With the Bush administration in permanent crisis, a renowned Washington psychoanalyst updates his portrait of George W.'s public persona—and how it has damaged the presidency.
Insightful and accessible, courageous and controversial, Bush on the Couch sheds startling new light on George W. Bush's psyche and its impact on the way he governs, tackling head-on the question few seem willing to ask: Is our president psychologically fit to run the country? With an eye for the subtleties of human behavior sharpened by thirty years of clinical practice, Dr. Justin A. Frank traces the development of Bush's character from childhood through his presidency, identifying and analyzing his patterns of thought, action, and communication. The result is a troubling portrait filled with important revelations about our nation's leader—including disturbing new insights into:
- How Bush reacted to the 2006 Democratic sweep in Congress with a new surge of troops into Iraq
- His telling habits and coping strategies—from his persistent mangling of English to his tendency to "go blank" in the midst of crisis
- The tearful public breakdown of his father, George H. W. Bush, and what it says about the former president's relationship to his prominent sons
- The debacle of Katrina—the moment when Bush's arrogance finally failed him
With a new introduction and afterword, Bush on the Couch offers the most thorough and candid portrait to date of arguably the most psychologically damaged president since Nixon.
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About the Author
Justin A. Frank, M.D., is a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center. Since 1980 he has been a teaching analyst at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute. He is past president of the Greater Washington Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Frank lives and practices psychoanalysis in Washington, D.C.
Read an Excerpt
Bush on the Couch Rev EdInside the Mind of the President
By Justin Frank
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Justin Frank
All right reserved.
If one of my patients frequently said one thing and did another, I would want to know why. If I found that he often used words that hid their true meaning and affected a persona that obscured the nature of his actions, I would grow more concerned. If he presented an inflexible worldview characterized by an oversimplified distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, allies and enemies, I would question his ability to grasp reality. And if his actions revealed an unacknowledged -- even sadistic -- indifference to human suffering, wrapped in pious claims of compassion, I would worry about the safety of the people whose lives he touched.
For the past three years, I have observed with increasing alarm the inconsistencies and denials of such an individual. But he is not one of my patients. He is our president.
George W. Bush is a case study in contradiction. All of us have witnessed the affable good humor with which he charms both supporters and detractors; even those of us who disagree with his policies may find him personally likeable. As time goes on, however, the gulf between his personality and thosepolicies -- and the style with which they are executed -- grows ever wider, raising serious questions about his behavior:
- How can someone so friendly and playful be the same person who cuts funds from government programs aiding the poor and hungry?
- How is it that our deeply religious president feels free to bomb Iraq -- and then celebrate the results with open expressions of joy?
- How can a president send American soldiers into combat under false pretenses and then proceed to joke about the deception, finding humor in the absence of weapons of mass destruction under his Oval Office desk?
- How can someone promise to protect the environment on the one hand and allow increased arsenic in the public water supply on the other? And why does he feel he can call his plan to lift logging restrictions in national forests the "Healthy" Forest Initiative?
- If the president's interpersonal skills are strong enough to earn him the reputation of being a "people person," why is he so unwilling and even unable to talk to world leaders, such as Jacques Chirac or Gerhard Schroeder, who disagree with him?
- How can the president sound so confused and yet act so decisively? And given the regularity with which he confuses fact with fantasy, how can he justify decisions based largely on his own personal suspicions with such unwavering certainty?
As a citizen, I worry about what these contradictions and inconsistencies say about the president's ability to govern; as a psychoanalyst, I'm troubled by their implications for the president's current and long-term mental health, particularly in light of certain information we know about his past. Naturally, the occasional misstatement or discrepancy between word and deed may be dismissed as politics as usual. But when the most powerful man on the planet consistently exhibits an array of multiple, serious, and untreated symptoms -- any one of which I've seen patients need years to work through -- it's certainly cause for further investigation, if not for outright alarm.
President Bush is not my patient, of course, but the discipline of applied psychoanalysis gives us a way to make as much sense of his psyche as he is likely ever to allow. At its simplest level, applied psychoanalysis means the application of psychoanalytic principles to anybody outside one's own consulting room. The tradition of psychoanalyzing public figures dates back almost as far as psychoanalysis itself; Freud based some of his most important theories on his observations of individuals he could never get onto his couch, Moses and Leonardo da Vinci most notable among them.
Indeed, if Freud were alive in the second half of the twentieth century, he might well have been recruited to offer his genius in the service of the U.S. intelligence effort. Somewhere in the bowels of the George H. W. Bush Center for Central Intelligence in Langley, Virginia, psychoanalysts are currently reviewing audio recordings, videotapes, and biographical information on dozens of contemporary world leaders, using the principles of applied psychoanalysis to develop detailed profiles for use by the CIA and the U.S. government and military. According to political psychiatrist Jerrold M. Post, M.D., who has chronicled the history of "at-a-distance leader personality assessment in support of policy," the marriage of psychoanalysis and U.S. intelligence dates back to the early 1940s, when the Office of Strategic Services commissioned two studies of Adolf Hitler. The effort was regarded as enough of a success that it was institutionalized in the 1960s, Post writes, first under the aegis of the Psychiatric Staff of the CIA's Office of Medical Services, which "led to the establishment of the Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior" (CAPPB), which Post founded within the Directorate of Intelligence.
As Post reveals, CIA psychological profiles of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin played an important role in Jimmy Carter's handling of the 1978 Camp David negotiations. And applied psychoanaly-sis continues to enjoy a privileged place in the intelligence universe.
"At the time of his confirmation hearings, Secretary of the Defense Donald Rumsfeld identified as his nightmare [the possibility of] not understanding the intentions of dangerous adversaries," Post writes. "Accentuated by some of the recent intelligence 'surprises,' the need to have a robust applied political psychology capability has been highlighted and increased resources are currently being applied to human intelligence and to the study of the personality and political behavior of foreign leaders, both national leaders and terrorists."
A vote of confidence from today's CIA, of course, might be described as a mixed blessing. Nevertheless, applied psychoanalysis remains a vital tool for understanding political leaders. And since one can scarcely imagine Bush Center resources being committed to a Bush son's psychological profile, this must be an independent inquiry, albeit one that is informed by the CAPPB goal as articulated by its founder, Jerrold M. Post: "to understand shaping events that influenced core attitudes, political personality, leadership and political behavior."
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Curious about George ix
The First Family 1
Affability and Disability 19
Message in the Bottle 37
In God I Trust 53
The Smirk 101
Twisted Tongues 121
Oedipus Wrecks 141
He's Our Man 163
I Am the Chief 179
The Man in Mandate 211
Source Notes 259