Book Review – Bush on the Couch, by Justin Frank


Jim Hightower, the populist Texan author and politico, has often said that he has drawn one conclusion while crisscrossing America seeking to expose the George W. Bush cabal—THESE PEOPLE ARE NUTS! Justin Frank, MD, a Washington- based practicing psychiatrist and colleague, has put George W on his proverbial couch and proven it. Doctor Frank readily admits that he, as do none of us psychoanalysists and therapists, have any way of actually evaluating psychologically any patient without that couch being actual. But then again, if it were, those sessions automatically become privileged and confidential and none of us would ever know about it. So Frank’s disclaimers are well taken.

On the other hand, he as well demonstrates that with his research into the Bush family’s public lives, the president’s public actions and his now well-documented history since childhood, Frank’s insight, diagnosis and denouement are certainly valid. Besides, Frank also admits that psychoanalysis has its limitations, in that we are all Foucaultian to a degree and inbred prejudices play a role. Author Frank does get too detailed on occasion and sounds a bit repetitive, but on the whole, allowing for all that, the readers will be treated to a juicy and sagacious knowledge of what is psychologically behind W’s actions.

Doctor Frank does not stay only with the president as such. He spends some pages getting into his upbringing as a youngster and student at Yale. How mother Barbara was a real ballaboost and ran the Bush household from the getgo—and maybe still does. Frank indicates that George pere was something of a Casper Milquetoast and perhaps, looking at Freudian and Masters teachings, with so absent a father image, can account in a meaningful way how and why George fils has become what he has—a man driven by hedonism, self importance and general inadequacy who seems hell bent on showing his father how macho he can be. It is not a pretty picture of a man who is admittedly the most powerful on earth, with the power to destroy us all.

Frank doesn’t seem to miss a trick. The president’s striking adolescence with his in mouth silver spoon, the family’s handling of the tragic death of the second born daughter Robin who was early on struck down by a cancer and how that affected the family dynamics. We read of Bush’s silly speech patterns, his inability to extemporize, his serious bouts with alcohol and recreation drugs, his acceptance of religion as a mechanism to combat his fears of that inadequacy and how none of these things have ever been overcome. That all spells more and more bad news for all of us.

Frank gets into the defense mechanisms that are in all of us—but to a safe and healthy degree. In the president, his regression, denial and rationalization become manifest in his acting out. Among the many cited examples, there is Bush’s living continually outside the law, on his own elitist island. How he explains away Iranagate, his drug habits while a student, his drunk driving convictions, his constant misrepresentation of the truth (read: liar), his smirks and thoughtlessness (read: those seven minutes of ceiling searching as the Twin Towers were being destroyed and thousands were dying as we were under attack).

Frank ties in many of he president’s patterns of behavior over the years with his actions of today. Robin’s death was 'swept …under the rug' early on and when Bush finally took to the public forum to address the people in the wake of 9/11, he told us to go shopping. Laughable if it were not tragic.

Frank shows more of his credibility as a member of our trade in trying to avoid the trap of making a tacit diagnosis that often is used to codify and categorize a patient and theoretically makes it easier to treat, like those of us who are also in the business of organic medicine. Frank adds that if we need one, the best working diagnosis for the president would be that of a megalomaniac—a person who was 'born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.' That accounts for all of his self-righteousness.

As Frank anecdotally writes, there is the story of the disturbed patient who insisted that he was dead. After making great efforts to logically convince the patient otherwise, the doctor asked him if dead people bleed. No, of course not, was the reply. The doctor then proceeded to stickpin himself and the patient on the finger and drew a drop of blood in each. See, said the doctor, we are bleeding. The patient turned to the therapist and said, 'Well Doc, I guess I was wrong. Dead people do bleed.'

That vignette says it all about George W. Bush. No matter what happens in the coming the coming time in Iraq and elsewhere, we will always be given a seemingly rational excuse and virtuous reason for more policies that are driving the world toward Armageddon. That is why Frank’s final words are the key: 'Our sole treatment option – for his benefit and for ours – is to remove President from office. It up to all of us – Congress, the media, and voters – to do so, before it is too late.' Read Bush on the Couch. You will feel as though you went through a psychiatry residency, but it will have been worth the effort.

Bush on the Couch. Inside The Mind of the President By Justin Frank, MD Regan Publishers, New York 2004

--Don Sloan is assistant editor of Political Affairs.

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