Book Review

Bush on the Couch: Inside
the Mind of the President
By Justin A. Frank, M.D.
Regan Books, 2004
Hardcover, 247 pp., $24.95

Justin A. Frank’s “Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President” raises serious and disconcerting questions about George W. Bush’s character and stability. The noted psychoanalyst and clinical professor at George Washington University Medical Center uses applied psychoanalysis (i.e. the application of psychoanalytical principles to a person who is not seen in a consulting room) in a careful examination of the president’s behavior.

Frank’s goal is to show us “every aspect of the way the president relates to the world … from his adolescent clowning to this presidential smirk, from his earlier struggles with learning disabilities and alcoholism to his current dependence on fundamentalist religion and rigid routine.”

Without even delving into Frank’s psychoanalytical approach, most readers will find the author’s descriptions of the president’s behavior, past and present, chilling enough. Bush’s behavior is an issue that should be of great concern to all Americans.

For example, it’s hard to forget the paralytic look on George W. Bush’s face in that Florida classroom on 9/11 after being informed of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Bush seemed bewildered and displayed that “deer-in-the-headlights” stare as he continued to listen to the reading of the children’s book, “My Pet Goat.”

Frank describes the president as living in a simplified world “populated by cardboard figures who are either enemies or friends.” When the president discusses his “enemies,” whether foreign or domestic, they “generally sound less like real people than like abstractions of his world view.”

Although the author examines several aspects of Bush’s behavior, two areas of great interest are Bush’s 20-year drinking problem and his conversion to religious fundamentalism.

Frank observes: “Considering the uproar over whether Bill Clinton inhaled marijuana in his twenties, it’s remarkable how little attention has been paid to Bush’s 20-plus years of problem-drinking.” The president never underwent any form of recognized treatment for his problem and stopped “without the help of AA or any substance abuse program.” Bush simply “turned to the assistance of spiritual tools such as the Bible and conversations with evangelist Billy Graham.”

The author claims that Bush “fits the profile of a former drinker whose alcoholism has been arrested but not treated.” In addition, Frank adds that “the inner demons [Bush] tried to manage by drinking still bedevil him today.”

Another aspect of Bush’s behavior that Frank examines is the president’s conversion to fundamentalist Christianity. Frank explains how Bush uses religion “to simplify and replace thought, so that in some ways he doesn’t have to think. By positioning himself on the side of good — of God — he places himself above discussion and worldly debate.”

Frank explains how Bush has also used religion to “disconnect” from history and his past. This enables the president to use an “evasive, self-serving defense of his life before he was born again.”

Added to this is probably the most troubling aspect of Bush’s religiosity, Bush’s belief that he is part of a divine mission. Frank says, “Bush has been surprisingly explicit in declaring that he sees himself on a mission from God, and it is his belief in that divine assignment in which we see the most potent combination of politics, psychology, and faith at work.” Bush continues “to cite divine instruction to explain his actions since assuming office.”

Finally, Dr. Frank also accuses Bush of using the national shock from 9/11 as an excuse to “inflict his beliefs on others.” The president has used a skillful blend of national and religious rhetoric put together by his speechwriters “to create a tribe of believers deeply invested in his beliefs and highly likely to personalize any challenge to them.”

Frank offers a view of George W. Bush’s behavior, which in the author’s words “casts doubt upon Bush’s emotional fitness, competency, and stability to carry out the duties of the president of the United States.” In addition, Frank believes that “Bush’s inability to accept responsibility and make reparation for the damage done” is arguably the one characteristic that “best defines his character.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.

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