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July 18, 2004 - The Joy of Psychopathology

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James Benjamin is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Science at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.  And he has a web log, The Left End of the Dial, where you will find this observation -

We do know, for example, that chronic alcohol abuse can lead to brain damage - in particular the prefrontal cortex of the cerebrum. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for much of what we consider rational thought, and damage to this part of the brain can manifest itself in terms of rigidity of thought, poor impulse control…

Yeah, yeah.  So what?

Benjamin points us to this:
Is Bush's past now present?
Douglas Yates, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, Alaska), Thursday, July 15, 2004

Who, pray tell, reads the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, perhaps even in Fairbanks? And this Douglas Yates appears to be a Marine Corps veteran and a writer, and photographer, living in Ester, Alaska. This is not your usual news source, but even the wilds of Alaska one can connect the dots, and, as I suspect there is not much to do in Ester, Yates does so.

Here’s a bit of the dot-connecting:


By his own admission, Bush was a heavy drinker for more than 20 years. While more than 10 million Americans are similarly afflicted, only one has been elevated to the presidency. Though it is reported that he stopped drinking in 1986, at the age of 40, Bush's policies and judgment appear linked to alcohol addiction.

A growing number of professionals in psychopathology and alcohol counseling claim that Bush exhibits characteristics of "dry drunk" syndrome. A term adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, a dry drunk is a person who shows impaired behavior, although not actually imbibing. While technically "dry," such individuals are not truly sober. Dry drunks tend to extremes while also displaying increased anxiety, irritability, resentment, impulsive anger and lack of empathy. They are rigid, judgmental and often present an inordinate sense of entitlement.

Katherine van Wormer, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa and co-author of "Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective," points to Bush's language as a way to see through the smoke.

"First there were the terms--'crusade' and 'infinite justice.' Next came 'evil doers,' 'axis of evil,' and 'regime change' ... the polarized thinking and the obsessive repetition reminded me of many of the recovering alcoholics/addicts I had treated," van Wormer writes.


Well, an ex-Marine might know about such things.  But this idea has been floating around for a long while.  A local Beverly Hills psychotherapist I knew well, who passed away a few months ago, discussed this with me in the autumn of 1999 as Bush was running for president.  She had worked with alcoholics.  She knew.  She thought Bush dangerous.  And she was a smart woman – in fact, I named my cat, Harriet, after her.

But Yates is concerned with the present, and Harriet (the psychotherapist not the cat) is gone. And he points out the idea persists –


Other researchers cite the president's black-and-white view of the world. Although one of the first principles of leadership is the ability to consider opposing points of view, Bush can't muster such perspectives. In regard to foreign policy, Bush has said, "... my job isn't to try to nuance. I think moral clarity is important ... this is evil versus good."

Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of communication at New York University, examined Bush's language for evidence of distorted thinking. Author of "Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder," Miller initially intended an amusing catalog of Bush's verbal gaffes. Played for laughs by many, some view Bush's stumbling speech as an endearing tic.

However, in reading the transcripts of his speeches, Miller realized something more serious was going on. Bush's garbled and confusing sentences may actually reveal a hidden personality disorder.

Miller builds the case that Bush's gaffes occur only when he's speaking about things that mean little to him. Topics such as the poor, idealism or compassion are often twisted beyond meaning.

However, writes Miller, "He has no trouble speaking off the cuff when he's speaking punitively, when he's talking about violence, when he's talking about revenge. When he struts and thumps his chest, his syntax and grammar are fine. This is a guy who is absolutely proud of his own inflexibility and rectitude.


Well, that’s how Bush has been sold to America.  A large enough segment of the voting public just eats that up, maybe a large enough voting bloc so that Bush will win in November.

Benjamin then turns to Arianna Huffington's summary of the recently published book, “Bush on the Couch,” by Justin A. Franks, M.D. –


Poking around in the presidential psyche, Frank uncovers a man suffering from megalomania, paranoia, a false sense of omnipotence, an inability to manage his emotions, a lifelong need to defy authority, an unresolved love-hate relationship with his father, and the repercussions of a history of untreated alcohol abuse.

… One of the more compelling sections of the book is Frank’s dissection of what he calls Bush’s “almost pathological aversion to owning up to his infractions” — a mindset common to individuals Freud termed “the Exceptions,” those who feel “entitled to live outside the limitations that apply to ordinary people.”

… But you don’t make it as far as W. has without some psychological defenses of your own — especially when it comes to insulating yourself against your own fears and insecurities.

Raised in a family steeped in privilege and secrecy, and prone to the intense aversion to introspection and denial of responsibility that are the hallmarks of a so-called dry drunk — one who has kicked the bottle without dealing with the root causes of the addiction — Bush has become a master of the psychological jiu-jitsu known as Freudian Projection.

For those of you who bailed on Psych 101, Freudian Projection is, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a defense mechanism in which “the individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by falsely attributing to another his or her own unacceptable feelings, impulses or thoughts.”

In layman’s terms, it’s the soot-stained pot calling the kettle “black.”


Well, it seems unethical, in a medical ethics sort of way, to do a differential diagnosis of a severe psychopathology from the outside, and certainly without the patient’s permission – but it is kind of fun.

And Benjamin has some fun with it all. The psychology professor from Oklahoma offers this:


To make the story as short as possible, Bush's psyche can be best summed up as that of a right-wing authoritarian. Authoritarians are characterized by a number of traits (see Altemeyer, 1981, 1988, 1996, for more details):

Conventionalism - a tendency to go along with the prevailing societal norms, especially those norms sanctioned by authority figures in the home, church, etc. This same trait is also characteristic of most conservatives, although typically not carried to the extreme as is the case with authoritarians.

Authoritarian Submission - a tendency to essentially do what one is told without question, as long as it's sanctioned by an authority figure. Right-wing authoritarians will readily submit not only to authority figures whom they like and respect, but also to those whom they do not like (they may gripe a bit in the latter case, but will do what they're told regardless).

Authoritarian Aggression - authoritarians are no more or less prone to aggression and violence than the rest of us. However, they are a rather vengeful and punitive lot who will commit acts of aggression or violence if they perceive that such acts are endorsed by relevant authorities. Right-wing authoritarians also tend to view the world as a dangerous place, in which there are enemies lurking behind practically every corner, and such worldviews tend to facilitate acts of aggression - especially against out-groups (e.g., ethnic minorities, gays, liberals, etc.).

Rigidity of Thought - To these first three traits I'd like to add this fourth trait based on the observation that right-wing authoritarians are not known for their cognitive complexity. They tend to see the world in black and white, in terms of absolutes. They are not generally interested in looking for the nuances in an argument, or for handling the ambiguities that characterize life in a diverse democratic republic.


Oh my!

If you click on the top link and go to the Benjamin site you will, of course, find that his text is filled with live links to the relevant research and documents, should you wish to see how he reached these conclusions.  That’s recommended for the obsessive among you.

I particular like “a tendency to essentially do what one is told without question, as long as it's sanctioned by an authority figure.”  That explains Dick Cheney’s role.  He stays.

And a willingness to “commit acts of aggression or violence if they perceive that such acts are endorsed by relevant authorities.”  That will get you a war – as Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Perle and the rest said a war would be just fine.  Colin Powell was not relevant.

And a tendency to “view the world as a dangerous place, in which there are enemies lurking behind practically every corner?”  We are actually being told to buy into that by Ridge and Ashcroft.  And indeed it does “facilitate acts of aggression.”  We are told X or Y deserves just that aggression.

But is this at all valid?  Perhaps not.

Irving Berlin once said – “There is an element of truth in every idea that lasts long enough to be called corny.”

Here, with this Bush dry-drunk psychopathology – does the same apply?

Then there is the God side of it all.


July 16, 2004  -


"I trust God speaks through me.  Without that, I couldn’t do my job."

- President Bush, quoted in the Lancaster New Era, during a private meeting with an Amish group.


Found here. 




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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