The Psychopath in the White House
By David Model
Sun Oct 23rd, 2005 at 05:44:17 AM EDT :: Bush
The alarming irony is that American voters are completely oblivious to the fact that they may have voted men into the highest office of the land who were probably suffering from a very dangerous form of mental illness. Despite the lack of a psychiatric diagnosis, it is still possible to reach a tentative diagnosis for these presidents based on the multiplicity of symptoms clearly indicated by their behaviour.
The basis for this claim is the fact that Presidents since World War II have committed atrocities in a myriad of ways which include but are not limited to bombing innocent civilians and destroying non-military targets, imposing sanctions that inflict unimaginable hardships on people, torturing prisoners, and sending suspected terrorists to Syria, Egypt etc. to be tortured outside the United States, conspiring to assassinate democratically elected leaders and replacing them with brutal dictators who are American-friendly and who then commit atrocities against their own people. It is difficult to comprehend how people responsible for these atrocities live out their lives without any apparent detrimental impact on their emotional and mental health. It is obvious that either they do not have a normal conscience, are skillful at overcoming cognitive dissonance or have a highly cultivated rationalization mechanism. Although these hypotheses are plausible, there has to be a more discursive explanation.
One possible explanation why presidents seem to be immune to the expected self-doubts, pangs of conscience, or deep remorse which would result from causing so much suffering and death is that they have psychopathic tendencies. Notwithstanding the potential for monstrous behaviour, socialized psychopaths appear normal, can be very charming, and seem to function successfully in society.
Characteristics that lead to a positive diagnosis include a remarkable disregard for the truth, the inability to accept blame, lack of remorse, shame or guilt, lack of empathy, lack of conscience, and socially predatory behaviour. Does George W. qualify? A cursory glance at the traits of a psychopath suggests that George W. probably possesses most of the ascribed characteristics.
To answer this question we turn to Dr. Robert D. Hare, one of the foremost specialists in this area, who has designed the classic checklist of traits which characterize psychopaths. Not all of the traits need to be present for a positive diagnosis. The test consists of 20 questions to which the answer is either: does not apply (0); applies somewhat, mixed evidence (1); definitely applies, clear evidence (2). Using Dr. Hare’s test, we will assess the degree to which President G. W. Bush may be a psychopath. A score of 30 or higher is indicative of psychopathic tendencies.
Superficial charm is a common trait among psychopaths and according to Dr. Hare, “Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate…” Pol Pot one of the most brutal, murderous tyrants since World War II, was responsible for the death of over one million Cambodians. Ben Kiernan, associate professor of Southeast Asian history at Yale University, concedes that “Those who know him then insist…that he was charming, self-effacing.
President Bush has developed a strategy for winning over friends and opponents alike calling his strategy a “charm offensive” which is something he can turn off and on at will. Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News, admits that Bush’s “charm offensive” was effective in producing positive coverage when he was governor of Texas. As well, ABC online reported that “In a sign that Mr. Bush’s charm offensive is bearing fruit, NATO announced…” (February 23, 2005) Score two for Bush.
A psychopath has an inflated view of his self-worth, is self-assured, arrogant and a braggart.
Michael Hersh, an Online Journal contributing writer claims that “Bush’s sense of unquestionable authority drives him out of control when anyone defies him…” and that “…Bush has embraced this notion of Biblical mission, and now operates with an absolute sense of supreme authority.” (September 12, 2002) In addition, an important part of the fundamentalist constituency that supports Bush, Pat Robertson, pointed out on the Paula Zahn Show Now, October 21, 2004, that Bush is “the most self-assured man I’ve ever met in my life.” Walter Cronkite, retired CBS anchor and the “most trusted man in America” reported that Bush’s “arrogance” with respect to our allies “has been exceptional.” (The Hanover Eagle, Anna Weisgerber, March 27, 2003) As Bob Woodward reveals in his book, Bush at War, Bush pontificates in an interview that “I’m the commander…see, I don’t need to explain.” Score two for Bush.
An excessive need for novel, thrilling and exciting stimulation is a common trait of psychopaths. In a New York Times article written by Maureen Dowd, George W. reveals through the following quotes that he has a serious attention problem and is therefore prone to boredom and in need of constant stimulation:
His workday as Governor of Texas, as told by his former chief of staff, Clay Johnson, is “two hard half-days” during which “He puts in the hours from 8 to 11:30 A.M., breaking it up with a series of 15-minute meetings, sometimes 10-minute meetings, but rarely is there a 30-minute meeting…At 11:30 he’s `outtahere’….[when he goes] over to the University of Texas track or run a three to five miles…return to the office at 1:30, where he’ll play some video golf or computer solitaire until about three, and then it’s back to the second `hard half-day’ until 5:30.” Score two for Bush.
Psychopaths have no regard for the truth and according to Dr. Hare “Lying, deceiving, and manipulation are natural talents for psychopaths… When caught in a lie or challenged with the truth, they are seldom perplexed or embarrassed…they simply change their stories or attempt to rework the facts so that they appear to be consistent with the lie.”
Bush’s lies about Iraqi WMD and ties to al Qaeda have become legendary. According to Bush “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories…For those who say that we have not found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.” (CBSNEWS.com) Score two for Bush.
One of the characteristics of a psychopath is the ability to charm and seduce followers or in this case the public. They lie convincingly and are seldom perplexed or embarrassed when caught in their deceit smoothly changing their story. Lies are the main weapon in their arsenal for manipulating others.
One example of manipulation occurred when President Bush distorted the words of former President Jimmy Carter to win support for the invasion of Iraq. President Bush claimed that the former President offered support for the invasion of Iraq when, in fact, Carter concluded that “as has been emphasized vigorously by foreign allies and by responsible leaders of former administrations and incumbent officeholders, there is no current danger to the United States from Baghdad.” (Washington Post)
Seymour M. Hersh, in an article in the New Yorker, referred to Bush’s intention to manipulate the public when he stated that “The former intelligence official went on, `One of the reasons I left was my sense that they [Bush Administration] were using the intelligence from the CIA and other agencies only when it fit their agenda. They didn’t like the intelligence they were getting, and so they brought in people to write the stuff’.” Score two for Bush.
Dr. Hare explains that “…psychopaths show a stunning lack of
concern for the devastating effects their actions have on others. Often they
are completely forthright about the matter, calmly stating that they have no
sense of guilt, are not sorry for the pain and destruction they have caused, and that there is no reason for them to be concerned.”
When George W. Bush was Governor of Texas, he executed at least
131 prisoners, more than any other state, and has denied appeals from all but one of these prisoners.
One-third of the 131 prisoners in Texas who were executed when Governor Bush refused to grant them a stay of execution had lawyers who were later disbarred. In 40 cases, the defendants’ lawyer produced no evidence except for the occasional witness at the sentencing phase of the trial. In 29 cases a psychiatrist predicted that the defendant was likely to repeat the crime based on a hypothetical question and without having examined the defendant. Prosecution witnesses included a patient from a psychiatric ward and a pathologist who had admitted faking autopsies. When W. was asked about these statistics he replied in his trademark give-no-ground self-confidence that “We’ve adequately answered innocent or guilty in each case”. Score two for Bush.
A shallow emotional response refers to the psychopath’s limited range and depth of emotions. People in general can feel fear, sympathy, sadness because we can place ourselves in the experience of others and imagine how they would feel. A psychopath does not have this capacity although he can imitate feelings. The emotional poverty, the complete lack of real emotions such as sadness, mourning, fear, guilt, remorse and empathy is replaced by weak and infantile drives displaying themselves theatrically in the absence of ordinary inhibitions.
President Bush lacks the capacity to feel sadness for the loss of lives that are a direct result of his decisions. Author E. L. Doctorow refers to an incident in which “…You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can’t seem to find.” Despite the fact that over 1600 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives so far and countless numbers of Americans and Iraqi have suffered horrible injuries, the president was capable of joking around about the missing weapons of mass destruction.” Score two for Bush.
Psychopaths seem to completely lack the ability to emphasize with others often resulting in very callous behaviour. Unable to empathize with the pain and suffering of others, they are able to exercise power without regard for the anguish of others and then rationalize their behaviour.
One of the most disturbing examples of Bush’s lack of empathy revealed itself when the about-to-be-executed killer Karla Faye Tucker appeared on the Larry King Show. President Bush watched the show and in discussing her appearance on the show, he responded contemptuously to King’s question about what would you say to Governor Bush with “`please’, Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, `don’t kill me’.” (The Houston Chronicle, August 10, 1999) It is one thing to believe in the death penalty but quite another to mock someone on death’s row, who spent years rehabilitating herself earning a plea from the Pope for her life. That behaviour exposes a frightening degree of callousness. Score two for Bush.
Due to their lack of motivation and weak self-discipline, psychopaths frequently develop a financial dependence on others. Manipulation and exploitation are commonly employed to benefit from people who can provide them with financial assistance.
According to George W. in a rare yet accurate self-assessment, “… you know I could run for governor but I am basically a media creation. I’ve never done anything…I’ve worked for my dad. I worked in the oil business.” In fact, his oil business ventures depended almost entirely on the largesse of others. Although George W. did not impress anyone with his business acumen, William De Witt and Mercer Reynolds, friends of Bush Sr., installed Bush Jr. as president of Spectrum 7, an oil company. These friends were also owners of the Texas Rangers and allowed Bush Jr. to purchase part of the team at a very low price. George W. had many benefactors who protected him from failure and provided him with a substantial amount of money. Score two for Bush.
Psychopaths have very week control over their emotions and in particular annoyance and anger. They are prone to outbursts of irritability, impatience, threats, aggression, anger and verbal abuse. President Bush’s inability to control his feelings is legendary:
These popular perceptions are confirmed by his own former speechwriter, David Frum, who admitted that: “He is impatient and quick to anger, sometimes glib, often dogmatic.” Score two for Bush
Psychopaths experience many superficial sexual relations, are indiscriminate about their sexual partners, and have a history to sexually coerce others into sexual relations. There is no substantiated evidence of the above behaviour. Score zero for Bush.
Psychopaths usually have a history of behaviour and academic difficulties. As a child, they exhibited aberrant behaviors such as lying, stealing, cruelty to people or animals and vandalism.
There were a number of behavioral mishaps during Bush’s childhood that were indicative of a troubled person. When he was at school, he threw a football through a third-grade classroom window after being told to stay inside during the rain, sold false ID’s to fellow students so that they could purchase alcohol and he was arrested for carrying out Halloween pranks. (Bush on the couch, Justin Frank, professor of psychiatry) Terry Throckmorton, a childhood friend of Bush, recalled how after a good rain thousands of frogs would come out and “Everyone would get BB guns and shoot them. Or we’d put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them up and blow them up.” (Animals in Print, the On-Line Newsletter) Score two for Bush.
Failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals is another trait of psychopaths. They are incapable of thinking through their objectives step by step and tend to act impulsively or in terms of immediate emotional needs.
The clearest evidence that President Bush is not able to engage in long term planning is the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Mary Shaw, a writer and activist, encapsulates the complete lack of any planning of the war on terrorism by calling to our attention that “…the Bush administration chose to divert troops from their search for the real threat–Osama Bin Laden–and launch a poorly planned war in Iraq, with inadequate supplies and no real exit strategy.”
More than two years after the invasion, American forces have not yet gained control over most of Iraq. The so-called elections on the basis of which Bush claims that Iraq is now a democracy were a complete sham. There is no end in sight for peace and stability in Iraq and the withdrawal of American forces. Score two for Bush.
Often decisions are based on frustrations, temptations, urges or instincts rather than a careful, reflective planning process. There is a failure to consider the consequences of decisions.
President Bush admitted that “I make quick decisions without thinking about their possible results.” He also confessed that “I say things and later regret having said them.” (Maureen Dowd, New York Times) Score two for Bush.
According to Ron Hutcheson, writer for the Knight Ridder Newspapers, “Bush’s management style reflects his personality. He’s action-oriented, impatient and intolerant of lengthy briefings and long debates. He often cited the importance of instincts in making decisions.” Bob Woodward, who has written several books about President Bush, claims that “Bush looks at problems, and he told me, he said–`I am a gut player. I play by instincts. I don’t play by the book.’ And, of course, the book is Policy 101 about how you make these kinds of decisions [on going to war in Iraq].” Score two for Bush.
Psychopaths repeatedly fail to honour commitments and obligations. They are also frequently absent from or late for work. Another way in which they are irresponsible is to be oblivious or indifferent to the harm that they inflict on others.
The strongest indictment against George Bush for his pervasive irresponsibility comes not from a liberal but from a conservative Republican, Bob Bowman, when he charges that:
George W. Bush, though, while using force to intervene in the internal affairs of other nations, has sought to undermine the United Nations at every opportunity. He denigrated the inspection regime that the U.S. had imposed on Iraq through the UN. He flouted the will of the Security Council, including our closest historical allies. He withdrew from, violated, or ignored treaty after treaty. And he violated international law and the Nuremberg principles which the US instigated by his unprovoked attack on Iraq. He has show utter disdain for world opinion and has alienated both friend and foe with his irresponsible and arrogant go-it-alone cowboy attitude.
Score two for Bush.
The psychopath cannot accept responsibility for his self-destructive behaviour or for the harm he inflicts on others. He will usually deny categorically any responsibility for his actions and will transfer the blame elsewhere.
President Bush has produced a procession of lies to justify the invasion of Iraq. As each justification was exposed as invalid, he introduced a new lie to prove the necessity of the invasion. The first justification was WMD, then it was ties to el Qaeda, purchasing nuclear material, removing Saddam and finally building a democracy in Iraq with a few more lies thrown in for good measure. When it was abundantly clear that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction he continued to lie about it until he was forced to invent a new lie. When Joseph Wilson reported that Niger was not selling uranium to Iraq, he still mentioned it in his State of the Union address. He never accepted responsibility for using any of those justifications but instead, he lied more. Score two for Bush.
Psychopaths tend to have many short-term relationships. There is no evidence of the above behaviour. Score zero for Bush.
After the age of 13, psychopaths experience behaviour problems involving aggression, manipulation, or exploitation. They also exhibit resentment towards authority.
Three independent sources close to the Bush family have confirmed that in 1972 Governor Bush was arrested three times for cocaine possession and taken to Harris County Jail but avoided formal charges. (Real People for Real Change) On September 4, 1976, a state trooper observed George W. swerve onto the shoulder, then back onto the road. He blew .10 alcohol on a sobriety test and was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and had his license suspended.
When he was 26 years old, he crashed a car while drinking under the influence of alcohol. On arriving home, his father asked him to step into the den to which George W. replied, “You wanna go mano a mano right here” demonstrating his resentment toward authority. (Robert Parry, Consortium News) Score two for Bush.
A revocation of probation due to technical violations is characteristic of psychopaths. Score zero for Bush.
A psychopath demonstrates a diversity of types of criminal offenses regardless of whether the person has been arrested or convicted. He takes pride in the crimes that he has committed. There is no evidence in the case of George Bush. Score zero for Bush.
George W’s total score is 32. According to Dr. Hare, any score above 30 indicates strong psychopathic tendencies. The above test results demonstrate that President Bush may have psychopathic tendencies. This could explain much of George W’s behaviour including the killing of thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq. It could also explain his ability to tolerate the torturing of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. His ability to lie point-blank with seeming honesty and candor can also be attributed to possible psychopathic tendencies.
Although the test establishes that George W. may have psychopathic tendencies, it is axiomatic that any president engaged in lying and committing atrocities may have psychopathic tendencies. To murder innocent people in order to aggrandize the American empire would be extremely difficult if not impossible for someone who feels empathy, guilt, remorse or compunction.
Author of “Lying for Empire: How to Commit War Crimes with a Straight Face