Tuesday, August 31, 2004

BUSH ON THE COUCH. Newsweek's cover piece on George W. Bush contains some mighty telling details about his relationship with his father. Let's cut right to the chase:

Many of Bush's friends, as well as his critics, wonder why Bush failed to consult one particularly experienced and able expert in the field of foreign affairs: his father. "41" often calls "43," but usually to say, "I love you, son," President Bush told NEWSWEEK. "My dad understands that I am so better informed on many issues than he could possibly be that his advice is minimal." That is a pity, say some old advisers to 41, because 43 badly needed to be rescued from the clutches of the neocons, the Defense Department ideologues who, in the view of the moderate internationalists who served in 41's administration, have hijacked American foreign policy.

But the fact is that President Bush did not want to be rescued. To say he has a complicated relationship with his father is an understatement. Bush clearly admires, even worships, his father, says a friend who notes that Bush wept when his father lost political races. But he doesn't want his father's help. To some degree, he is following a Bush family code. According to family lore, Bush's grandfather Prescott refused an inheritance from his father, while W's dad refused Prescott's plea to put off joining the Navy in World War II before going to college. "No, sir, I'm going in," said the 19-year-old George H.W. Bush. In the Bushes' world, real men are supposed to make it on their own, without Dad's looking over their shoulders. After the 1988 presidential campaign, W was eager to shed the nickname "Junior."

But George W. hasn't just been independent, he's been defiant. The degree to which Bush defines himself in opposition to his father is striking. While 41 raised taxes, 43 cut them, twice. Forty-one is a multilateralist; 43 is a unilateralist. Forty-one "didn't finish the job" in Iraq, so 43 finished it for him. Much was made of 43's religiosity when he told Bob Woodward that "when it comes to strength," he turns not to 41, but rather to "a higher father." But what was the president saying about his own father?


You don't have to be Freud or Sophocles to conjure up some rivalrous or rebellious feelings of the son toward the father. George W. spend much of his early years, and a good deal of his adulthood, trying and failing to catch up to his father as a student, athlete, aviator, businessman and politician. When Bush, in a drunken rage at the age of 26, challenged his father to go "mano a mano" with him, all his father could say was how "disappointed" he was. What could be more wounding?

But that was many years ago. Bush without question bears scars, possibly serious ones, that affect his behavior today. But unlike so many other sons of the powerful, he pulled his life together and made some kind of peace, or at least truce, with his demons.

Written by Evan Thomas, Tamara Lipper, and Rebecca Sinderbrand, the piece - "The Road to Resolve" - is striking in its willingness to plumb the president's psychology. It seems unlikely that a vanilla publication such as Newsweek would have been willing to publish something that would be so likely to piss off the notoriously touchy Bush clan a year ago, when the president was still riding high.

Also, check out this Jonathan Alter column on Bush's nasty campaign style, epitomized by his reluctance to dissociate himself from the lying Swifties. Writes Alter: "So much for any sense of decency. The man who was once an inept right-wing president but a nice guy is now just an inept right-wing president."

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