Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush Derangement Sydrome

W is an odd post-modern creature, a man without qualities – in the positive sense. Except in the perfervid fantasies of his worshippers he never seems to have excelled at anything. His fans cannot point to any athletic prowess, military honors, business acumen, artistic accomplishment, charitable works, principled stands or even pithy sayings. His only qualifications to elected office are name-recognition and blandly standard good looks. He’s a cipher around which his corporate handlers have spun a myth, keeping the real W, insulated, medicated, pre-scripted, fed his lines by hidden ear-piece but above all, far from public view, lest he unsettle the less credulous believers. All this seems to make him ideal as locus or vanishing point for a certain sort of mythopoetic projection. Just as it takes an artist with some talent to create a completely unredeemed botch, it takes a citizen with some intelligence, or at least lots of book-learnin’ to foist this on readers:

“Bush has been called a liar, a stupid oaf incapable of logical thought, an incurious nonintellectual who cannot ask a question much less answer one, a reckless Texas cowboy, a war-monger, a right-wing religious fanatic, a closet racist and overt homophobe, and, worst of all, a swaggering man's man who is completely comfortable in his own masculine skin.

Using our neurological model, GW is a total person, a well-rounded, warm, empathic, compassionate, sentimental, masculine, daddy-type figure who wears his feelings on his shirt sleeve. He has a personality and a very nice one at that. His neurons are firing across all four of our theoretical levels of the brain. OK, he doesn't spend a surfeit of his time at left hemisphere level IV generating abstract ideas, but he readily understands the abstractions of others and incorporates the best ideas into his own cognitive system. When he moves up to level IV, it is usually to ponder matters relating to his very complete and rich system of moral and religious values.”

The writer, a psychologist, here brings all the authoritative sounding jargon he can muster to the aid of his deep denial. He's writing for a minimally literate audience here, and so is clearly reaching to dazzle with high-toned bullshit, but alas, giving rich evidence that he himself is deeply invested in his proposition. Why else the odd procedure. He offers a pretty good common-language critique of W, ('liar, stupid oaf, etc.') as if hoping to immunize his darling to the truth with gradual doses. But the author may self-disclose more than he meant to when he makes that very weird, hyperventilating, meant-to-be-ironic twist at the end, adding tot he charges that thing libruls hate most, the "swaggering man's man who is completely comfortable in his own masculine skin." Bear in mind that he's speaking about W, the draft-dodger, not a doer of deeds but a leader of cheers.

W, of course, loves such talk, about his swagger and macho to the point of desperation, and if nobody else will do it, he'll brag on himself, as in his convention speech, "Some people say that I have a swagger. In Texas, we call it 'walking.'" To people actually acquainted with men of comfortable grace, W walking looks invariably like he's got a pantload, not like a man's man. Within cordons of armed secret service warriors he can indeed talk the talk ( "Bring it on!"), but nobody who's seen W's interminable Pet-Goat Moment can suppose that he does in fact, walk the walk.

It is true that W does, at times, seem comfortable in his own skin. Those times are exclusively when all around him are kissing his ass. If you've ever had even as much power as, say, an assistant professor, you know that's a pretty comfortable skin to be in, and so doesn't prove anything. The test of masculine self-possession comes under pressure or attack, and when W is challenged even slightly he grows a lot less comfortable, getting petulant, incoherent, visibly anxious, and often all of these in fluctuating little spasms. He's been know to break out in boils when under stress.

When the psychologist launches into his "neurological model" of W, he pretty much parts company of W with the known universe, and his unsubstantiated (though "expert" sounding) argument really just amounts to an "Is not" rejoinder to the evil suspicions of skeptics. But this is typical of the Bush fan. The hardest of that hard core are those who tend to believe in the Biblical inerrancy, the NRA philosophy, and Fox news, those who care nothing for Post-Enlightenment approaches to Truth. They're not long on deconstruction, and not much on the evidence of their own eyes and ears either. Authority figures speak, and they believe. This being the case, it's especially worth considering the author's most daring assertion about W here, that "When he moves up to level IV [cognition], it is usually to ponder matters relating to his very complete and rich system of moral and religious values.” I will return to this.


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