank for the politically astute:

    "Within months of Pearl Harbor, Franklin D Roosevelt had a comprehensive plan not only for conducting the war, but also for rebuilding after the war was over. Where was the plan for Iraq when George W Bush's invasion began? For its roads, schools, housing, food, and water? The answers to those questions require compassion, forethought, a sense of responsibility, and a willingness to make reparations for damage done. Unfortunately, a man who has spent his life trying to evade guilt and responsibility is unequipped to take seriously the damage his aggression can inflict. Planning for the future consequences of present actions is simply not in Bush's psychic vocabulary; his delusions of omnipotence appear to prevent him from thinking about the future as anything but victorious."

Many have acclaimed Roosevelt as the greatest American of the 20th Century. Will the 21st acclaim Bush as the greatest goat? Seems likely. Each came from privileged classes with powerful ancestry. Only Bush was bedeviled with a dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, dysfunctional families, in the tabloids especially, are virtually celebrated in the media today. A teacher we know well once observed that some of her inner-city students wear their dysfunctional existence as a badge! Does the media encourage or discourage this behavior? When young girls adopt provocative dress, and compliment each other as slutty, the answer seems obvious. "Big boys don't cry" is an admonishment we lay on our sons, to the detriment of their achieving emotional maturity with ability to empathize with others. These are just the beginning.

On the psychological side, it is well known that improper nurturing or parenting can and usually does lead to dysfunctional offspring. Early sadistic behavior is one expression of that dysfunction. In Bush's case, it was not so extreme that it landed him in jail before he could grow up. Yet it was there. Frank cites such behavior:

  • Fires BB gun at his own much younger brother, Neil
  • Blows up frogs with fire crackers
  • When Bush was at Yale, the "DKE fraternity, of which he was president, became controversial for its practice of burning pledges with a hot branding iron." Quoting Frank.

Raised by a dominant and distant mother and absentee father, George W Bush had a deprived childhood, and never had a dynamic and emotionally-interactive relationship with either parent. His mother was the family disciplinarian.

Bush suffered trauma as a result. For example, his young sister, Robin, died at three when Bush was seven, but he was not told of her illness, only that he could not play with her. His parents played golf the day after she died and attended a small memorial service in Rye, New York before flying home. There was no funeral. He only learned of her death from leukemia after his parents returned home. He could not say goodbye, or whatever it is little boys might say to a doomed sibling. The whole affair, was pushed under the rug. That sequence of events carried messages that hit him hard inside for sure.

One message certainly was: "We are not competent to handle emotions, so we will pretend they do not exist." This of course is denial of the most venal kind. And since denial was the family defense mechanism, it was only too natural that young George adopted that style. So it remains today.

Bush may also have developed a deep mistrust in people and nature as a result of his sister's death--it could happen to him. Compounding that, he was fond of his little sister. By her dying he may have felt deep down that she or the world betrayed him. His defense against that could have been to never "feel" again--consistent with the family's denial. There are many other compounding factors, but Bush is more anti-science and anti-nature than any modern president, and he has strong emotional reasons to so behave.

Bush does have some passions, staying fit, praying (but not in church), and winning, but they seem to be compensations he uses in order to feel good about himself. He seems proud that he can sleep every night. Even world affairs needing his attention are not enough for his staff to dare wake him.

His many promises seem to be made to be broken. Frank interprets this feature as sadism. And that explains why New Orleans' deep pain and damage went unattended to. The city will never be the same for lack of federal attention. The same can be said for a dysfunctional Veteran's Affairs office, four and a half years after an unjustified war-- begun to settle an old family feud.

That brings up yet another feature of the Bush family. Bush Sr just, at the age of 83, successfully completed a parachute jump. It was his sixth. His first was out of a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo-bomber over the Pacific in WWII. One has to believe there is something to Frank's interpretation. Bush Sr. may still be playing his role in Junior's Oedipal Complex. That feature might also explain an award the Bush Foundation gave to Bill Clinton. Fathers are after all half of the Oedipal Complex.

Reading Frank's history of Bush's development, one might have a lot of empathy for Bush. After all it was not all his fault. But there is one huge problem. He is our leader with the power to shake the world and change America's destiny. His emotional disorders and dysfunctional coping mechanisms affect us all. There is a second problem. To the extent we share his predilections, and many if not most of us do to some degree, we too, as a society, are dysfunctional. Evidence for that appears in the media daily. Sometimes it seems as if the American public is fixated on violence, skullduggery, and sexual misbehavior.

Bush's problem in plain words is that he never tamed nor came to terms with his inner self--the potential for which he inherited and was nurtured in such a dysfunctional manner. He went into denial very early in life and still is. The American public, by association and overt control, is still somewhat in denial--the people supporting his low approval ratings may be those in deepest denial. Denial is catching as a way of life, especially when we are young or vulnerable. Many, maybe most of us, harbor similar hang-ups. Seeing such a replica of our inner selves in high office is an ego trip, so we vote for him come Hell or high water.

This drift on Bush parallels that of other writers such as Martha Stout and Robert Hare who analyze behavior, then categorize it. The sadistic megalomaniac behavior pattern is for all the world sociopathic or psychopathic, depending on how it came about. The difference is that Frank gives us a well-accepted classical interpretation of why Bush is the way he is. And it is both logical and intuitive, and therefore satisfying. It meshes well with the characterizations of others.

That does not mean things are hopeless--Frank believes they can be changed, and so do we. To quote from his epilogue:

"It's essential that those of us who are concerned about the president's mental health and its impact on our nation realize that there are many others who share our concern. Our illusion of solitude begets an enabling silence we cannot afford. In the final analysis, our task is
  • to watch the president,
  • to remain alert to symptoms of trouble, and
  • to do what we can to bring those symptoms to the attention of our elected officials."
[bullets for emphasis: Ed]
"We call on the news media, the clergy, thoughtful political leaders (both Democratic and Republican), and anyone else who can confront the president, to challenge his delusions. Beyond that, we must look for means to protect the coming generations from such destructive dysfunction."

We call on the American Congress, the Supreme Court, and the American body politic to heed the bullets above.

This book is a classic in its accuracy, timeliness, readability, and documentation. We give it five stars and more. The only downside for a reader might be that s/he might see him- or herself walking through the pages. And that at root, is why Bush is in the position he is.

It is up to us to proceed from here and find ways to leave the world less violent than we found it. To capture the long-term strategy in three words:

Nurture in Dialogue.


Thanks Norton2

RTP stands corrected on the type of aircraft Bush Sr. flew during WWII. It is fixed.

"Meddling," as the term is used on RTP, means sticking our noses into the business of sovereign nations, not defeated nations that need to be rebuilt politically from the ground up.

As for your last question, we should have taken a lesson from Harry Truman and Douglas Macarthur who left the people in charge of the Japanese civil and industrial infrastructures in place and functional. Japan was encouraged to become an ally. Iraq was pushed in the other direction.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Friday, December 21, 2007 at 21:04:16

What was meant by infrastructure is not just civil servants, but teachers, doctors, small business owners, police, and large business owners and operators. Everything on the system level needed to maintain society is included. Without an effective infrastructure, democracy is rarely a viable form of governance.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Tuesday, July 08, 2008 at 21:42:41

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