Bush’s Mental Condition

Extract from Lord Owen’s The Hubris Syndrome:

During the last week of George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign, it became known that he had been arrested for driving a car under the influence of alcohol at the age of thirty. Starting in 1999, it had been made fairly clear in unattributable briefings that as a young man the candidate had been too fond of alcohol. This was presented as a passing phase of little consequence; in fact he was an alcoholic. On alcoholism there is no room for complacency. It is a condition that, once it has manifested itself, demands constant vigilance to ensure, alcohol abuse does not continue in total secrecy and with the patient in denial.

Since he has been President, records of Bush’s medical condition have been published every year by his doctors. On only one occasion was there some delay. They reveal little of interest except that he has an abnormally low pulse rate. Yet for some years Bush has been uttering so many malapropisms that besides making him the butt of many jokes, they have focused doctors’ minds on whether or not he has dyslexia, from which his brother Neil is reported to suffer.

There has also been speculation on whether Bush has adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a life-long disorder characterized by overactive behavior, short attention span and poor concentration. A further reason for speculation in Bush’s case is that there is a well-established association between dyslexia and ADHD. Also ADHD is one of four psychiatric disorders, the others being depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, which commonly occur with substance abuse disorders such as alcoholism. Bush claims he has drunk no alcohol since 1987, but there have been rumors in the press to the contrary. On 13 January 2002 he lost consciousness while sitting on a couch in the White House watching a football game. His head hit the floor, resulting in an abrasion on his left cheekbone. The incident was blamed on a combination of not feeling well in previous days and an improperly eaten pretzel. I was contacted by a British doctor who had visited Johns Hopkins University and in talking to a group of young doctors was told that, following this incident, though the President had been admitted to Walter Reed Hospital, a blood sample of his had been sent to Johns Hopkins which showed a blood alcohol level in the range of 200 mg. All such rumors have been emphatically denied by the White House and certainly there are no signs of Bush resuming his drinking habits.

Personality was once thought to play an important role in alcoholism, although it is felt to play a somewhat lesser role today as a contributor to addiction. Yet it is obvious that some people’s personalities are part and parcel of their addictive habit and influence whether they overcome their addiction. Bush has never made any secret of the fact that he does not read much and claims that he is no intellectual. But that does not mean – as some assume – that he has a low IQ. While he was a ‘C’ student, which means he had to rely on the strength of his family connections to get into Yale, he graduated from both Yale Law School and Harvard Business School, which is not possible without a fair amount of intelligence. Some who meet Bush one-on-one claim to be pleasantly surprised by his intelligence. Question marks about Bush relate, therefore, more to his inattention, his incurious nature and inarticulacy: in short, signs that his brain functions in an unusual way.

Armchair psychiatrists, according to one American magazine (New Yorker Magazine, 5 Feb. 2007) have for some time argued that Bush suffers from a classic case of narcissistic personality disorder. This, like other personality disorders, begins in early adulthood. Psychoanalytic studies of George Bush offer deeper insights. Psychoanalysts have often written about political leaders whom they have not treated as patients: Freud, for example, wrote a book about Woodrow Wilson using evidence provided by a colleague of Wilson’s. Blair has been the subject of an analytical study by a former Labour MP, Leo Abse.

One of the analytical books on Bush is by Dr. Justin Frank, who believes that the characteristics of his personality overlap meaningfully with a description of what he defines as a megalomanic state:

The troubles in Bush’s early childhood might have made a megalomaniac solution an attractive way to adapt – to cope with, and even triumph over, his circumstances. Both megalomania and mania exhibit three overtly similar defensive characteristics: control, contempt and triumph. Simple mania involves love and the need to deny dependency or loss of a loved person; megalomania involves hate and a need to triumph over paranoid fears. A manic person wants to repair the damage he’s caused, once he recognizes it. He feels guilt. The megalomaniac is indifferent to any damage he caused, because he had a reason for his actions; he is without guilt or compassion, and incapable of even thinking about making reparation.

The relationship between such a megalomaniac disposition and hubris hardly needs spelling out.

Lord David Owen was Labour Foreign Secretary under James Callaghan. He co-founded and went on to lead the Social Democratic Party in Great Britain, and is now a cross-bencher in the Lords. He trained as a medical doctor, and has long been interested in the effect of ill health on heads of government. Lord Owen’s many books include Balkan Odyssey; Time to Declare, his powerful autobiography; and a poetry anthology, Seven Ages.

Lord Owen has studied this problem for many years and is convinced, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill had this illness while in office. He is also convinced that Tony Blair, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney became afflicted with this mental illness at least shortly after 9/11, and probably long before that time.

Some examples to illustrate President George W. Bush’s mental illness, Hubris Syndrome are:

“Mission Accomplished”, a military phrase associated with completing a mission, is in recent years particularly associated with a sign displayed on the USS Abraham Lincoln during a televised address by United States President George W. Bush on May 1, 2003. Bush stated at the time that this was the end to major combat operations in Iraq. While this statement did coincide with an end to the conventional phase of the war, Bush’s assertion — and the sign — became controversial after guerilla warfare in Iraq increased during the Iraqi insurgency. The vast majority of casualties, among both coalition (~96% as of November 2007) and Iraqi combatants, and among Iraqi civilians, have occurred after the speech.

Bush’s walk is like that of a western gunslinger, who swings his arms in a fashion so as to clear the six-shooters strapped to both sides of his hips.

His smile is more like a sneer as he addresses his “subjects” in public.

“My job is a job to make decisions. I’m a decision maker. — if the job description were, what do you do — it’s decision maker.” –George W. Bush, Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

“I’m the decider! My job is a decision-making job, and as a result, I make a lot of decisions.” –George W. Bush, The Decider, Lancaster, Pa., Oct. 3, 2007

“I got a lot of Ph.D.-types and smart people around me who come into the Oval Office and say, ‘Mr. President, here’s what’s on my mind.’ And I listen carefully to their advice. But having gathered the device, I decide, you know, I say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.'” –George W. Bush, Lancaster, Pa., Oct. 3, 2007

“We’re also talking to different finance ministers about how we can send a message to the Iranian government that the free world is not going to tolerate the development of know-how in how to build a weapon, or at least gain the ability to make a weapon.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2007

“We’re kicking ass.” –George W. Bush, on the security situation in Iraq, to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, Sydney, Australia, Sept. 5, 2007

“I’ve got God’s shoulder to cry on. And I cry a lot. I do a lot of crying in this job. I’ll bet I’ve shed more tears than you can count, as president.” –George W. Bush, as quoted by author Robert Draper in Dead Certain

“I’m going to try to see if I can remember as much to make it sound like I’m smart on the subject.” –George W. Bush, answering a question about a possible flu pandemic, Cleveland, July 10, 2007

“You know, I guess I’m like any other political figure: Everybody wants to be loved.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., July 12, 2007

“I’ve heard he’s been called Bush’s poodle. He’s bigger than that.” –George W. Bush, on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as quoted by the Sun newspaper, June 27, 2007

“There’s a lot of blowhards in the political process, you know, a lot of hot-air artists, people who have got something fancy to say.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 17, 2007

“My relationship with this good man is where I’ve been focused, and that’s where my concentration is. And I don’t regret any other aspect of it. And so I — we filled a lot of space together.” –George W. Bush, on British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington, D.C., May 17, 2007

“We’re going to — we’ll be sending a person on the ground there pretty soon to help implement the malaria initiative, and that initiative will mean spreading nets and insecticides throughout the country so that we can see a reduction in death of young children that — a death that we can cure.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Oct. 18, 2007

“I fully understand those who say you can’t win this thing militarily. That’s exactly what the United States military says, that you can’t win this military.” –George W. Bush, on the need for political progress in Iraq, Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2007

“We’re also talking to different finance ministers about how we can send a message to the Iranian government that the free world is not going to tolerate the development of know-how in how to build a weapon, or at least gain the ability to make a weapon.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2007

“I heard somebody say, ‘Where’s (Nelson) Mandela?’ Well, Mandela’s dead. Because Saddam killed all the Mandelas.” –George W. Bush, on the former South African president, who is still very much alive, Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2007

“The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear — I’m a commander guy.” –George W. Bush, who apparently is no longer “The Decider,” Washington, D.C., May 2, 2007

“You know, when I campaigned here in 2000, I said, I want to be a war President. No President wants to be a war President, but I am one.” –George W. Bush, Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 26, 2006

The above quotes come from: http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/blbushisms.htm

It was in drama rather than philosophy that the notion was developed further to explore the patterns of hubristic behavior, its causes and consequences. A hubristic career proceeded along something like the following course. The hero wins glory and acclamation by achieving unwonted success against the odds. The experience then goes to their head: they begin to treat others, mere ordinary mortals, with contempt and disdain and they develop such confidence in their own ability that they begin to think themselves capable of anything. This excessive self-confidence leads them into misinterpreting the reality around them and into making mistakes.

Disillusionment with politicians has grown markedly in recent years and some people will think all politicians are hubristic. But this is not the case with most post-war heads of government in
the USA and the UK. Truman, Attlee, Eisenhower, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Ford, Carter, Callaghan, Reagan, Major and Bush Sr. showed no signs of hubris. Kennedy’s cynicism curbed
any hubris and his mood was affected by the steroids and amphetamines he was being given by his doctors. Any hubris in Eden was short lived and due to his illness, when he was being
given a mixture of amphetamine and Benzedrine. The behavioral symptoms in a head of government which might trigger the diagnosis of hubristic syndrome typically grow in
strength and are represented by more than three or four symptoms from the following tentative list, before any such diagnosis could be contemplated:

• a narcissistic propensity to see the world primarily as an arena in which they can exercise power and seek glory rather than as a place with problems that need approaching in a pragmatic and non-self-referential manner;

• a predisposition to take actions which seem likely to cast
them in a good light – i.e. in order to enhance their image;

• a disproportionate concern with image and presentation;

• a messianic manner of talking about what they are doing and a tendency to exaltation;

• an identification of themselves with the state to the extent that they regard the outlook and interests of the two as identical;

• a tendency to talk of themselves in the third person or using the royal ‘we';

• excessive confidence in their own judgment and contempt for the advice or criticism of others;

• exaggerated self-belief, bordering on a sense of omnipotence, in what they personally can achieve;

• a belief that, rather than being accountable to the mundane court of colleagues, or public opinion, the real court to which they answer is much greater: History or God;

• an unshakeable belief that in that court they will be vindicated;

• restlessness, recklessness and impulsiveness;

• loss of contact with reality; often associated with progressive isolation;

• a tendency to allow their ‘broad vision’, especially their conviction about the moral rectitude of a proposed course of action, to obviate the need to consider other aspects of it, such as its practicality, cost and the possibility of unwanted outcomes;

• a consequent type of incompetence in carrying out a policy, which could be called hubristic incompetence. This is where things go wrong precisely because too much self-confidence has led the leader not to bother worrying about the nuts and bolts of a policy.

It can be allied to an incurious nature. It is to be distinguished from ordinary incompetence, where the necessary detailed work on the complex issues involved is engaged in but mistakes in
decision-making are made nonetheless.

Most syndromes of personality tend to manifest themselves in people by the age of eighteen and stay with them for the rest of their lives. Hubristic syndrome is different in that it should not
be seen as a personality syndrome but as something which manifests itself in leaders only when in power – and usually only after they have been wielding it for some time – and which then
may well abate once power is lost. In that sense it is an illness of position as much as of the person. And the circumstances in which the position is held clearly affect the likelihood that a
leader will succumb to it. The key external factors would seem to be these: holding substantial power; minimal constraint on the leader exercising such personal authority; and the length of
time they stay in power.

An atmosphere of omnipotence can easily grow around any leader, but political leaders are particularly vulnerable, even democratically elected ones.

It is not a condition, usually, which those leaders affected by it bring to office. Rather it appears to develop when heads of government have been in power for a while. Personality traits, though, do seem to make some leaders more susceptible to it than others, and factors to do with the external political situation seem to play a role too.

There is a case for working on the supposition that there is an underlying syndrome in which a combination of signs and features are more likely to appear together than independently, and which may yet be judged by the medical profession as forming a pathological category. I developed this argument in an article for the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, and I hope a debate will now ensue.

Tony Blair and George Bush’s Health

At various times both Tony Blair and George Bush have sought to hide their medical history. We do not know whether any drugs or medication they may have taken in office predisposed them to hubristic syndrome. Secrecy, far from stopping speculation, has encouraged it.

2 Responses to “Bush’s Mental Condition”

  1. 1 keeptonyblairforpm August 9, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Can I suggest that it might just be Dr Owen’s mental condition that should be under question?

    Dr Owen, or Dr Death as he was known by some in his own party(ies), seems to have some grudges eating away at him, at least against Tony Blair. As for his approach to Bush, well, it’s easy to make jokes in this regard.

    But regarding Owen’s approach to Blair, there is some undue over-confidence in Owen. Asked if he thought he would have become Prime Minister instead of Blair, had he stayed in Labour, he (Owen) said, “Oh, there isn’t a doubt about that.”


    Some bitterness here? Just possibly. He could not even bring himself to merge with his Liberal party allies, though the SDP voted for the merger, presumably because David Steele would have been the chosen new leader.


  2. 2 mahadev August 10, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Bush and Hubris:
    Alcoholic he was, as legally documented earlier.
    Attention deficit yes.May be some lack of concentration and lack of attention to detail, clumsiness.Clowning behaviour when it is least expected or when it is socially inappropriate as was seen during his interactions with H.M.the Queen.
    “Hyperactivity not obvious” – may be ‘he has grown out of it/or been treated for the same.
    Yale and Harvard Business school do not prove that he is not dyslexic.
    Narcissicistic…..yes Sir.
    Megalomaniac …stating the obvious.
    Chutzpah, you bet.
    Just the plain damned fact that he held the highest office in the US and the consequences of his actions in Iraq and Iran and the rest of the world should be seen as not those of a dyslexic but a horribly wrong choice that we made in electing and re-electing a basically UNEDUCABLE man as a president.
    As he put it some where,;I don’t read'; how true?
    We should have read him before he rubbed America’s reputation into the dust. It is never too late.
    There are lessons for us for the future.

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