The Misshaping of a President
This article belongs to column.
Young Middle Age
The Elephant in the Bush - Alcohol
On the surface, Bush's decision to stop drinking at the age of forty, would be the first independent, mature decision he had taken in his life. It might be counted as the first time he really tuned into reality and chose the appropriate and responsible action. Staying sober would indicate, among other things, that he passed a difficult reality test and showed the characteristics of self-discipline and perseverance formerly lacking in his life. For the first time he could rightly claim to have taken a really seriousness attitude towards his responsibilities for himself and others.
With regard to the accusation of alcoholism, he is reported as replying "I don't think I was clinically an alcoholic; I didn't have a genuine addiction. I don't know why I drank. I liked to drink, I guess." Unfortunately, however, this quote gives serious cause for concern. For any professional or person close to an alcoholic this is the classical statements of an alcoholic in state of denial. They can't, don't want, or refuse to acknowledge the reality of their addiction. If a person has to stop touching alcohol all together, because he no longer control the consequences, he is controlled by the alcohol and that is addiction. The problem here is that he appears to have stopped drinking, not because he wanted to - "I liked to drink"- but because the consequences of it were getting out of control and threatened to damage him, his family's reputation and even reportedly his marriage.
Consequently, it looks like he stopped, not of his own volition, but as a result of a family intervention and also a reported ultimatum from his wife. This, taken together with the above quotation, tends to suggest that he is really still in denial about his alcoholism. This would leave him in grave danger of relapse at any point. Moreover, it suggests a person in which denial, in general, remains an important part of his psyche. Therefore, if he is in denial over something as critical as addiction, he is also capable of being in denial over many other important issues. Denial is not just emotional weakness or immaturity, it is a deeply ingrained, maladaptive mode of thinking and feeling that distorts one's view of reality. Unlike a weak score on EQ, it isn't something which can be reformed and improved upon. It has to be broken, otherwise what looks like compliance, is very often evasion. This can take the form of quite devious trickery designed to hide the continuation of dysfunctional behaviours. Indeed, the key characteristics of denial are lies and deception. And they are made without the slightest hint of guilt or shame.
Bush has consistently lied to the media and attempted to cover up his convictions for drunk driving and has refused to give a clear explanation about drugs. Rather than take responsibility for his actions he preferred to blame opponents and the media for covering the stories. His most pernicious efforts to wriggle out of responsibility has been to try to justify it on the grounds of "necessary" lying to his daughters. Instead of setting a true role model by being honest, coming clean and admitting fault, he, instead, uses the excuse of being a role model to his daughters in order to evade the truth. He seems to believe that barefaced lying is the best way to do this. In an interview with a Newsweek reporter he said : "I wouldn't tell your kids that you smoked pot unless you want them to smoke pot. I think it is important for leaders, and parents, not to send mixed messages. I don't want some kid saying, ‘Well, Governor Bush tried it." Some might say this is exactly the sort of "mixed messages" that teach kids to lie and hide about alcohol and drug abuse until its too late." Again, it doesn't tend to reflect a person with a good grip on reality and the congruency and integrity that tends to flows from it.
The habitual use of mind-altering substances is obviously not a way to see things as they really are. It typifies somebody unable to face reality, who wants to run away from it and flee from the responsibilities and effort life demands. His risky behaviour shows that he didn't consider the consequences or the severity of the problems he could face and the potential long-term damage to his future. People with an emotionally-intelligent view of reality, don't find it difficult to see, accept and acknowledge when they are wrong, and actively seek ways to correct and develop themselves. They are prepared to face up to, and work on, emotional conflicts, negative thinking and inappropriate patterns of behaviour, in order to life happier and more successful lives.
Alcohol abuse is the refuge of someone who can't face the world as it is. It is the behaviour of someone who seeks an anaesthetic for painful feelings they can't identify or deal with. They use it as a mask to hide underlying emotional weaknesses and instability. This, in turn, leads to defective patterns of thought and dysfunctional forms of behaviour, which are out of sync with reality and the achievement of a happy and fruitful life. Alcohol abuse turns into an addiction when you can no longer control it or the consequences. When you can't just stop after one or two drinks, then you have to stop entirely. What might have been an emotional crutch becomes a crippling illness. Only by truly acknowledging and accepting this fact can the first step be made to keep the illness in remission. Then from that foundation, one can go onto work on emotional issues behind it, as well as changing the defective thinking that goes with it. Otherwise, denial can also continue on in other forms and be transferred onto other important issues in life. Left to its own devises it will eventually return as relapse.
After finishing the National Guard and moving onto Harvard Business School his spoilt, overgrown-student life style just continued to get worse. A year after finishing he got arrested for drunk driving in 1976 at the age of 30. A Bush spokesman admitted that this was his third arrest, but refused to elaborate on others, which have "disappeared" from the records. In the same frame of mind, he went on to make his first half-hearted stab at a political career in 1978 by standing for the House of Representatives and loosing convincingly.
Having failed in politics, he decided to have a shot at business. With the help of family friends he set up his own oil business, Arbusto Energy. It was a fiasco from the outset, never making a profit. Obviously, unable to go it on his own, family and friends stepped in to bail him out and a merger was made with another company called Spectrum 7, of which Bush became CEO. Within a few years it was $3million in debt. Again he was bailed out when another company run by a family friend took it over. This time they just gave Bush with $120,000 a year salary and a big wad of stock options, but no real responsibilities. A few months before Harken Energy when down the pan Bush sold his stocks.
It seems he was just fooling himself by imagining that he could lead a commercial life. MBA not withstanding, the history of his foray into the business world again gives the impression of a continuing pattern from Yale onwards, where Bush just isn't engaged in the world around him and incapable of making anything of it. Once again he seemed to have no idea of how fortunate he was or any sense of responsibility to try to make a success of opportunities handed to him on a platter. He seems to have been floating through a fairy tale world, where he had to do nothing to succeed on his own account, because qualifications, dodging the draft, getting let off arrests and bankrupting businesses were all things that could be fixed with a bit of cash and a few phone calls from dad and friends. He never had to toil to achieve something on his own and he never had to account for his failures. It is the classic picture of the spoilt little, rich kid with his head in the clouds and using a lot of booze to keep him there.
The Texas Ranger
Following the fiasco of his venture in business, Bush returned to his family home to campaign for his father's Presidency. Having become a born-again Christian after quitting the drink, he concentrated his time courting the conservative Christians and evangelical vote and delivering speeches and fundraising. Then in April 1989 he returned to Texas to purchase a partnership in the Texas Rangers baseball team.
This was probably the best and most realistic decision he made. Now dry, he could at least excel in what he knew as came best to him – campaigning and fundraising. He became the sort of team mascot, being seen at games, organising promotional events, etc. Reportedly, he had no-day-to operational or managerial responsibilities for the running of the business. The general manger described him as "the front man," "the spokesperson."
To what extent the parameters of his responsibilities were consciously set by himself or by others, as a result of the reputation he had gained is not clear. Those who knew him could certainly see that his history showed a lack of business acumen needed to run a company. He appeared to have a careless, disinterested approach to administrative matters and an incapacity to do his homework and analyse details, facts and figures. Moreover, he hadn't proved capable of developing overall strategy, or shown himself to be good at dealing with personnel. Therefore, the core management of the enterprise wasn't to be part of his remit at the Rangers.
Instead, concentrated on media and public relations. This was the type of work he loved and was good at. There were limited real responsibilities and plenty of scope for showmanship, where he could also bask in the limelight of his family name. It was a kid's dream come true - owning a baseball team, without concern for the nitty-gritty problems of its upkeep. Here he was sitting with the fans, signing autographs, having his picture taken and winning applause for doing it.
In many respects, it could be seen as a continuation of his former ways, but, actually, it probably reflected a more realistic view of life and himself. He wasn't taking on more than he was interested in or capable of and was doing what he was best at. Moreover, he was doing it sober, which suggests that his early inabilities to discipline himself and apply himself to the responsibilities at hand were not simply the cause of "alcoholic disablement", but the expression of co-existent weakness. That said, not everyone has what it takes to be a good student, conscientious service man or a successful business leader. Recognizing one's limitations and picking the right arena for one's talents takes a measure of emotional realism, and his success at the Texas Rangers was probably indicative of an improvement in some areas of his EQ.
Bush loved the job so much, he is reported to have wanted to turn down the chance of being Texas Governor, in order to stay and progress in the baseball arena. When offered the job, he is reported to have said, " I think I'd rather be commissioner (of the baseball league) than governor." This was not to be. Obviously, the cost of a pampered life is the loss of control of one's destiny. Probably, the decision to offer him a political career on a platter came from his father, who was concerned with continuing and expanding the Bush dynasty. George's brother Jeb was running for the Governor of Florida, and now to have one's other son as Governor of Texas, would be a quite unprecedented coup. Moreover, however unsuited others felt he was for serious responsibilities and leadership in business, this didn't seem to deter them when it came to politics. Indeed, quite the opposite. Having proved his campaigning and public relation skills for his father and the Texas Rangers, it was decided that he was perfect material for high political office.
After all they aren't looking for someone who is too independent. The role of Governor or, indeed, that of President is to generally implement policies favourable to big business. To win elections the Republicans, especially have tended to turn to populist figures who can win the vote like Ronald Reagan. In office, they are surrounded by hand-picked courtiers who deal with the business of governing. Someone like Bush, who is repulsed by pocking into matters and prefers to be given summaries, which trusted counsellors will prepare, in order for him to have the illusion of making the decisions, looked ideal. For the Republicans, top candidates are better off just being happy playing the role of showman and enjoying the limelight. Such types, who owe everything they are to the establishment can be controlled by an entourage of more intelligent and ideologically motivated individuals. The Governor or President is given some rope, but when he goes too far, they should ideally be a type who can be easily reigned in. Things don't always work to plan, of course. But Bush fitted the bill and, therefore, was given Texas as his testing ground for suitability for the Oval Office.
The Reluctant Governor
Bush entered the campaign for governor on the two key messages of "personal responsibility" and "moral leadership." Some might argue that this reflects quite an astounding level hypocrisy on his part. But for Bush those "nomadic" hedonistic days of irresponsible" youth as he termed them, were now behind him. After going dry, he became a born-again Christian and not only turned a new sheet, but probably wiped the slate clean in his own eyes. Those days of roaming bars trying to find himself were over. His radical Christianity gave him the new "reality" which he proved unable to create for himself. He had found his way now and knew his mission.
When people make the courageous step to quit drink or drugs, often their whole world and sense of self-identity collapses around them. Since drinking and using has become the centre of their whole life, alcohol or drugs becomes part of their identity - the "party person", "bar stool philosopher" or whatever they are and the compass and crutch to face daily reality. They don't simply emerge sober, with a clear view of reality and themselves. They are often more very confused and frightened, than anything else. After stopping there is a great hole, a huge vacuum which needs filling and often it is religion which offers them redemption and a new vision, purpose and meaning to life. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as it doesn't become as obsessive or delusional as the original addiction.
He began studying Christian theology. By all accounts on one occasion he was in a dispute with his mother over whether non-Christians should go to Heaven. He was against and Barbara for. Eventually in order to break the logjam, they just phoned up Bill Graham and asked his opinion. As the story goes Graham sided with George, but warned him against trying to play God.
To win the Governorship demanded the make-over that Bush was looking for. Here was a new self. He had learned painfully from the '78 defeat for the House of Representatives that he had to shake off the legacy of the Yale rich-kid from the East. He had been hammered on this by his opponent, who portrayed him as totally out of touch with Texans. In the intervening period Bush could now use his time in the oil industry and the Texas Rangers as credit. But he needed more. One was his appeal to the conservative Christian and evangelical vote and the other was to portray himself as the "man of the soil." In '78 he had made the blunder of admitting that it was the first time he had been on a real farm. So now he cultivated the image of the non-intellectual, gut-feeling, down-to-earth, Christian man of the people. Some aspects of this were not far from the truth, but it was clearly at odds with his whole upbringing. Using his campaigning skills and collecting a very effective team around him, he went onto the charm offensive and just enough policy for him to deal with. It worked. A whole new façade was erected upon which he became Governor and later President.
As Governor he championed faith-based welfare programmes and substantially increased government funding for religious organisations involved in social questions such as education, alcohol, drug and domestic violence prevention. Most controversially he declared June 10th to be "Jesus Day" in Texas, where people were called on to help the needy. His notion of his relationship with God was something which was to come up on many occasions in the future and we will return to it later. At this point in time, it plays an important part in his re-making of himself, both internally and externally. Whether this was genuine and through is another thing.
In terms of doing the job, sobriety and religion allowed him to improve on at least some level of structure and commitment. However, one shouldn't overestimate the pressure or weight of work he was under. Some say it isn't even a full-time job. The state legislature only sits for 140 days every two years. Apart from a few initiatives like Jesus Day, Bush didn't have to propose policy. He had around a staff to which he could delegate all the work of research and policy formation, and then all he had to do was here the arguments for and against and say yeah or nay. Most of his work was still the front man, the showman politician. The one thing he seemed to take the most decisions on was executions. 152 prisoners were executed while he was in office, the greatest number for any Governor in US history. One has to wonder if the death of this many people was due to the continuation of his incapacity or lack of inclination to study casework and come to his own decisions. When it came to clemency or death, did he just sign off on the recommendations of others, rather than making the effort and taking the responsibility to make a case-by-case, value judgment himself?
Unfortunately, however, by adopting this hands-off approach to most of the work, he again missed an opportunity to really train himself up for the future, in this case the Presidency of the United States. His failure to learn to do his homework or applying himself to details where necessary, and to rely too much on aids, was to show up gravely during his time as President. He wasn't a "professional" politician as such, it wasn't his passion and he had really wanted to do the job. Nevertheless, having taken the decision and finding himself in the new situation, he showed the old inability to adapt and profit from his fortunes. He didn't face up to his full responsibilities and make the most of the time to develop himself. As always, his attitude was to do the minimum, wing it if possible and hope to carry it off by the work of others and the use of his debatable charm. That being said, you can't take away the fact that it worked and, indeed, won him the unprecedented second term as Governor of Texas and the trust of Republican ranks to run for Presidency.
Prepared for President?
The man who was to run for President in 2000, at the age of 54, had, to his credit, amassed 14 years of sobriety, a successful career as the spokesman for a major baseball team and 6 years of experience in politics at an important level. He had, undoubtedly, achieved a certain level of self-discipline and some degree of commitment over his past. Moreover, he had achieved enough evidence of stabilisation to warrant the support of his party's nomination. To all intents and purposes it appeared that he had faced and overcome a major person crisis and had led a constructive life ever since. These factors would normally point to him having begun to develope a more emotionally balanced and realistic view of life.
On the other hand, the general pattern of his adult life showed someone who lacked a strong sense of realism or responsibility. From college, though to military service and business life, he never appeared to be tuned-in and on top of his situation. He repeatedly failed to match up to or profit from the exceptional opportunities presented to him. He didn't seem able to adapt to new situations and responsibilities. He never appeared to make any real effort to succeed or excel. Whether as a student, serviceman or businessman he didn't show any evidence of trying to learn from his experiences and develop himself. In brief, he didn't show a serious attitude to anything. Instead, he lived a wasteful and frivolous life dominated by alcohol and partying. Clearly he held a distorted view of reality, resulting in maladapted behaviours which showed unresolved emotional conflicts and instability. He was a person unsure of who he was and where he fitted into the world.
In terms of scoring his performance on the various particular attributes of realism, it is extremely difficult because he simply avoided engaging himself in anything which would put him to the test. Because of his background, he just about managed to get away with it as a student and serviceman. But when he dabbled in the real world of business, he was only saved from disaster by patronage. Apart from his talents as a campaigner both for the Texas Rangers and his election, he never exhibited any of the traits of realism demanded from a real leader. And when it came to problem solving skills, his problems were always solved for him by someone else. Even later as Governor, he appears to have delegated the real work of government to more competent others. While he may have conquered the habit of alcohol and the irresponsible consequences of drunkenness, there doesn't appear to be any real evidence for a change in his overall patterns of behaviour with regard to methodical hard work, conscientiousness and perserverence. Delegation of these repsonsibilities remains the order of the day, for someone who feels more comfortable in the arena of showmanship and socializing.
More than anything else on the question of realism, he seems to continue to see the world from a highly distorted, overally subjective perspective and is unable to differentiate his interpretation of life from objective reality. To compound matters, he shows no inclination or ability to test or verify whether he is right or not.