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January 18, 2009

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The phrase "we create our own reality" came to mind from your post. Looking for a reference to check the quote led me to this NYT Magazine article by Ron Suskind. My take is that our soon-to-be-ex is the kind of false-front performer that Reagan was accused of being. The scary part is that it worked so well for so long. Today I am deeply thankful for the 22nd amendment that means that we didn't have to see another attempt at selling such a false front to the voters.

Somewhere between "The Emperor has no clothes" and an empty shirt.

Michael Gerson, David Frum, Matthew Scully, John McConnell - those guys could flat-out write.

Your post reminds me of this extended reflection by Frum on speechwriting in the Bush White House. He wrote that: "There is everywhere and always a gap between an administration’s rhetoric and its actions , but seldom has it gaped as wide as in this one." His explanation is that whereas, for example, in the Reagan Administration, speeches generally created policy, in the Bush White House, "words were not commitments. They were just ... words. The president liked speaking them, so stay out of his way. No follow up would be demanded."

That, from a man who was actually there. And I think it explains much about the cognitive dissonance of the last eight years. The American people are used to believing that, at least in the realm of policy, politicians mean what they say. If they announce a major new initiative, they generally intend to launch it. There's been a lot of attention to the administration's Orwellian double-speak, but that turns out to have been the least of it. The real problem was not disguising ugly policies with pretty words, it was announcing reasonable and appealing policies without any intention of actually implementing them.

One of the things that I've found most appealing about Obama is that he takes an active role in crafting his own speeches. Bush granted wide latitude to his writers; he wanted them to fashion beautiful words for him, and no one particularly cared what they said, because they could always be ignored. Obama is, by most accounts, a bit of a control-freak; he wants desperately to get his speeches right, because he feels committed by the words he utters. How refreshing.

Barbara Oakley's,"Evil Genes:Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend" explains it all very well. GW Bush certainly exhibits most if not all of the traits of a sociopathic or psychopathic personality.

I wonder when before electing a leader of a country that they aren't required to take a psyhological screening as many occupations require of prospective employees, it could arguably have saved the planet from an unnecessary war and potentially catastrophic climate change. I mean why not, the public has a right to medical information and certainly mental stability is just, if not more, important. It reminds me of the enthusiasm for Children's Health Care, which seems to encourage ignoring the fact that, children without parents are little or no better off than children with healthcare.

I think the public would get more necessary information from an MMPI (psychological screening)or similar exam than all the media imaging leading to an election of a president. Standard disclaimers apply.

I think as he stood with his hand held high he felt deep gratitude, deep love, and a hunger to do right, to actually serve and not only dominate his country.

I actually think this is true, with the caveat that, IMO, he most likely felt *what he understood to be* deep gratitude and love, etc.

I don't think Bush knows what it is to serve other people, or maybe even one other person. It might be that it's just not in him to learn. Maybe he's just an extremely damaged guy. In any case, 'service' is not his middle name.

This isn't armchair psychology, it's my take based on his biography and on everything we know about his public and private behavior.

There's nothing in his life that I can see that would have taught him the meaning of service, nor any evidence that I can see that he managed to learn it on his own.

So he may well have desired to serve the people, but if so, he failed, because he just wasn't cut out for it.

I wonder when before electing a leader of a country that they aren't required to take a psyhological screening as many occupations require of prospective employees, it could arguably have saved the planet from an unnecessary war and potentially catastrophic climate change.

An interesting idea, but I bet it would have screened out Lincoln.

Thanks -

Russell, What was it about Lincoln? Did he exhibit behaviors rising to the level of sociopathic or psychotic? BTW, I checked out the beautiful "Go Outside" picture, looked a little "Springee." I think before I take the advice, I'll wait for the view outside my window to more resemble the Springee view (as in flowers). Thanks.

I hate to be a chronology Nazi, but that's Bush's 2001 inaugural address.

My take is that our soon-to-be-ex is the kind of false-front performer that Reagan was accused of being.

There's a lot to this. I think a number of movement conservatives understood (actually misunderstood) the Reagan administration as representing a new model for the presidency: an amiable frontman selling general themes, while actual policies are devised by wise men behind the scenes who don't much have to worry about democratic accountability.

The movement to draft Dan Quayle in 1996, which was led by a number of neoconservatives, certainly envisioned this kind of presidency, but Quayle didn't cut it as the frontman.

My guess is that some of the people behind Bush, from the start, saw him as the fulfillment of this model. Hopefully some of them have now figured out that this is no way to run a country.

that's Bush's _2001_ inaugural address

Heh.

Speaking of chronology, Vanity Fair's timeline-plus-quotes of people involved in the events is interesting, though of course with many omissions and some whoppers .

For example:

February 5, 2003 Colin Powell appears before the United Nations Security Council to present evidence that Iraq is actively seeking to make or acquire weapons of mass destruction. In the ensuing months, it will emerge that, although Powell was unaware of the fact, many of his claims are unfounded.

Unaware. Riiiiight.

And there's some world-class retrospective ass-covering, with an especially strong showing by Ken Adelman.

Extremely good post. Many thanks. BTW, the HTML in the post script is visible---you might want to fix.

@ Ben Alpers 12:06 :

My guess is that some of the people behind Bush, from the start, saw him as the fulfillment of this model. Hopefully some of them have now figured out that this is no way to run a country.

I disagree: I think that for most of the "people behind Bush", the "way to run a country" is rigidly fixed - as a matter of ideological dogma. What they will be looking for in their next candidate is simply a more-competent frontman.

The model of "frontman-as-President" is probably what explains some neoconservatives' involvement in plucking Palin out of obscurity to be the next face of the conservative movement.

LeisureGuy: thanks; fixed. ;)

"And we all get to pay the price."

eh, not really.

not all of us did or will pay a price.

if you were a republican big-wig, an arms-dealer, a bond-trader, or a multi-millionaire, the last eight years were really, really good years.

and best of all--there's no prospect of your paying at any time in the future!

"Obviously, Bush did not have that kind of self-awareness."
Yes, the man is conceited, vain and egocentric.
"But it amazes me to this day that becoming President did not force him to recognize the nature of the responsibilities he had been given."
The responsibilities he had been given were not those that you imagine or think. The responsibilities he was given were dictated by those among the elite. The primary philosophy has been that "government is the problem." Then you seek to prove it. Therefore, a "starve the beast" agenda is of paramount importance. Tax cuts, spending on "defense," policies that rob the treasury to further enrich the 1%. All while conning the "rabble" that this is done in their interests. "The Big Lie."

Russell, What was it about Lincoln?

Apparently, he suffered from chronic depression.

BTW, I checked out the beautiful "Go Outside" picture, looked a little "Springee."

That was taken on Hog Island, in Essex Bay, up on Cape Ann in Massachusetts. Essex is just west of Gloucester. If you saw the movie "The Crucible" with Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder, that was filmed on Hog Island.

The picture was taken in October of '03 by a guy named Darren Alameida. The color you see is from the marsh grasses reddening up, along with some late-season blooming weeds. I should really give Alameida a credit on the website, because it's a beautiful picture.

Here's another from the same picture set on Alameida's site, also from Hog Island.

Essex is still pretty undeveloped, lots of open land, because it's so marshy that it's hard to find land that perks well. Salt hay and clams are still big businesses there. In the last few years, they've extended the Gloucester city sewer system into Essex, so a lot of previously unbuildable land is now up for development, so it'll likely change in character in the next 10 or 15 years.

That will be a shame because it's a really beautiful town. Cape Ann generally is one of my favorite places on earth.

kid b: "not all of us did or will pay a price.

if you were a republican big-wig, an arms-dealer, a bond-trader, or a multi-millionaire, the last eight years were really, really good years."

The economic collapse, global warming ... I think there are a lot of prices out there waiting to be paid.

oh, yeah, but having socked away several billion in war-profiteering can cushion you from a lot of global warming. if you even believe in that kind of science-based nonsense to begin with.

nah--my guess is that when bush looks around at the people he cares about (his base), they have all enjoyed a very, very good war.

i just don't think you can understand their nonchalance and unrepentance until you realize: they've got nothing to regret, because it worked out really well for them!

and, yeah, maybe a few millionaires from your own set took a hit when some banks fell. but actually, that tarp thing is doing a lot to ease the pain: being able to hand out $350 billion to your friends, with no commitments, no oversight, and no strings attached can make up for a lot of little losses.

look: we know this model. we have seen it all over the world, for decades. an entrenched robber-baron class in control of the nation's wealth, the media parroting all of its propaganda, totally insulated from the sufferings of a mass of people who are getting poorer and sicker with every year.

it was eight years in a banana republic. the ruler's only regret at the end, is that it ever had to end.

"...he suffered from chronic depression"

A person suffering from depression is not generally a threat to other people. Sociopaths or psychopaths are very much a threat to other people and need to be treated accordingly. According to Oakley they tend to remain undetected and also tend to be high achievers rising to the top of organizations and governments.

"She argues, further, that certain dysfunctional personality traits, such as narcissism, vindictiveness, and black-and-white thinking, are often found in politicians because these traits are advantageous in achieving political success."

Great informative explanation in cspan video at Barnes and Noble book store.

http://www.c-spanarchives.org/library/includes/templates/library/flash_popup.php?pID=280108-1&clipStart=&clipStop=

Great picture, thanks.

the words Bush spoke in 2000 with so little sense of what they meant

Bush seems to be the kind of guy who thinks of words as tools - to be used to get what he wants. I'm guessing he's only tangentially aware of their use to communicate. He probably thinks that's how everybody uses words, thus his dislike for the educated and articulate elite.

Russell, What was it about Lincoln?

Apparently, he suffered from chronic depression.

I've been meaning to write about this.

Lincoln's melancholia is famous, of course, but Joshua Wolf Shenk's take is quite interesting.

"A person suffering from depression is not generally a threat to other people."

That's not particularly true. A person with clinical depression could make all sorts of decisions leading not just to their own death, but to the deaths of, or harm to, others, because of bad judgment or indifference induced by depression. This wasn't the case with Lincoln, but one could hardly generalize from that. A suicidal person might, in some cases, be willing to engage in mass suicide. E.g., Jim Jones. Or James Forrestal.

It depends on the individual. Procrustean tests wouldn't do the job.

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