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Looking at the beginning of Bush's young adult life, there are already important indications of tendencies to "tune out of reality" as a general pattern of behaviour. Bush was notorious for his drinking and partying. Rather than it being just a matter of occasional student high-spirited, overindulgence, Bush lived the permanent party life. It became his main preoccupation at the expense of studies and more healthy social recreation. Newsweek magazine reported that he "went to Yale but seems to have majored in beer drinking at the Deke House." He joined the secret societies and was known as the party guy.
Unlike his father or grandfather, he neither excelled as a scholar or as a sportsman. He seemed unable to know when to say stop and to knuckle down to the reality of serious college life. All of this seems to show that he didn't really grasp the reality of the exceptionally, privileged opportunity presented to him and, instead escaped into the inebriated haze of the social fringes.
Being a good student is not the sole preserve of eggheads. Youthful excess is inevitable. As one type of right of passage, it offers one the chance to develop social skills, but also tests if you are capable of balancing between a healthy social and working life. Being a student challenges and develops your ability to manage emotions, think clearly and behave appropriately. It provides the temptations and then measures if you are up to the task of viewing college as a chance to live one big party, or whether you see it realistically as a golden opportunity to broaden your knowledge, gain good qualifications and prepare a solid future for yourself? Being a student tests personal powers of emotional management, self-discipline and application, perseverance and structure.
To the partial surprise and amusement of the British public, even the British royal family makes a point of sending all their princes (and princesses) through top public schools, universities and then on to a period in the Armed Forced before public office, as a way of character-building and ensuring that they don't end up being photographed talking to themselves, naked on the battlements of some windy Scottish castle by groups of American and Japanese tourists. It helps to "keep their heads on their shoulders", giving them a better sense of reality, when a royal upbringing might otherwise just let them drift off into some Shakespearean-like stratosphere. Likewise, attending places like Andover Academy, Yale and Harvard are aimed at grooming the offspring of the American elite to continue the dynastic traditions of their family lineages in business and politics.
Bush did get a pass at Yale and later got an MBA from Harvard Business School. But one always wonders how much it helped to tip the balance in your favour, by stemming from the ranks of the political nobility. Even if we were to give Bush the benefit of the doubt that he did "get real" at some point in his studies, the overall picture of his student life doesn't suggest someone who was well tuned into reality, but rather someone who spent most of his time getting tuned-out. Bush himself admits to "drinking too much" and described his life as the "nomadic" times of an "irresponsible youth." His interesting use of the term "nomadic" seems to confirm a picture of somebody without a clear and realistic view on life – a nomad, a person lost, confused and extremely thirsty!
Excessive and habitual consumption of alcohol is obviously indicative of a need to escape reality. It is a way of running away from the real world and blocking out reality and its expectations and obligations. Living in a world of parties, "wine women and song," is a world of fantasies, where the responsibilities and demands of the real world are ignored or avoided. Consequently, Bush missed an opportunity to learn how to strike a healthy balance between study and fun. He had clearly no appreciation of what an exceptionally lucky position he had been handed to have a scholarship at such a prestigious seat of learning. He couldn't put the situation into realistic perspective. In truth he squandered the chance. He didn't learn the importance of self-discipline and diligence. He failed to acquire the ability to apply himself to the job at hand, train his memory, sharpen his aptitudes for analysis, and strength his powers of problem solving. All of which he would need dearly in his later careers.
The next step for Bush was military life or, rather, what many say was dodging the draft and joining the National Guard. As going to Yale was a done deal, perhaps the first real decision Bush had to make in his life was whether to sign up for the war in Vietnam or not. It could be argued that this was perhaps his first "realistic" choice. In some reports he has said that he was opposed to the war at the time and it was clearly already lost. So, with a more than comfortable professional life awaiting him, the option of risking his life needlessly, if it could be avoided, might seem the most realistic thing to do many people. Evidently, he had luxuries or different principles which his father and grandfather didn't enjoy when they were expected to fight.
Bush's wish was immediately granted, although it necessitated some powerful string-pulling on the part of family connections. He was just 12 days from the expiration of his student exemption and the waiting list in Texas was one and a half years. Nevertheless, he was accepted the day he applied and got a record-time promotion. Sadly, however, his time in the National Guard was again to be a pale shadow of the achievements of his father and grandfather. Again, like Yale, he seemed to spend more staggering around, rather than following in their footsteps.
There is little evidence to suggest that his fact-tracking promotion to the 11th Fighter Squadron was due to any outstanding service record. Of course he learned to fly, but it seems that he was able to become a 2nd lieutenant without going through officer school or earning the necessary qualifications. Indeed, there is little to show that he worked hard at being a good soldier or respected his obligations and duties to the full. In fact, he seems to have made every effort and taken every opportunity to the least possible to stay in the service and to be away from for as long as periods were possible. Long periods of leave are recorded, such as two month vacations and extended time away working on his father's campaigns. He even tried to get himself transferred to a postal service, "ghost" base in Alabama, where there was no work and no planes. Although his request was denied, after he had moved there, for some reason he still hung there, until being called for an annual physical.
However, for reasons still unexplained Bush either failed to turn up for his examination or flunked it. His military records are sealed, but we know that consequently he was grounded and lost his flight status. At the time compulsory drug tests had been introduced and it has been suggested he either didn't turn up for fear of flunking them or failed the urine analysis. Moreover, around the time in 1972, for some reason Bush registered for community service in an inner city Houston Program for troubled youths called P.U.L.L. It has been suggested that this was arranged by his father after he caught him drink driving again, but a new book suggests that Bush was in fact busted for cocaine possession and avoided jail or formal charges by enrolling on the programme.
After all this he just appears to have idled away the rest of his duty time on heavy partying, until he managed to wangle himself out of the service a full 10 months early, in order to go to Harvard Business School.
Like his university life, his state of mind in the National Guard seems to have been quite out of line with the reality of his situation and unconcerned with fulfilling his duties and obligations to the best of his abilities. Theoretically he was a member of National Guard, but, in practice, he was physically absent from it for a great deal of the time and psychologically divorced from it most of the time. Yet again, he didn't seem to realize how exceptionally lucky he was to avoid Vietnam or that he should make the best of his time there. He showed no ability to adapt to new conditions and exploit the situation for his own development. He relied on patronage rather than personal commitment to get head and also to get out of service and, indeed, out of trouble whenever he needed.
During his time there, there is no hint of the maturation of into man set on making something of himself. Instead, one has the impression of a kid with his hands in his head at the end of his bunk stamping his feet and putting about not wanting to be here. Life in the National Guard appears to have been a continuation of an adolescent attitude to life shown in Yale. His rebellion against limits and rules persisted. Whatever, the emotional conflicts and instability that underpinned this, he proved incapable of "getting real" with his situation and striving to make the best of it. Doing something one doesn't want to do, but knows one should, is not a question of IQ, but EQ. It involves the emotional maturity and internal personal skills to overcome feelings of opposition.
Many people faced with their tax returns are intelligent enough to do them on time, but have to wrestle with themselves to get themselves to sit down and do them. The same is true at college when faced with all forms of temptations and even more so in the military, when not doing so can put your life and that of others at risk. Bush's low emotional intelligence - his lack of responsibility, duty, commitment, engagement and perseverance that were witnessed in college, became even more striking when measured against the seriousness of his duties as a military man. His record was one of avoiding obligations, shirking responsibilities and escaping from service as often as was possible. Yet again, he appeared tuned-out of the reality of where he was, what was demanded of him and what he need to prove. The stamina, self-discipline and conscientiousness, which the army helps to bring to future leaders, appeared to make no imprint on him.
In general, more than college life, it seems to have been an unhappy period for him. Although he did like in Yale where he did achieve a pass, he did learn to fly, but then lost his wings. There are no indications that he progressed in self-awareness, self-regard and certainly not in self-actualization. As for his interpersonal skills, this would have been a time crucial to learning good team building and group skills, especially for an officer and potential future political leader. But, he did set any examples and appeared to be more of a loner, preferring to get away from base to party, vacation or campaign for his father. Again this points to very poor skills at relating to people and situations, building sound relations based on respect and social ease, and most of all a lack of social responsibility in terms of being able to co-operate and contribute to one's social group, be socially responsible and accept the norms, rules and regulations as they are.
Clearly, both the college and the National Guard experiences don't suggest a person who has begun to set himself life goals and set himself benchmarks in terms of behaviours, skills and achievements need for him to get there. Instead he doesn't seem to have known who he was and where he was going. If he did already harbour any aspirations to high political office at this time, especially the Presidency, he certainly had no idea about how important it was for him to practice self-discipline and application, as well as to strive towards achievements and self-development, in the knowledge that his performance would be taken into account for the future.