Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Alcoholic Bush

Greetings Americans!

That's quite the title isn't it? That our President, George W. Bush is an alcoholic. It was skirted around by the press I'll tell you that much. For as much ado that was made about whether or not Clinton inhaled, it pales in comparison to what kind of changes were made to George from the confessed drinking he did for 20 years.

I've maintained since the 2000 election that Bush is a dry drunk. Much of what I've learned about Bush's makeup comes from a book by Justin Frank, Md., titled Bush on the Couch.

From what is available on the Bush family history, it can be surmised that Bush took to drinking to alleviate anxiety. Whatever the reason was, or reasons, he drank for two decades, and has at various times himself described his drinking as heavy, daily, and as an interference with his family life. Pretty much any counselor will say that describes an alcoholic. Bush however denies it, telling the Washington Post that he "didn't have the genuine addiction." And we all know that denial is not just a river in Egypt. And the DUI at age 33 was never considered a red flag as to a problem before this man was elected. Particularly in light of the fact that there is no record of treatment. According to David Frum's book The Right Man, Bush himself told several religious leaders in a White House visit, "You know, I had a drinking problem. Right now I should be in a bar in Texas, not the Oval Office." According to the AA recovery program, it is admitting you are an alcoholic that allows the disease to be treatable, though not curable. According to the Society of Addiction Medicine, they rely less on self determination of alcoholism, instead saying, "alcoholism is characterized by...Impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial [emphasis mine]. And Bush will not admit he is an alcoholic.

In Frum's book, Bush went on to declare that because of prayer he isn't in a bar instead of the Oval Office. So perhaps Bush has stopped drinking, but has not treated his alcoholism. In recovery literature, there are several characteristics of the dry drunk condition that Bush has displayed, including judgmentalism, grandiosity, intolerance, detachment, denial of responsibility, aversion to introspection, and a tendency to over-react.

Take for example Bush's inability to admit he's made a mistake. That's a classic alcoholic symptom of projecting blame and denying responsibility. Take his famous April 2004 press conference admission that he can't think of a single mistake he's made. Now what's the problem with that? Besides just the appearance of arrogance, George has never learned to learn from mistakes. He won't accept responsibility. In the televised debates with John Kerry, a crowd member asked the same question, and Bush changed the subject in his answer by shifting to Kerry's mistakes.

So what becomes the problem? Bush may have stopped drinking, but what replaces it? Well, the old anxieties that were originally there at the beginning come back, with a whole bunch of new ones. So Bush has to develop new methods to deal with his anxiety. So the iron hand of control, contrary to the AA step of surrendering, takes over most aspects of life. Exercise, short meetings, daily Scripture readings, and short office hours are hallmarks of the Bush way of handling the job of the most important President on the planet. Not to mention the amount of time he has spent on vacation. If he needs that much time away, is he really qualified to do the job?

I find it hard to imagine that Rove and the rest aren't aware of Bush's problem. There has been some speculation that Bush is on fairly heavy medication to control his anxiety. In public he has at times made slow, and overly deliberate speech the way an alcoholic does to not sound drunk. So much so that Tom Shales of the Washington Post has written that "the President may have been ever so slightly medicated." Also, there are some of the things Bush says. Alcoholics, in an attempt to bolster their denial of responsibility, fill in memory gaps with what amounts to falsehoods. For example, on April 14, 2003, Bush stood next to Kofi Annan and declared that America had given Hussein a chance to allow the inspectors in, and Hussein wouldn't take it. The truth was that Hussein admitted the inspectors and Bush thought they were ineffective and was against them continuing their work. Another common aspect of drinkers is repeating certain words and phrases, which give the illusion of control. This can be seen in the oft cited number of times that Bush uses the words freedom, democracy, or terrorist, in his State of the Union and inaugural speeches.

My guess is that Bush has stayed off the bottle by substituting it for pills. He won't seek help, that much is known by his unchanged behavior. But there remains the question as to whether he will relpase. That possibility looms large. After all, his excuse for when he was busted for lying about his DUI was he did it for his children. It's not too hard to imagine him excusing a binge as "for his country." A larger question remains though as to what kind of damage was done by the drinking? Alcohol is poison to the brain, and especially two decades worth of it. According to Frank's book, the University of California/San Francisco Medical Center did some research and discovered that heavy drinkers in a sample were "significantly impaired on measures of working memory, processing speed, attention, executive function, and balance." Recovery can occur with sobriety, the rule of thumb being 2 to 3 years of recovery for every year spent drinking, and that recovery is a recovery in a qualified treatment program, not a personal denial of a problem.

So America has a reason to question the qualifications of Bush to be President. His noted behaviors as others gives speeches, his own struggle to remain focused in his own talks, give rise to that question. His inability to make sense of complex issues and briefings his job requires make him a detriment to the national security far more than Cindy Sheehan, to be sure.

At the same time, we indict ourselves as enablers of this problem by not saying anything, as most members of alcoholic families don't. His girls ended up with addiction problems, which indicates it was in one of the parents and if not in both, than enabled by the other. In the same fashion, the media, and the country, all jumping to the "crisis" the alcoholic manufactures to create a unity, continue to allow the problem to get worse. The cost will be much worse than just losing a president.


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