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January 20, 2005

Bush: Unfazed ... or Unhinged?


Why nothing gets him down

by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

"Mr. Bush said there was no need to hold any of his officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the aftermath…The [Washington Post] asked Mr. Bush why no one had been held responsible for wrong information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or mistakes made after the US-led war.

"'Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election,' he replied.
"

- "U.S. Voters 'Endorsed Iraq Policy,'" BBC.com

When I saw the tease for the Fox News story, "Bush Unfazed by Criticism of Iraq WMD Hunt: Find out why the president doesn't let the press get him down," I had to read on:

"[B]ush is also good at not letting the press get the better of him by drawing him into their traps, especially ones set by the White House press corps seeking for him to admit he was wrong about weapons in Iraq."

This "explanation" is Fox-speak, and as usual it disappoints. My curiosity was not satisfied. Why does the president not "let the press get him down"? Because "he's good at not letting the press get the better of him."

I examined the article more closely, but it never answers the tempting question of the story's subtitle. There are, however, a few revealing quotes (emphasis added):

  • "Even though Bush enjoys joking with the media, he does not trust them…."
  • "'We sometimes joke about things that are said about both of us,' Cheney told FOX News."
  • "But with the body count on the rise in Iraq, criticism continued throughout 2004. Vice President Cheney said most of the time, he and Bush learned to shake off the wilting attacks."
  • "'There was sort of a little obsession about, "Let's get the president to admit he made a mistake." And he just wasn't interested in it,' [FOX News contributor and Washington Times reporter Bill] Sammon said."
  • "[Bush] said while he got his hackles up when his father was criticized, he isn't going to let attacks on himself get his dander up."
  • "You know, look, I love my dad a lot. And I didn't like when people said bad things about him. And I'm kind of a feisty guy at times and made it clear I didn't like what they said," [Bush] said. "But I'm in a different position. I'm in a position now where I must set goals and inspire and lead…."
  • Some interesting patterns may be detected in these statements that help us understand the man who'll be inaugurated with record-breaking security today.

    1. Instead of giving us insight into GWB (why he doesn't let the press get him down), the story editorializes about the press and its nefarious methods: "Bush is also good at not letting the press get the better of him by drawing him into their traps." We are given to understand that the press doesn't ask honest questions aimed at getting answers.

    Questions are viewed by Mr. Bush as nothing but traps – "especially ones set by the White House press corps seeking for him to admit he was wrong about weapons in Iraq." The story never questions, nor even notes, this paranoid portrait of a malicious press trying to hurt a beleaguered innocent.

    2. Instead of telling us why Mr. Bush doesn't let the press get him down, this story tells us how. He does it by "shaking if off," by "joking," and by not being "interested." It would seem that Mr. Bush maintains this "joking/shaking-it-off/not interested" stance to defend against "wilting attacks" regarding matters as vital to the American people as this war and its rationale – even in the midst of rising military body counts.

    What do these responses reveal about Mr. Bush? His evasive/uninterested responses to journalists are aggressive acts (not answering or explaining) camouflaged as benign or passive (never admitting that he's angry at being asked, or that he has no intention of providing the information requested). Psychologists call this passive-aggressive behavior.

    Mr. Bush "jokes" in the face of questions and criticism to conceal the negative emotions he experiences whenever he has to face reporters. The joking act has three important advantages. By laughing, he

    a. conceals his irritation, fear, or anger (essential in order to convince others that he has nothing to hide);
    b. makes his refusal to answer appear accidental and unintentional (Lt. Columbo's absent-minded mumbling is similarly amused and distracted, disguising his snooping); and
    c. speaks in code to his good-ol'-boy base by appearing "above it all," untroubled by, and superior to, the supposedly elite, overeducated reporters "trying to trap him."

    3. We see a glimmer of the anger lying just under the surface of the "joking" demeanor when Mr. Bush ominously understates the fact that he "doesn't like it" when people say bad things about his dad, and that he makes his displeasure clear. Oddly but tellingly, he then switches the subject to his power, the ultimate trump card: He's the president, not the lowly journalists who dare to question his dad – or, more importantly, him.

    "Contempt Is the Prerogative of the King"

    The link between contemptuous indifference and power is interesting. To be indifferent is to be in control; a lion is unfazed by a kitten's bite. Yet this is just an act. Nobody – unless psychotic or psychopathic – is unfazed when confronted with serious criticism.

    Pretending to be unfazed can conceal irritation, panic, rage, or the desire for revenge. Revealing these emotions (which "leaked" during the presidential debates) would crack the image of infallibility and calm power that his advisors have worked so hard to create.

    In little-boy language, George W. Bush says it's important for us to know that he's "the president of everybody" … including (especially?) those who didn't vote for him. Power is intoxicating, and unfortunately our president is tipsy, if not drunk, on it. Revising the kindergarten line, "You aren't the boss of me," he asserts his dominance:

    "On the election, Bush said he was puzzled that he received only about 11 percent of the black vote.... 'I did my best to reach out, and I will continue to do so. … It's important for people to know that I'm the president of everybody.'"

    Clearly, Mr. Bush is unfazed much of the time. In a quick Google search, I found 517 Web pages with articles titled, "Bush unfazed…." Here's a sample of the results:

  • Bush unfazed by UK protest plans
  • Bush unfazed by 'loving women' gaffe
  • Bush unfazed by criticism
  • Bush unfazed by falling car rental taxes, Orlando hotel closings
  • Bush unfazed as absence of WMDs confirmed
  • Bush unfazed by criticism, believes WMD search has just begun
  • Bush unfazed by death toll (this blunt title has been hidden by The Herald Sun)
  • Bush unfazed as US toll in Iraq tops 1,000
  • Bush unfazed by spineless pundits, UN
  • In that last article, writer Cal Thomas hails Mr. Bush's unfazed stance, "The president neither retreated nor apologized for the war or his claim that Hussein possessed WMDs." This "no regrets" policy requires the "unfazed" strategy (which likely came from GOP advisors) wherein conscience is banished. GWB's guilt-free indifference has become a fad, adopted by all manner of people – from prime ministers to torturers.

    Though some might consider him a sociopath, our president is unfazed by this. Nothing shatters his calm resolve – not even the endless deaths of American kids sent to rid Iraq of imaginary weapons. Mr. Bush is unfazed by our pleas to honor democratic principles and heed the moral values that Jesus taught. He was unfazed yesterday, he's unfazed today, and he will be unfazed tomorrow, joking even as he's called to account for the damage he's doing to our country. He's so unfazed that you can almost see the steam coming out of his ears.


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    Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting(2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn’t Have to Choose Just One." Visit her website.

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