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Bush entered the campaign for Texas 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 fašade 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.