INSIDE BUSH'S BRAIN. Is George W. Bush barking mad? Until recently, I can't say I seriously considered the question. Recently, though, I linked to an item on the not-especially-reliable Capitol Hill Blue website that portrays Bush as raging against the world as he lurches about the White House, quoting from the Bible and denouncing his enemies.
Now comes meatier fare - a Salon review of three books on the presidential psyche. Unfortunately the reviewer, Laura Miller, uses up most of her space on Justin Frank's Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, even though she calls it "a sloppily written and edited book, padded with repetitions and laced with dubious psychological theories," not to mention overtly partisan.
But Frank is at least well-qualified to explore Bush's brain: he's a clinical psychiatrist at George Washington University medical Center. Miller writes:
While the conventional wisdom might suggest that Bush fears being unmasked as a dolt, Frank believes that Bush's rigidity - also manifest in his ironclad daily routine - protects him from inadvertently revealing the darker emotions he's never come to terms with. In addition to the fear of not living up to his father's example, there's the anger at being expected to, and the fear of the destructive power of that anger should it ever be unleashed. The primitive moral vision Bush subscribes to - in which the world is divided into the good, "freedom-loving" people of America and "evildoers" like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein - is another inflexible schema that imposes order on the internal chaos that's always threatening to rise up and swamp him. Maintaining such control takes a considerable amount of energy, according to Frank, which may be one reason why Bush needs so much sleep and finds it so hard to concentrate.
As Miller observers, such characteristics do not guarantee presidential failure; some of our best presidents have been psychological basket cases. And it's always hard to know how seriously to take psychoanalysis from afar. ("Not very" would seem to be a pretty good guide.)
Still, this is fascinating stuff, and may help explain how we got to where we are today.
O.J. AND REAGAN, TOGETHER AT LAST. Looks like Frank Rich's column in next Sunday's New York Times will be a must-read.
NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Write, twist, smear, and sneer: meet Mark Steyn, the most toxic right-wing pundit you've never heard of.