Bush's Post-Election Session With His Shrink
Bush's Post-Election Session With His Shrink
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers
The last time we met, you were so upset with me I thought I might be headed to Guatanamo. But those of us in the psychiatric profession are used to momentary rages from clients when they're dealing with highly sensitive topics. So why did you ask to see me again?
Dick and Laura and Karl said I was falling apart and needed help in dealing with all these areas that are crashing in on me right now. Like in this recurring dream, or rather nightmare, I've been having for the past week.
What made it a nightmare? Describe it, if you can.
There was more but here's what I remember. I'm in the middle of a large white circle in a cleared field. Everytime I move outside the circle, an arrow pierces a different part of my body. I can't see who's shooting the arrows, but I can hear them whispering and laughing. Eventually, I fall to the ground, but the arrows keep coming and I find myself unable to move, arrows having gone through my body and sticking in the earth. I feel like a butterfly stuck with pins. That's when I wake up covered in sweat.
Do any of these symbols resonate with you at all?
I feel safe only in the White House these days -- maybe that's the white circle, the Oval Office. I find that I am nervous and anxious anytime I go on trips, feeling that I'm in danger, either politically or physically from those opposed to my policies. That part is easy to figure out. I have no idea what the arrows are, or what the butterfly means.
Well, you did just go through an election campaign, and critics were taking political pot shots at you daily, aiming arrows at you and your party. And they did pin you guys down, so to speak. I like the butterfly image.
Why? You think it's positive, being pinned down for other people to gawk at?
A butterfly is a transformational insect. Starting off as one thing, ending up as another. Maybe your dream is suggesting that you will, or perhaps need to, go through a metamorphosis leading to a new form of you.
Easy for you to say. You're not the one pinned to the board.
BALLOTS AND THE BOTTLE
Granted. But let's talk some about what in real life you feel is "crashing in" on you.
Just pick up the newspaper, doc! We got creamed in the election. The results merely verified the insider polls we were reading prior to November 7. I was a pretty much a basket case for many weeks before that, since it was clear I was going to get smacked down hard by the electorate. We're still totally confidential, right?
Yes, of course -- unless you are considering doing physical harm to yourself or others.
Does Iran count? That's just a joke, doc. (pause) No, I wanted to be sure about confidentiality because -- well, because, I've been led to the bottle again.
I appreciate your honesty. I must say that I'm not surprised; under great pressure, real or considered backsliding is not uncommon. However, in a certain sense, that's merely another symptom of your reaching out for help. You realize you have some serious problems. And I'm glad you're here, even if you think me too intrusive at times.
You ARE too intrusive, damn it! It's not easy for me to come here, you know. I'm a great believer in the triumphal power of the will, how one can overcome anything if you're strong enough. (pause) But now I'm wavering. I'm not so sure I can do it.
And what would "it" be?
AVOIDING SIGNS OF WEAKNESS
Deal with being seen as a "loser," for one. That's the story of my life, what everybody thought of me -- the guy who always needed to be helped out and propped up by his parents and their powerful friends. (pause) After the midterm election, I had to debase myself both by calling in some of my father's associates to help me out on Iraq and by "cozying up" to the Democratic leaders. That was a sign of weakness, and if I hate anything, it's being perceived as weak. I'm a go-getter kind of guy, full of confidence, who makes things happen because I can will them to happen -- and then can lead or cajole or frighten others into jumping on board.
It's not suprising that these old feelings are coming up again now. After all, the election results were pretty devastating to your party.
Have you seen my personal poll numbers recently? I'm barely out of the 20s range. People hate me.
It might not be you per se that they're reacting to, but to some of your policies. Policies can be changed.
But, damn it, my policies are the right ones. The voters just don't see that, don't see what we're really doing and why we're doing it, they don't have the goddamn patience to let those policies work. The liberal press has the country all stirred up and so, since voters can't take it out on me via impeachment, they go after our party. The Republicans got whupped pretty good -- Karl really blew it badly, thinking we could just re-run the strategy from 2000 and 2004. Clearly, the voters were sending me a message.
THE AVOIDANCE OF RESPONSIBILITY
Do you realize what you've done in that explanation? You've avoided considering that maybe your policies might possibly have been wrong, and shifted the blame of the loss onto everybody else but yourself: the easily-led voters, the "liberal media," the campaign strategists, and so on. In order to move on in your final two years in office more assertively and successfully, you've got to accept some share of the responsibility here -- not just mouthing the words but really accepting them into the essence of who you are: a human being who occasionally, along with the rest of us, makes mistakes, sometimes huge ones. And is big enough to admit them, correct them and power on through. You seem to be moving in that direction now with how you're relating to Democrat Party leaders.
I know I have to "humble" myself and talk the talk with them, at least for public consumption, about "cooperation" and "bi-partisanship." I understand the politics of the situation. But I'm telling you that it gnaws at my core to do that. I vowed never to be a "loser" again.
If you want that to be true, then it would seem that you have to come up with policies that will be popular, that will be "winners."
Are you with the rest of them, saying I've got to "move toward the center" and call it quits in Iraq while we're just starting to see some evidence of success?
I'm not proposing anything; that's not my job. I'm trying to mirror what you're telling me. The way you've operated until now, you say, seems no longer to be working. Voters want the U.S. to get out of Iraq and for Republicans and Democrats in Congress to work together to solve the country's many problems. Continuing what is no longer working doesn't seem to make much sense, either politically or personally, since in both ways you say you're in pretty bad shape. The logical alternative therefore is to make alterations, even if you don't want to and even if they're just adjustments in political tactics, so that your presidency -- which as a good Republican Pioneer, I've supported -- will end on a positive legacy.
But what you're suggesting is that I have to admit that my major initiatives were failures, that I'm a failure. I still believe that we can win in Iraq, at least win enough so that we can withdraw troops with honor, not tuck our tail between our legs and skedaddle out of there, the effect of which would be to turn over Iraq to the Iranian mullahs and the Al Qaida terrorists.
COMING OUT A "WINNER"
Well, then, you'll just have to develop a plan, in coordination with the new Democrat majority, that permits you to do that and come out looking like a winner.
Easier said than done. The Democrats don't want me to look good; this is about 2008, for chrissakes!
Which could be your opening to success, since the Democrats have to come out looking like winners on Iraq as well. With the incentive to win from both camps, that should open the door to compromise.
Jim Baker's Iraq Study Group will present some alternatives, but most of them are variations of my delay-strategy, try to stay another couple of years before the Iraqi government and security forces can take over on their own. I don't think the Democrats will buy it. They want to start pulling out some troops in the next few months.
And there's no middle-ground?
I guess I could make a feint move. Send a few thousand troops home, make it seem like it's a down-payment on a larger withdrawal down the line. Then make it through the 2008 election somehow, and go back to our original strategy after the Republicans win, yes?
Again, you're thinking P.R. spin can pull it off for you, rather than re-examinging your questionable policies, maybe even reconsidering the war itself. Besides, you don't sound very convincing, or even convinced. What are the negatives with your plan?
IRAQ IS ONE BIG S.N.A.F.U.
As I'm finally having to admit, there may be no way ever for the Iraqi forces to come together. The Iraqi security police, for example, are riddled with insurgent agents and militia fighters. The situation really is FUBAR, at least right now. If we were to bring in 10,000 or so more trooops, we might be able to control the situation enough to make something good happen. But it's a gamble. Such escalation of troop strength easily could turn into even more of a Vietnam quagmire.
And the positives?
If I can get the Democrats to agree to some sort of compromise that keeps our troops there without any timetable, or if they'll agree to my sending more U.S. soldiers there 'temporarily' to close down the insurgent forces in Baghdad, then my ass is covered. If I go down, the Dems go down with me, and we're a wash for 2008.
Again, you don't sound convinced or convincing.
Why should I be? We're painted into a corner here on Iraq, and on domestic issues as well, with the victorious Democrats moving to dilute or eliminate all our muscular attempts to win the War on Terror. They want to repeal much of the Patriot Act, take away my right to decide who should be tortured and eavesdropped on, which Americans should be arrested and sent off to detention centers, which foreigners should be 'rendered' abroad for harsh interrogations, when I should declare martial law, and so on. Those are our most effective weapons in the War on Terror -- and, between you and me, for tamping down dissent at home. "Watch what you say" -- I love that line.
So, what will you do?
THE BARE-KNUCKLES OPTION
I've got Karl and my other advisers working on that as we speak. Right now, given what happened on Election Day, we're making nicey-nicey, but eventually the gloves will come off and it'll be bare-knuckles time again. I can't let the Democrats pass anything meaningful. I can give them the minimum-wage hike, as long as they stay away from repealing the tax cuts to our friends, that sort of thing. Iraq will have to be a special case, as that was going to be my legacy, using Iraq as a pivot-for-victory in the Middle East. I won't give that one up easily.
Sounds to me like you have a lot of internal struggling to do, and that you're at least considering doing it so you can earn your place in history as a great president who made a difference. I've always believed that you can do it.
You don't have to butter me up; I'm not really going to send you to Gitmo. Actually, I like it better when you challenge me, even when you make me angry.
If that's really what you feel, then I will encourage you to save your reputation by putting the country ahead of your worries about being a "loser." There's no way you can lose if the people win and if they feel that you helped them get there.
I'm not promising anything. Only that I'll take a good, hard look at the situation, and see where I can compromise and where I can't and won't. Even if it means impeachment, I've got to stay true to my core principles with regard to Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, and our tax cuts. At least as much as I'm able to.
Bernard Weiner, a poet and playwright and Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in Washington and California, worked as a writer-editor for the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers ( www.crisispapers.org). To comment crisispapers @ comcastl.net .
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 11/14/06.
Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner