Is Dubya unwell?…

Katharine Mieszkowski writes today in Salon about the various stories that have popped up in the past few weeks about concerns that George W. Bush has something either physically or mentally wrong with him. Anyone who watched the first Presidential Debate was stunned at how disorganized Bush’s thinking and speech patterns were. Apart from the sneering, the scowling and slouching, the man looked like a high school student who’d been called on to give an oral report on a book he hadn’t read. More fuel was stoked on this little fire when people noticed in the final debate this week that the left side of Bush’s face was drooping noticeably and that he appeared to be drooling.

All kinds of theories have been suggested – a stroke, presenile dementia, anxiety, early onset alzheimers and even that The President has fallen off the wagon. Several doctors have written articles suggesting reasons behind their favorite theories. Personally, I’m inclined to think that either Dubya has taken to drinking again (there have been rumors for the last few years that the 9/11/01 attacks led Bush to return to the bottle for solace and relief of stress – and really, could you blame the guy if he did?) or that the stress of the job has led to problems with anxiety.

Last night I watched a broadcast of Oliver Stone’s Nixon starring Anthony Hopkins and it set me to thinking. Richard Nixon’s mental state and health deteriorated rapidly in his last two years in office. Lack of appreciation for his achievements in diplomacy with China and the USSR frustrated him and amplified his lifelong anxieties about how people regarded him personally. He also felt a high degree of guilt regarding his inability to close out US involvement the Vietnam war as quickly as he’d promised when he ran for President in 1968. Stone’s film also suggests that Nixon’s defeat in the 1960 Presidential race against John Kennedy reinforced his feelings of inadequacy and his sense that he would always be compared unfavorably to JFK by history. Nixon’s paranoia and feelings of persecution are well documented in the hundreds of hours of tapes he recorded in the Oval Office (which ended up being his ultimate political undoing) and are corroborated by accounts from those who worked closest with him.

Watching Nixon nudged me into seeing parallels between Nixon and Bush. Dubya has never been the favored Bush son. His younger brother Jeb is daddy’s clear favorite. Nixon saw most of his life as a failure, and one would think that Bush, with so many failed business endeavors behind him likely sees his own life as less than remarkable. Both men reached the pinnacle of political achievement by reaching the US Presidency, and yet circumstances for both men destroyed any chance at leaving a definitive positive mark on the Presidency or on American history. Nixon’s presidency will be forever remembered for Watergate, the Kent State shootings, civil unrest, a polarized society, economic troubles and a war no one wanted. It is highly likely that Bush will go down in history as the President who was in office when America was knocked out of its complacency about the conflict between American global power and the third world by the 9/11/01 attacks, a polarized society, the worst economic troubles seen in the US since the great depression, scandalous behavior by officials in his administration that pandered to the oil industry and a war that no one wanted.

Is it possible that being President has been a huge disappointment to Bush in the way that it was to Nixon? Nixon’s troubles in office made him delusional, vengeful and ultimately physically ill. Nixon liked to drink before becoming President, and his aides have all told stories of his massive alcohol consumption towards the end of his administration and how that seemed to fuel his paranoia and delusions. Nixon came to believe that he’d been cheated. By the time he came to occupy the White House those around him had engineered the authority out of the office. Bush had a serious problem with alcohol use as a young man that he’s been very candid about. Could it be that Bush feels powerless as President with people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld effectively calling all the significant shots in his administration? Might that lead someone to lean on the bottle? Seems logical to me.

Even if Bush isn’t drinking, he may be a very frightened man. Michael Moore tried to make a lot of hay out of Bush’s initial reaction to news of the planes crashing into the WTC on 9/11/01. He devotes significant screen time to footage of George W. staring into space, almost frozen with inaction. That sequence in Fahrenheit 9/11 did nothing for me. I couldn’t help but put myself in Dubya’s shoes. How the hell do you respond to news that previously unimaginable things are happening on your watch? How should you respond when you also know that you really have very little authority to do much of anything. As Nixon might have put it, The Beast is beyond your control and it will respond however it likes. I think that George W. Bush really believed his advisors when they told him that US troops would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq. I think he really believed them when they told him that we’d won and all that was left was a little mopping up on that day when he embarrassed himself by announcing that major operations were over and stood in front of that infamous “Mission: Accomplished” banner on the flight deck of that carrier. What we’re seeing now could very well be the same response we saw to the initial news of the 9/11/01 attacks – fear and anxiety. Fear, because US troops have not been welcomed in any way shape or form by the Iraqis and with each day more soldiers are being killed or maimed in a conflict that is as unpredictable and potentially doomed as the Vietnam war was 40 years ago. Anxiety, because Dubya truly is powerless to do anything about it, and yet his party, his supporters and many Americans expect him to. George W. Bush no more controls “The Beast” than Richard Nixon did.

And if you’re not buying that this President is a troubled man, that something is wrong, have a look at this video, and remember as you watch it, only ten years have elapsed since these clips were taped.

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