With every passing week, President Bush marches deeper and deeper into a world of his own making. His August move to Crawford and his refusal/inability to meet with Cindy Sheehan are only the latest steps in that long retreat from the real world. Central to Bush's world is an iron will which demands that external reality be changed to conform to his personal view of how things are.
Starting with his June 28th speech to the nation, insisting that he was right to invade Iraq unprovoked, Bush continues to hold fast to his familiar phrases through the tragic London bombings, the accusations swirling around Karl Rove, the wave of deaths in the first week of August, into the persistent challenge posed by families camped outside his prairie fortress that he personally explain to them why their sons had to die.
June 28th will be remembered as the "turning point" in America's perception of Bush's motives for the war in Iraq. August 15 will be remembered as the "tipping point" in America's perception of Bush's humanity. For on that day he became a Marie Antoinette clone -- using his own version of "Let them eat cake" -- when he said of his choosing strenuous exercise over talking to Cindy Sheehan, "I have to get on with my life."
Leading Republicans, such as Senator Chuck Hagel, have already found fraudulence in the party line, claiming that President Bush and his cheerleaders were "disconnected from reality." On August 3 he continued to offer nothing more than more of the same, prompting Sheehan to go to Crawford the following Saturday. He keeps saying our world is safer while his world continues to shrink. Now columnist Frank Rich writes "Someone tell the President the war's over."
As a psychoanalyst who has been studying Bush's words and behavior in hopes of better understanding his mind, I'm heartened that so many critics have drawn the nation's attention to Bush's need to repeat points and phrases -- even after their inaccuracy has been established. Now critics see clearly his distaste for having to meet with the people whose lives he has forever changed.
But recognition only raises the deeper question: why, in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, does Bush persist in this way? How does it help him to continue repeating himself to a nation that increasingly believes he is lying on several fronts? How does his refusal to meet with Cindy Sheehan help him?
There is a two-part answer to this question: First, as far as Bush is concerned, he is telling the truth; as Madeleine Albright recently said to Columbia Magazine: "the most serious problem is that George Bush now believes what he says." Like many of my hospitalized patients, Bush has created a vast, detailed but vague delusional system he feels compelled to maintain at all costs. This system helps him manage the terrifying anxiety that threatens to make his already endangered inner world more chaotic.
The second answer is made clear by his reaction to Cindy Sheehan: he believes his lies because he feels his survival depends on it. He cannot help her mourn; he cannot take responsibility for his destructiveness. If he could he would. His inner need to be right would not just be modified; his entire internal mental structure would be shattered.
Psychoanalytic theory suggests that Bush's true enemy is an aspect of himself -- the overwhelming anxiety he works so hard to manage. For Bush, lying remains a central defense mechanism in managing his fears; he lies foremost to himself, altering his perception of external or internal reality to fulfill his psychic need to maintain order. His anxiety is so great that he cannot shift his thinking to account for new information --especially the fact that patriotic families of patriotic soldiers demand that he speak with them.
Taking responsibility has always been hard for George W. Bush. And taking responsibility for inflicting harm on others, a major step in the development of maturity, is a step President Bush has yet to make. Instead, he persists in lying to himself, surrounding himself with people who agree with him. And now he is not safe even inside his own closed circle.