Is George W. a "Dry Drunk"?

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tags: George W. Bush, alcoholism

Katherine van Wormer, Professor of Social Work at the University of Northern Iowa, is co-author of Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective (2002).

Dry drunk is a slang term used by members and supporters of Alcoholics Anonymous and substance abuse counselors to describe the recovering alcoholic who is no longer drinking, one who is dry, but whose thinking is clouded. Such an individual is said to be dry but not truly sober. Such an individual tends to go to extremes.

It was when I started noticing the extreme language that colored President Bush's speeches that I began to wonder. First there were the terms--" crusade" and"infinite justice" that were later withdrawn. Next came"evildoers,""axis of evil," and"regime change," terms that have almost become clichés in the mass media.

Something about the polarized thinking and the obsessive repetition reminded me of many of the recovering alcoholics/addicts I had treated.

Having worked with recovering alcoholics for years, I flinched at the single-mindedness and ego- and ethnocentricity in the president's speeches. (My husband likened his phraseology to the gardener character played by Peter Sellers in the movie, Being There). Since words are the tools, the representations, of thought, I wondered what Bush's choice of words said about where he was coming from. Or where we would be going.

First, in this essay, we will look at the characteristics of the so-called"dry drunk"; then we will see if they apply to this individual, our president; and then we will review his drinking history for the record.

What is the dry drunk syndrome?"Dry drunk" traits consist of:

Exaggerated self-importance and pomposity
Grandiose behavior
A rigid, judgmental outlook
Childish behavior
Irresponsible behavior
Irrational rationalization
Projection Overreaction

Clearly, George W. Bush has all these traits except exaggerated self-importance. He may be pompous, especially with regard to international dealings, but his actual importance hardly can be exaggerated. His power, in fact, is such that if he collapses into paranoia, a large part of the world will collapse with him. Unfortunately, there are some indications of paranoia in statements such as the following:"We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends." The trait of projection is evidenced here as well, projection of the fact that we are ready to attack another nation which may not be so inclined.

Bush's rigid, judgmental outlook comes across in virtually all his speeches. To fight evil, Bush is ready to take on the world, in almost a Biblical sense. Consider his statement with reference to Israel:"Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. I think moral clarity is important... this is evil versus good."

Bush's tendency to dichotomize reality is not on the Internet list above, but it should be, as this tendency to polarize is symptomatic of the classic addictive thinking pattern. I describe this thinking distortion in Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective as either/or reasoning--"either you are with us or against us." Oddly, Bush used those very words in his dealings with other nations. All-or-nothing thinking is a related mode of thinking commonly found in newly recovering alcoholics/addicts.

Such a world view traps people in a pattern of destructive behavior.

Obsessive thought patterns are also pronounced in persons prone to addiction. There are organic reasons for this due to brain chemistry irregularities; messages in one part of the brain become stuck there. This leads to maddening repetition of thoughts. President Bush seems unduly focused on getting revenge on Saddam Hussein ("he tried to kill my Dad") leading the country and the world into war, accordingly.

Grandiosity enters the picture as well. What Bush is proposing to Congress is not the right to attack one country but a total shift in military policy.

America would now have the right to take military action before the adversary even has the capacity to attack. This is in violation, of course, of international law as well as national precedent. How to explain this grandiose request? Jane Bryant Quinn provides the most commonly offered explanation in a recent Newsweek editorial,"Iraq: It's the Oil, Stupid." Many other opponents of the Bush doctrine similarly seek a rational motive behind the obsession over first, the war on terror and now, Iraq. I believe the explanation goes deeper than oil, that Bush's logic is being given too much credit; I believe his obsession is far more visceral.

One day a peace protester in Portland held up the sign,"Drunk on Power." This, I believe, is closer to the truth. The drive for power can be an unquenchable thirst, addictive in itself.

Senator William Fulbright, in his popular bestseller of the 1960s, The Arrogance of Power, masterfully described the essence of power-hungry politics as the pursuit of power; this he conceived as an end in itself."The causes and consequences of war may have more to do with pathology than with politics," he wrote,"more to do with irrational pressures of pride and pain than with rational calculation of advantage and profit."

Another"dry drunk" trait is impatience. Bush is far from a patient man.

"If we wait for threats to fully materialize," he said in a speech he gave at West Point,"we will have waited too long." Significantly, Bush only waited for the United Nations and for Congress to take up the matter of Iraq's disarmament with extreme reluctance.

Alan Bisbort argues that Bush possesses the characteristics of the"dry drunk" in terms of: his incoherence while speaking extemporaneously; his irritability with anyone (for example, Germany's Schröder) who dares disagree with him; and his dangerous obsessing about only one thing (Iraq) to the exclusion of all other things.

In short, George W. Bush seems to possess the traits characteristic of addictive persons who still have the thought patterns that accompany substance abuse. If we consult the latest scientific findings, we will discover that scientists can now observe changes that occur in the brain as a result of heavy alcohol and other drug abuse. Some of these changes may be permanent. Except in extreme cases, however, these cognitive impairments would not be obvious to most observers.

To reach any conclusions we need of course to know Bush's personal history relevant to drinking/drug use. To this end I consulted several biographies.

Yes, there was much drunkenness, years of binge drinking starting in college, at least one conviction for DUI in 1976 in Maine, and one arrest before that for a drunken episode involving theft of a Christmas wreath. According to J.D. Hatfield's book, Fortunate Son, Bush later explained:"[A]lcohol began to compete with my energies....I'd lose focus." Although he once said he couldn't remember a day he hadn't had a drink, he added that he didn't believe he was" clinically alcoholic." Even his father, who had known for years that his son had a serious drinking problem, publicly proclaimed:"He was never an alcoholic. It's just he knows he can't hold his liquor."

Bush drank heavily for over 20 years until he made the decision to abstain at age 40. About this time he became a"born again Christian," going as usual from one extreme to the other. During an Oprah interview, Bush acknowledged that his wife had told him he needed to think about what he was doing. When asked in another interview about his reported drug use, he answered honestly,"I'm not going to talk about what I did 20 to 30 years ago."

That there might be a tendency toward addiction in Bush's family is indicated in the recent arrests or criticism of his daughters for underage drinking and his niece for cocaine possession. Bush, of course, deserves credit for his realization that he can't drink moderately, and his decision today to abstain. The fact that he doesn't drink moderately, may be suggestive of an inability to handle alcohol.

In any case, Bush has clearly gotten his life in order and is in good physical condition, careful to exercise and rest when he needs to do so. The fact that some residual effects from his earlier substance abuse, however slight, might cloud the U.S. president's thinking and judgment is frightening, however, in the context of the current global situation.

One final consideration that might come into play in the foreign policy realm relates to Bush's history relevant to his father. The Bush biography reveals the story of a boy named for his father, sent to the exclusive private school in the East where his father's reputation as star athlete and later war hero were still remembered. The younger George's achievements were dwarfed in the school's memory of his father.

Athletically he could not achieve his father's laurels, being smaller and perhaps less strong. His drinking bouts and lack of intellectual gifts held him back as well. He was popular and well liked, however. His military record was mediocre as compared to his father's as well. Bush entered the Texas National Guard. What he did there remains largely a mystery. There are reports of a lot of barhopping during this period.

It would be only natural that Bush would want to prove himself today, that he would feel somewhat uncomfortable following, as before, in his father's footsteps. I mention these things because when you follow his speeches, Bush seems bent on a personal crusade. One motive is to avenge his father. Another seems to be to prove himself to his father. In fact, Bush seems to be trying somehow to achieve what his father failed to do - - to finish the job of the Gulf War, to get the"evildoer" Saddam.

To summarize, George W. Bush manifests all the classic patterns of what alcoholics in recovery call"the dry drunk." His behavior is consistent with barely noticeable but meaningful brain damage brought on by years of heavy drinking and possible cocaine use. All the classic patterns of addictive thinking that are spelled out in my book are here: the tendency to go to extremes (leading America into a massive $100 billion strike-first war); a"kill or be killed mentality"; the tunnel vision;"I" as opposed to"we" thinking; the black and white polarized thought processes (good versus evil, all or nothing thinking); his drive to finish his father's battles is of no small significance, psychologically.

If the public (and politicians) could only see what Fulbright noted as"the pathology in the politics." One day, perhaps, they will.

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jason ssg - 12/16/2006

"every recount of the Florida vote showed that President Bush would have still won."

Haha! That's false.

Of 7 recounts, Bush would have won 3. And that isn't including the Buchanan factor in the miscounting.

Of course- who the heck is still arguing this? Bush served two terms: was elected once and appointed once. Simple as that. Now deal with what's gone on since...

Warren Neal - 11/16/2003

Thank you so much for having the courage to publish the truth about our currently appointed President. Perhaps it is a restructuring of the good in popular election of a leader. Could it be that the wisdom of the people did indeed see the porblem in a different plane?

scheffer - 11/7/2003

Oh, poo poo.
Marianna Scheffer

Clair Bloom - 8/3/2003

Bush won and Gore lost? Not without the help of the conservatives in the Supreme Court who handed the election to this empty-headed empty suit.

Violeta - 5/28/2003

Living with a practicing drunk, I noticed a lot of unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns that the prez and my dear drunk have in common.
The lack of forethought for the sake of immediate gratification is one; no American will be able to travel abroad as freely as we used to. We're all stuck in the prez' black and white world now.
It would seem to me like getting our own house in order would be the more important than creating havoc thoughout the world, our schools are cutting programs. Many of the arts, music and sports programs that become scholorships for low-income students are gone with no help from the White House. But, hey, when you're a drunk, you don't need any education, you know everything already...
Just a thought.

Stephen Kriz - 5/22/2003


You must have been in the bag when you wrote this nonsense, Earl - "the president has acted in a very principled manner and that some of the acts and statements she criticizes are the acts and statements of a principled mind and a principled man..."

Preemptively attacking two sovereign countries is "principled"?
Lying about Iraq having WMDs is "principled"?
Gutting environmental laws to reward campaign contributors is "principled"?
Having a company that is paying the Veep a million dollars a year
get a lucrative, no-bid contract in post-war Iraq is "principled"?
Flying onto an aircraft carrier to use the footage for a political campaign commercial is "principled"?
Rewarding campaign contributors by allowing them to pilot a U.S. submarine that goes awry and kills innocent Japanese schoolchildren is "principled"?

Earl, get real. This is the most corrupt, dishonest, unprincipled bunch of fascist pirates to ever dishonor the U.S. Constitution. The list above is not even close to being comprehensive. George W. Bush is a low-life, drug and alcohol-addled, lazy, spoiled rich kid who has never done an honest day's work in his miserable life. Open your eyes, you fool.

Kimberly Barnes - 5/20/2003

I must be naive. I thought this would really be about famous dry drunks (in history, even--imagine my innocence!). What I found was a lackluster attack on what, I can only assume, the writer perceives to be the left. If this is the mentality of those who post on this site than I am sorely disappointed. And, by the way, to the writer: I'm not exactly sure why you're so threatened but that is how you are coming off.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/19/2003

'Never wrote anything like that, it was the Matrix movies and I affirmed the films' value, not Casablanca, and Mr. Markell, alas, is a very inattentive reader, like most right-wing zealots seem to be. God help us all....

Elia Markell - 5/19/2003

If I had a penny for every time Mr. Lekei calls someone "childish, immature and uninformed" without informing us of anything, or every time he complains of others' snobbery (while at the same time sniffing about how he finds Casablanca's "'philosophical' message tendentious"!), Id be rich enough to actually join the right-wing conspiracy. Don't I wish.

NYGuy - 5/18/2003

KW's final comment says it all.

If the public (and politicians) could only see what Fulbright noted as "the pathology in the politics." One day, perhaps, they will."

In my opinion this was not an honest critique based on true science but a cute way of "Bush basing". It is similiar in many ways to what others have done on this link. They start with some simplistic idea to base their arguement on and then go on with their "Bush basing". Transparent and an insult to all the readers on this site. There is no objection to putting ones view forward, but don't try to conceal it as a legimately based research effort. Using distant diagnosis, it my opinion that KW must be proud of what she has presented. But, as has been seen on this thread, no one else does.

Fred Ferrell - 5/18/2003

I am not a regular consumer of alcohol and don't associate much with people who are, but van Wormer's analysis has the ring of truth to it. The great multitude of nearly unanimously denunciatory comments here do raise valid objections to her "speculating", "theorizing" and "psycho-babbling". HOWEVER, the same criticisms could well also be levied against Ken Starr's investigation of Bill Clinton's sex life. Such objections do NOT prove that Clinton was an honest, faithful and non-sleazy husband and president, nor so they constitute a viable argument that George W. Bush's decades of prior alcoholism have not taken a mental and psychological toll on him. The difference between van Wormer and Starr is that she has not been given a multi-million dollar budget to go fishing for slime, and the obsessive attention of half the U.S Congress.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/18/2003

Hah! Gotta rise outta ya!

I stand by my assessments. As for Hollywood, well, read what I wrote more closely. On economic assessments, it ain't over 'til the Fat Lady sings. I spent the 90s telling people the dot-com boom, 30,000 dow, and all, were going to come a cropper. I was right. I think I'm right about what lies ahead, too. But we'll see.

As for neo-fascism, here in St. Louis pre-emptive raids are being conducted by the police on people who have arrived to demonstrate against a biotech conference and charges filed on unrelated and trumped-up charges against them. A local journalist, waiting for a bus, holding laptop and backpack, was busted by the cops because, he was told, he "fit the profile of a demonstrator." A student photographing one of these "free speech zones" set up to isolate The Twit in Chief from opposition on a recent visit was roughed up by the cops and his camera taken. A group of local fencers, bouting in a park they have met in for years, were harrassed by an armed city park ranger who demanded a permit and when confronted said he wasn't sure "what you have aren't weapons." Small and not outrageous by right-wing standards, but such petty episodes are accumulating.

I have benefit of class and race to have direct experience or first-hand knowlege only of the list above; what is happening to non-white, poor, and "Mediterranean"-looking or -named people is more extreme; currently, a low-intensity war is being fought in North St. Louis between the police and kids in one of the most bombed-out residential areas in the US.

This in a city with a crumbling infrastructure, inadequate pot-hole covered roads and lousy public transportation, collapsing public schools, a public health crisis that includes an infant mortality rate of about 13 per 1000, and persistent efforts by corporate interests (including friends of George) to milk dwindling public resources for subsidies.

The State of Missouri is in a fiscal crisis almost as bad as that of the Depression years, yet Bush and crew won't even adequately fund "homeland security" (though they'll use the department to track down Democratic Texas state legislators), much less stop waving the colors that don't run for Jerry Bruckheiserian militaristic spectacle and attend to a just and equitable public policy. The range of discourse in our self-policing media has become so narrow it's surreal. If someone gave me the money and 00 clearance, I'd track down Osama myself and "neutralize" him for handing an opportunistic, shallow bunch of ideologues and assorted other overprivileged creeps a way to bail out of a failing and illegitimate presidential trajectory.

But all that's left--since we have no public sphere--is to tweak you guys. It amazes me that a regime that is dominated by faux Straussians who're supposed to admire classical public virtue subverts the very idea of a society in which we share public discussion in common and take moral responsibility for it, not use Limbaugh-like blowhard sarcasm and sneering, or who push for war abroad and "warrior politics" even though avoiding service themselves, and--perhaps worst of all--eschew the classical ideal of the city as a place that allows every citizen to achieve "arete" (excellence, not just consumption), and "metechei tes poleos" (share in the common life of the city).

Only by collective public debate for which each speaker takes moral responsibility for his utterances can we achieve the actual Straussian ideal of the city--or nation--as a center for moral instruction. The US right has betrayed all that despite its "intellectuals'" advocacy of notions they barely comprehend and exploit. All that is left is to thumb our noses at them and the grunt right-wingers who plague threads like this, return contempt with contempt, and turn your own methods against you. It is still not too late to stop the slide into a homegrown authoritarianism, and I have decided to draw the line against you people. I am not alone, and our numbers will grow.

The irrationality of your response to me, while not as nutty as most, is typical. And you have not convinced me that Bill Clinton is not morally preferable to a slacker with bucks and the media techniques they can buy behind him and will lie to go to war. I stand by my assessment of what the slacker's legacy will be. I am not a man of the left; to repeat, my view of Bush and Co. is firmly on conservative moral and philosophical grounds.

mark safranski - 5/17/2003

Particularly if you reside in the British isles where Libel laws have real and severe teeth

Robert Smith - 5/17/2003

Mr. Lekie has lost all connection with reality. According to him, we're currently living in a "neo-fascist state." Maybe he lives in France! Because here in the United States, people are allowed to defame the President without fear of being imprisoned. Here people can travel to any destination they choose without seeking government approval. And the list goes on. Maybe he should read, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," to see how a fascist state operates. He then goes on to say," characterized by philistine, corporate-elite corruption, and cynicism". The philistine behavior was that of the former president, the one that insisted on receiving oral sex while on the phone to a Democrat Congressman. And as history records it, it was one of his staffers that coined the phrase "bimbo eruptions" This was the Philistine-in-Chief his crowd of defend-at-all-costs sycophants defends to this day. Nothing of this sort has occurred since January 20, 2003. The corporate corruption (elite is redundant) occurred on Clinton's watch, but was discovered during President Bush's administration. That's not a difference without distinction. "Media spectacles and low civic participation", again, were hallmarks of the Clinton Administration. Remember, the "Permanent Campaign" was coined to describe the Clinton Administrations's behaviors, not Bush I or Bush II. The "creditor-nation" idea is so cliched that it has moss on it. Furthermore, it doesn't seem to have harmed us. There is no evidence that deficits are somehow "worse," than high taxes. Also, looking at the economic development of Western European countries and Japan, during the same period, the evidence is that deficits are "good!" The EU has had zero net job growth since 1981 and Japan has actually lost jobs since then. That's two points for deficits! The remainder of his first posting is simply pablum. In his second posting he says,"uninformed snobbery and snideness are characteristics of the philistine." That would be the American left. They make assertions that they do not feel inclined to support with facts, they believe in their moral superiority, yet, based upon their public statements, don't believe in any absolute standards as morals. And as for the "hollywood film experts," crack, I'll list all of the hollywood types involved with the Clinton campaign/administration/public supporters/contributors and Mr. Lekie can list all of the same who support the President. We can guess which list will be longer. Again, as I've said before, for a history site, so many seem ahistorical. Finally, to condescendlingly defame the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, men and women who risk their lives in defence of the likes of Mr. Lekie, as mercenaries only proves himself to be the philistine. I can only wonder what his opinion is of the Policemen and Firemen who died at the World Trade Center. Where they enforcing a neo-fascist state? One last thing. Mr Lekie, I wouldn't challenge me on the economics of my argument. Because if you are so poorly educated on economics as you are modern history, "I'd eat alive!"

Robert Smith - 5/17/2003

Mr. Lowe you should really pay more attention to that pesky Supreme Court. The decision to stop the recount in Florida was 7-2. The decision on whether or not it could continue in a fashion that would satisfy the requirements of the US Supreme Court was 5-4. And as you will recall, the only reason that the US Supreme Court was drawn into this issue was due to the unconstitutional behavior of the Florida Supreme Court, when it voted 7-0 to recount the vote, when according to the Florida Constitution, it had no place in the process. Even the Chief Justice of the Florida Court admitted that the second decision of the Florida Court, which basically told the US Supreme Court to suck eggs, was nothing more than the naked display of unlimited power.
Finally, as I am certain that you already are aware of this, every recount of the Florida vote showed that President Bush would have still won.
But then, as a history kind of guy, you probably already knew that, didn't you?

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/17/2003

Sorry you can only appropriately use one language, and poorly at that. I have written with as much hostility toward postmodenrism as I have toward the right, by the way. Come down here and call me names person-to-person if you have the guts, which most right-wingers don't (most of their leadership avoided service in war but beat the drums for it, it seems, as long as other people's kids go) but hey! Idiot savants have wonderful talents! Thanks! At least for that one. Out of the mouths of babes.

William H. Lekie, Jr. - 5/17/2003

Uninformed snobbery and snideness are characteristics of the philistine. Think, please, or try to: Those motion pictures--and I do NOT especially enjoy them and find their "philosophical" message tendentious--nevertheless reflect a view of a world controlled by hype and images, and if that ain't GW, with Hollywood film experts framing every shot of the twit, I'll eat my hat. My views of such things you can look up and read in scholarly and journalistic print. As artifacts of pop consciousness in 2003, they will do quite well. As for the childish "Waiting for Lefty" crack, that's typical right-wing, immature and uninformed nonsense, and if we were to debate the issue a platofrm before a live audience, I'd happily eat you alive. In my experience, the right likes controlled settings to get away with its pretensions, however. Still, right-wingers and post-modernists are my favorite snacks.

Elia Markell - 5/17/2003

"Matrix, Matrix Reload, and Matrix Revolution "

Well, at least we now know where Mr. Leckie's sharp sense of history comes from. I would have thought "Waiting for Lefty" would be the more appropriate text. Or, like the Lisbon-bound, waiting, and waiting, and waiting ...

John - 5/17/2003

Why is it that so many attackers of Bush always use a French phrase somewhere in their posts? English isn't good enough or or nuanced enough to make the point? Or is the French phrase merely a manifestation post-modern thought processes that cannot accept the fact that sometimes a cigar is only a cigar? Or is it only a smoke screen to disguise the fact the American public, in all of its unwashed glory not only likes Bush, but agrees with his policies? Enlighten me, you idiot-savant.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/16/2003

Soi-disant "conservatives" have highly selective notions of "duty." That I think we have a common obligation to call out those who intimidate others or try to might not be sophisticated, but then whacking bullies with a ballbat (as I did when young) isn't either, but it works. Had you used such language in response to me, I would have struck back much harder. I was well aware of your meaning, but the problem is right-wing readers key in on some of the strangest things, although I confess I find the ethics of Bill Clinton of a higher order than those of the Bush regime; I see stealing elections as on a lower order of virtue than an exhuberant sexual appetite, lying in order to start a war even lower, and shamelessly pursuing a domestic agenda that enhances the despotism of property a bit in between. To see a rich kid who was AWOL from an Air Guard unit during a war swagger in uniform--that in itself alarming militarism in a civilian President--on a carrier deck suggests the lack of the regime's character and its (I admit) highly sophisticated dishonesty. Still, I was no fan of Clinton's, but increasingly appalled by Bush and his people.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/16/2003

'Make book he goes down as the worst US president of the 21st century, the shallow man whose minions and handlers nearly--or did so--turned the republic into a neo-fascist state characterized by philistine, corporate-elite corruption and cynicism, media spectacle and low civic participation, environmental degradadtion, radically divided between rich and poor, and engaged in a series of incrasingly costly and divisive wars fought by a military for hire that alienated its remaining allies and inspired the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons by third-tier states, and economically drained because of its creditor-nation status and the ecological and social catastrophes that flowed from the regime's initial successes. The media hype sustaining the regime will make Matrix, Matrix Reload, and Matrix Revolution documents of their times.

Homer Simpson - 5/16/2003

Yes, clowns, Bush is beating your ass at every turn.

I can understand the jealous rage.

Really, the idiocy of this group is beyond belief.

Wesley Smart - 5/16/2003

"striking back" as you say, in an ad hominem manner is not a "duty" but unsophisticated.

I still don't understand why you're suggesting that I'm talking about Bush and Clinton (per your first post in this thread) when I'm talking about using the term addict in description of other people in here.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/15/2003

Mr. Smart sould understand that if the climate he describes is real, then his remarks could certainly be construed as threatening. Ms. Scheffer is probably more than capable of defending herself, but I feel a duty to strike back, "ad hominem" or otherwise, when such verbal gestures as Smart's are made in the "public forum" of which he is so solicitous.

David Foster - 5/15/2003

"It was when I started noticing the extreme language that colored President Bush's speeches that I began to wonder. First there were the terms--"crusade" and "infinite justice" that were later withdrawn. Next came "evildoers," "axis of evil," and "regime change," terms that have almost become clichés in the mass media" and Bush's rigid, judgmental outlook comes across in virtually all his speeches. To fight evil, Bush is ready to take on the world, in almost a Biblical sense." These comments are very typical of those made by today's "progressives."

Precisely the same criticisms could have been made of Churchill's speeches during the Second World War (and also those of Franklin Roosevelt).

What many intellectuals fail to understand is that the thought processes and language of a person who has actual decision-making responsibility must be different from those of a person whose only responsibilities are to advise and criticize. Effective action is impossible if you believe that the only color is gray.

Wesley Smart - 5/14/2003

To clarify: I am NOT referring to the comments about Bush being a drunk. He's a public figure (as was Clinton). I am referring to the possibility that Scheffer was calling Wolfe an addict in a public forum.

I am mystified by Mr. Leckie's ad hominem attack.

Wesley Smart - 5/14/2003

I'm not threatening anyone, or trying to get anyone in trouble. Comments about public figures are one thing. Debating ferociously amongst ourselves and throwing claims about political affiliations and academic pedigrees are another. But we should be careful to remember that there are limits in public forums such as this. Calling someone an addict could be misconstrued as making a false claim about criminal behavior, like accusing them of theft or fraud. In the real world, that's a dangerous line to cross. My post was not meant as a threat, but I thought that the poster in question came really close to crossing that line and might not have been aware of it.

Wesley Smart - 5/13/2003

sounds good. the comments in here get pretty heated, and that's all well and good, but there are lines that people should be careful that are not crossed, however accidentally.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/13/2003

"I don't know why you're surprised that the liberal media isn't covering Bush's AWOL from the TANG."

Weird. That's precisely where I heard it from. And it was FOX that first reported GW's DUI. Go figure.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/13/2003

'Seems to me since the right circulated all kinds of printed and electronic material, often scurrilous, about the Clintons--for whom it had an overtly erotic fascination and still blames Bill for everything except maybe slipping the apple to Eve--with neither shame nor civil liability, its troops oughtn't to be making even indirect threats of the sort made on this thread to Ms. Scheffer, but that one does I suppose doesn't warrant a blanket challenge: Epees at dawn, Mr. Smart? Nah. You're not a gentleman. Give us a break, at least.

Tom Kellum - 5/13/2003

I don't know why you're surprised that the liberal media isn't covering Bush's AWOL from the TANG. Have you read, heard, or seen anything in the liberal media about how many millions of dollars are being earned by people close to the Bush administration from the War (excuse me, Battle) on (I mean, of) Iraq? In some cases, it gets awful close to a billion dollars.

Where is the outrage in the liberal media? Where is the outrage from all those liberal historians and professors? Where? Where?

Where is the liberal media's coverage of long-forgotten "enemies" like OBLaden (you know, the guy in the cave who plotted the 9/11 attacks - but which aren't conspiracies, because we don't have conspiracies in our democracy)? How about our former friend SHussein? Why hasn't the liberal media pressured the Bush administration to explain their lack of concern about bringing him to justice (or Mosul)?

Why hasn't the liberal media pressed the Bush administration for answers to the questions about whether the Iraqi war was a bogus war, complete with huge bribes and a deal to let SHussein go into hiding ("exile")?

I tell you, it's enough to baffle the curious. Liberal media? Right.

Bill McWilliams - 5/13/2003

I'm suprised that the liberal media hasn't done to George Bush what it did to the Clintons.

You'd think that if the President was AWOL, the liberal media would be all over a story like that.

Bill McWilliams - 5/13/2003

Did you forget to include Bill Bennett?

NYGuy - 5/13/2003


William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/13/2003

Apology accepted.

NYGuy - 5/13/2003


I never called anyone names and I owe you a great apoligy. I thought you were testing KW's theories of diagnosis at a distance and I tried it also. As I look back I now realize that she was not being honest in her theory but that she was using her expertise to make a political statement. I have now concluded the science in my opinion is really phony.

I try to be balanced and condemn such bogus use of one's specialty. You may remember how vehmently I opposed those experts who falsely blamed the U. S. Government, the military, the DOD for looting the Baghdad museum and putting our troops in greater danger. In both these cases we are dealing with people who discredit their profession by putting their personal biases before their scholarship. I am happy we have been able to debunk this phony science and now hope we can have a reasonable discourse.

You are so right that reasonable men and women should not take crap from wrongheaded, politically charged individuals who can't deal with topics in a rational way.

Again, I am sorry we both tried this foolish experiment. Reading your last message I know you are sincere in your beliefs and stand up for them. That is good and I applaud you.

I still believe that the "drunk" label on Bush is irrelevent and see him as having the sterling leadership qualities of General Grant.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/13/2003

If Bush snorted up half of Peru, then obviously (based on a similar evidentiary standard) Clinton not only got the other half of Peru, he got Bolivia as well. For it is Bill that Roger refers to on the Arkansas police tape claiming, as he bought another supply of Peruvian Marching Powder, when he says his brother has a nose like a Hoover. And it is Bill who had a "nose operation", the details of which he refused to disclose. Gee, this new kind of history is fun.

Elia Markell - 5/13/2003

Here are my picks. Please add to the list if you wish.

Exaggerated self-importance and pomposity (Tim Robbins)
Grandiose behavior (Robert Byrd)
A rigid, judgmental outlook (Patricia Ireland)
Impatience (the "What Do We Want ----; When do we want it, NOW" generation)
Childish behavior (Bill Clinton)
Irresponsible behavior (Edward "Rock Thrower" Said)
Irrational rationalization (Terry "they Stole Florida" McCauliff)
Projection Overreaction (Norman "White Male" Mailer)

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/13/2003

The problem with right-wingers (as opposed to genuine conservatives) is not a matter of clinical diagnosis at a distance, no matter Richard Hofstadter's classic "paranoid style" study back in the 50s. Besides, I've dealt with them close-up, too.

I think the US right has to be confronted because it represents a genuine authoritarian movement, derives much of its energy from zealots, and its finances from corporate sources that have demonstrated indifference or contempt toward public accountability, and its public polcies are in my view destructive of the commonweal.

Its individual representatives I have not found to be honorable men and women.

My assessment is an ethical, not a clinical one, although I have not found them to be rational, either. Like most Western authoritarian movements that have developed since the late 19th century, they seem to want power at any price, and their political and intellectual leadership has been explicit about this--from, say, Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich (whose fascination with technology has its origins in early 20th century totalitarian movements of both left and right) and Karl Rove to the faux Straussian neocons (whose real historical inspiration seems to be Critias not Socrates)--and their populist rhetoric embraces a cheap sentimentality with rudeness. That used to be called fascism.

You had better remember 9/11 yourself--the attitudes of the US right could eventually provoke worse. I sincerely hope not, but meanwhile reasonable men and women should not take crap from the right. It needs to be resisted on moral, not clinical grounds. You hide behind anonymity and call people names because like most right-wingers I have known you are a coward and probably a bully. Hey! It's a free country, more or less, so keep it up if you wish.

Earl W. Wolfe - 5/13/2003

Mr. Smart:

Marianna Scheffer (if that is her real name) is being disingenuous when she describes herself as "anonymous." She has her own web site, is well-educated, holds a responsible position, and is a regular contributor of political and social views to several on-line publications, including salon.com. By the way, I am not encumbered with any of the addictions she impliedly attributed to me, but I really don't care what she says. It is all consistent with the tenor of her other writings which can be reviewed at her web site.

NYGuy - 5/13/2003


Since you don't know me you must be an idiot to call me a right winger. Oh I fogot, diagnosis from a distance. You support KW's science.

I am anti-war and therefore dislike violence. After seeing the behavoir of Tim Robbins, however, I have become afraid of identifying myself.

Remember the Twin Towers, Remember our troops overseas, Let's keep them safe.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/13/2003

You're welcome to come here and call me any name you wish to my face; only a coward would shielded by this kind of public forum.

Right-wingers have no honor, sir, and you demonstrate it.

Wesley Smart - 5/13/2003

I hope someone has the decency to advise her that she's embarrassing herself.

NYGuy - 5/13/2003

You overlook some important factors. GW comes from strong stock that helped make this a great nation and a world leader. He learned from his father what an obligation he has to defend this country. And what a better leader. I compare him to General Grant who also had a drinking problem. But as Sherman observed, the difference between Grant and himself was Grant did not loss his nerve in the night before a battle. That is character and shows true leadership when the going gets tought. That is what you are seeing now. I raise my glass in a toast to another great Commander In Chief and a dutiful American leader, GW.

Tom Kellum - 5/13/2003

In addition to many years of imbibing too many liberal libations of a ninety proof nerve tonic, bush also snorted-up half of Peru, and who knows what else.

Shouldn't the lasting effects of these NoZe candies and whatever other toxins the man consumed in abundance, be taken into consideration when trying to fathom the cranial output of the nation's first and only Commander in Chief who is a military deserter?

And what about the implications of marrying a woman who has carried a 40 year burden of knowing she killed her own boyfriend but didn't so much as pay a fine for what she did? Is her own addiction (to nicotine) a factor in the same psychological dynamics (between her and gw) that caused right-wingers to label Hillary an "enabler" to Bill?

Dave Tabaska - 5/13/2003

Well, I, for one, am quite impressed with Professor van Wormer's piece. Now, instead of the usual, ahistorical, baseless "Bush is Hitler" jibberish that I, for one, have gotten so used to seeing and hearing, the professor has now openend the door to whole new realm of ahistorical, baseless "Bush is drunk" jibberish. Such groundbreaking work should recieve a just reward, whatever it may be.

This kind of reminds me of the late 80's, when the Washington Post's Health section would occasionally run an article from some mental health professional showing how people who supported the U.S. having nuclear weapons were actually suffering from various neuroses and other types of mental problems. As with Professor van Wormer, it is fascinating (to me) to see the depths to which some people sink to validate the politics.

NYGuy - 5/13/2003

Mr. Leckie,

Don't mistake me here, I suspect George is indeed a drunk.


Don't mistake me here, I suspect William H. Leckie, Jr. is indeed an idiot.

Wow. Katherine W's is right, distance diagnosis does work.

By the way why not answer the questions directly leave out the propaganda stuff.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/13/2003

I'm with you on this, and have to add:

The distance-diagnosis has its counterpart throught to "culture." We have syndromes, it seems, for just about everything, and the public is indoctrinated by magazines and newspaper lifestyle sections....Multiple choice tests to assess the quality of one's love life? Our obsession with technical measures has diverted resources from teaching in our public schools to "teaching to the test," governmentally mandated and I think fundamentally corrupt--whatever happened to the idea of nurturing good souls or citizens?--as well. (Right-wingers can't blame the teachers' unions for that, by the way!)

Since the late 19th century we've secularized both sin and salvation with the clinical or pseudo-clinical and consumption, and reduced our public and private ethics to aesthetics (see, immodestly, my "Moral Spaces in the Burckhardtian City," Journal of Urban History 28[November 2001], 81-97 for a riff on the distancing as "spatializing") and--most notably in Clinton's case, but frankly Top Gun George's carrier landing is a discrete instance--managed spectacle. And the managerial character of this pervasive phenomenon--and its ethical content as "art"--is straight out of Walter Benjamin: reproducible art, and so on.

Don't mistake me here, I suspect George is indeed a drunk. My quarrel is with what seems to be an exceptionalism invoked by his fans. That, and the hubris of his administration, make me think that AA's methods have some relevance. They are not merely quasi-religious, but age-old.

Elia Markell - 5/13/2003

Since I have admired George W's clarity in naming as "evil" those who pluck out the eyes of children in order to force their parents to confess , I too must be a dry drunk. Never mind that I do drink approximately one to two beers a week (more tan one a night puts me to sleep). After all, thinking like this from the helping professions also put people in prison a few years back on the basis of four-year-olds testifying to clowns flying around secret rooms smearing peanut butter on their naughty parts. When the "profession" that did that applogizes, I will start to worry about my (and W's) drinking problem.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/13/2003

There was a time, before Newton, when action at a distance was problematic. I still have problems with diagnosis at a distance, though, as it brings back some interesting memories: the quacks who "diagnosed" Goldwater in time for a political campaign; the quack who "diagnosed" Clinton with a narcissistic personality disorder; the physician who had played a role in the Clinton Administration, from Montefiore Medical Center, who "diagnosed" from NY the psychological risk to a young Cuban boy in Miami, just in time for Janet Reno to grab the kid with a search warrant for weapons, obtained with info from a single "reliable" informant (which garnered the criticism of such noted conservatives as Professors Dershowitz and Tribe of Harvard). Unfortunately, when politics calls, there will always be a "professional" who will provide the needed facade of professional judgement.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/13/2003

My glancing support for Mr. Morgan's point about AA was not inadvertent. And maybe we should take advantage of this "dry drunk" issue to explore a more interesting one: The pervasiveness of the rhetoric of secular technique, of therapeutic expertise--whether medical, or sexual and otherwise emotional, or in business and politics--and the significance of confessional rituals in sustaining it. For all I know there's already a sociological literature dealing with it.

I'm inclined to think reliance on certifiable technique has its own "quasi-religious" genealogy. Back in the 80s, in yuppy incarnation in the investment business, productive hours were lost to "seminars" with one guru or another. I endured more Monday morning sales meetings than I care to remember in which the honcho exhorted those who hadn't met their sales targets to acknowledge the fault was theirs alone and they should so aver before us all that they had failed themselves, but also what God and the USA had bestowed upon them--sinners before an Angry God. We joked about the weekly "prayer meetings." But in exasperation, one morning I raised my hand and declaimed, "My name is Bill and I sell snake oil. Praise the Lord and God bless the USA!"

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/13/2003

The article originally appeared in that respected medical and historical source CounterPunch, the product of Alexander Cockburn's imagination.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/13/2003

Mr. Leckie perhaps inadvertently supports a point I tried to make: that the "dry drunk syndrome" is not a medical diagnosis, by a competent medical authority, but a bit of quasi-religious dogma propounded by AA, a group that apparently thinks that their twelve steps are the only path to God (or sobriety).

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/13/2003

It isn't a shame that some folks have held to the notion, "once a drunk always a drunk."

In a culture that seems--for overwhelmingly ideological reasons derived from an evangelical religious tradition--to emphasize accepting personal responsibility on the part of those less fortunate while exempting the privileged or those who feel privileged, the shame is in the hypocrisy, whether George II's or Bill Bennett's.

Wesley Smart - 5/12/2003

If this piece shows the full caliber of Ms. van Wormer's work, it is really stunning. As others have noted here, public comments are the product of a team of speech writers and very very rarely reflect the considered thinking of the President. If this was intended by her to be a serious piece, then attributions for the quotations would be extremely useful for further evaluation of her argument in order to understand the context of these selections.

One particular example stands out as just academically silly:
"Obsessive thought patterns are also pronounced in persons prone to addiction. There are organic reasons for this due to brain chemistry irregularities; messages in one part of the brain become stuck there. This leads to maddening repetition of thoughts. President Bush seems unduly focused on getting revenge on Saddam Hussein ("he tried to kill my Dad") leading the country and the world into war, accordingly. "

By this form of logic, any politician following the talking points (complete with considered phrasings of key elements to be stress) is similarly plagued by this "maddening repetition of thoughts." When combined with the other attributes that one would expect to find in a politician, we're left with the impression that ALL politicians, in fact, are "dry drunks."

Could the editors explain whether this piece was offered, requested or taken from another published source?

Wesley Smart - 5/12/2003

Ms. Scheffer,

You might be anonymous, but you ought to be very very very careful in throwing around the suggestion online that someone is an addict or make similar defaming statements in a public forum of this sort. Mr. Wolfe may not care ( _I_ don't care) but there are others who can and do. You may find yourself in very hot legal water, of the sort that pretend names are no protection against, if you are not careful about this sort of thing.

Irwin Botwinick - 5/12/2003

The writer obiviously doesn't like Bush and is using a clinical diagnosis to "prove" her point. The fact that Bush DOESN"T believe in moral relativism certainly doesn't make him dry drunk. For if that were the case, Ronald Reagan would be put in that category too!! The writer's liberal bias is showing, rather than real scientific analysis.

Richard Dyke - 5/12/2003

While Mr. Leckie has the right to take the side of van Worm, his comment that Mr. Bush's never having to confront other drunks and being able to blame others for his troubles is "a characteristic seems common among right-wingers generally, drunk or sober" is a little too much. Some of the most unreasonable people I have ever met have been leftists and left-leaners, who wanted to blame everybody around them and the world generally for their troubles. So I would say in rebuttal that that characteristic has plenty of adherents all around the political spectrum, and I am not convinced by van Wormer's or Leckie's conclusions. Mr. Bush, like just about everyone I know, has grown beyond his old self, as many of us do if we live long enough, and I think that is just as good of an explanation of his motivations and actions as the one presented here. What a shame that AA folks seem to think "once a drunk, always a drunk"!

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/12/2003

You don't have to be a social worker--and I agree about the tyranny of social work--to feel something is the matter with a guy who when drunk yelled obscenities, back during his daddy's day in the Oval office, at reporters in DC restaurants. By his own admission, if he'd kept on drinking--after waking up and seing himself in a mirror covered with his own vomit--he'd be sitting in a Texas bar somewhere. I don't know about Professor Van Wormer's past, but very often specialists in addiction treatment have been there, done that, and when it comes to addictive behavior, scholarly lapses or social-worky jargon notwithstanding, they know what they are writing or talking about.

The "dry drunk" diagnosis isn't original anyway. I've heard it from reformed drunks who've very earnestly explained that Bush dropped the sauce after a telephone talk with Franklin Graham and never went through a 12-step.

They tell me--sipping their coffee as I swig my beloved hometown brew--that means he never had to confront himself under pressure from other drunks, and so he can still blame others for whatever's wrong with him or the world. I will admit that such a characteristic seems common among right-wingers generally, drunk or sober, but we know enough about George's background--basically that of a ne'er-do-well slacker saved by privilege rather than the Lord's grace--to take what in AA I think they call The Big Blue Book as a suggestive if not clinically diagnostic tool.

Richard Dyke - 5/12/2003

And Ms. Scheffer and Ms. van Wormer are hoots--double hoots. I laughed all the way through this article and don't want to give it too much coverage. As has been pointed out, political speech writing is most often done by the president's staff, so Bush's public statements can not reasonably be scrutinized for interpretation in this way. And of course, Mr. Bush was not going to discuss his past with Oprah--it would have had only negative impacts. Etc. The one thing that stands out for me is that Mr. Bush means business whenever he speaks, on whatever the subject is. And he has certainly showed patience. We waited going into Iraq until the UN had become hopelessly tangled up in rhetoric and was clearly never going to act forcefully.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/12/2003

The author invokes a "syndrome" popular with Alcoholics Anonymous (not a medical body), that I've yet to see in the relevant DSM. Please correct me if I'm wrong on that score, and cite the page. The author is spared the problem of losing a medical license for diagnosing without actually interviewing a patient, simply on the grounds that she has no medical license. But the cluelessness (if that is what it is) does not end there. There is no J.D Hatfield. There is a former con who took the name JH Hatfield, and wrote the mentioned Fortunate Son. He made claims therein that his publisher (St Martin's) could not substantiate, his book was withdrawn from publication, only to be taken up by SoftSkull Press (the same people who revived Bellesiles' disgraced Arming America), and he proceeded to commit suicide -- and this is a source that Wormer cites.



David Salmanson - 5/12/2003

This is just silly. I dislike Bush as much as the next lefty Democrat but this kind of psychoanalytic reading reflects the worst kind of psychohistory. Public statements largely not written by the President are hardly grounds for making a careful judgement. Further, some of the very techniques that the author describes as being symptomatic of "dry drunks" are practiced by political consultants and advertisers to sell their policies and products. Why wouldn't Bush use the language of good and evil? He is trying to make a case to the American public (and, as a born again Christian, understands the world this way anyway good-evil, saved-unsaved, etc. Are all born agains dry drunks? Even Cotton Mather?) If Pepsi and Coke use similar techniques to get us to drink their products, why wouldn't the President use it to sell policy. Bush is merely using the language of consumerism and consumption to sell his agenda. Unless the whole culture is doped up, then the problem here is the pervasiveness of advertising and its taking over all aspects of culture, not addiction.
Further, the article negates the very real process by which policy is formed. Bush, even as President, has to answer to many constituencies both within his party and outside it.

The historical errors in the article are many. Pre-emptive wars are not a new policy for the United States although they have been in disfavor in recent years. The wars against Native Americans are the most well-known pre-emptive wars (massacres of praying towns for example) but their are many others. As for the laurels of the father, he was pretty much an unsuccesful politician son of a Senator who lucked into the vice presidency and later the presidency. If anything, W would be trying to live up to Prescott Bush's example. Another example, according to the article, Bush is obsessing over Iraq to the exclusion of other matters. However, anybody who has been reading Tom Spencer's blog knows that W has been pursuing a whole range of activities while using the war as a public front. Court nominations, the tax cut, environmental deregulation all have been moving rather quickly while W publicly stays on message about Iraq.

The argument fails on logic as well, if Ws relatives are alcoholic/addicts, why doesn't the father's famous inability to be coherent suggest a genetic link to that trait rather than view Ws incoherence as a legacy of alcoholism.

If the author wanted to make the argument that W is the product of a culture of addiction, even that would fail. Compared to the 19th century, the US population drinks far less, uses less opiates (ah the joys of snake oil!) fewer stimulants (snuff!) etc. etc.

Unlike the psychohistorian Michael Paul Rogin, whose work I disagree with btw, this article is founded on the worst kinds of speculation. It's methodology is terrible and ahistorical. Rogin, at least, works on a mass scale and ponders questions within a theoretical framework that, while contraversial,is sensical.

Bill Heuisler - 5/12/2003

What ever happened to the Liberal redemption-entitlement so prevalant in Clinton circles? Talk about forcing a theory.

Speaking of theories, there's one about vegetarian teetotalers that includes all those Wormer-listed traits. Interested? Well, this weird vegan wanted everyone to call him Fuhrer and...
Bill Heuisler

Steve Lowe - 5/12/2003

Check the numbers. Bush won by one vote, 5-4, in the S.Ct. but lost the popular vote nationwide. Arguably, the only reason he won in Fla. is that the Republican "machine" ran more efficiently than the Democratic one.

Marianna Scheffer - 5/12/2003

Addicts rush to defend each other. Sex addicts, cokeheads, fame junkies, think tank mavins: anonymous folks like me are not fooled. We see you making clowns of yourselves in public and just laugh. Bush is the ultimo clown.

Bill Smith - 5/12/2003

Sounds like sour grapes to me. Bush won, Gore lost. Get over it. Well, maybe your thinking is clouded.

Charles Morgan - 5/12/2003

This bizarre theory would be hard to swallow even if one ignored the fact that Bush is seldom the author of his own words. Knowing that, though, one would have to accept that numerous members of Bush's speech-writing team and staff are "dry drunks"--as well as Bush--in order to take Von Wormer's claims seriously. It's common enough to view current affairs through the lens of one's discipline, but, honestly now, this is just stupid.

Bill Maher - 5/12/2003

As I read her comments on Bush, my first response was that the dear professor must have had a few drinks herself. Fortunately, however, I had just finished reading Dorothy Rabinowitz's No Crueler Tyrannies. Social workers, especially those who proudly wear the label "progressive," are very capable of waging their own crusade. Katherine van Wormer is apparently in good company.

Earl W. Wolfe - 5/12/2003

People who write this kind of psycho-babble drivel have way too much time on their hands, or more likely, they have an agenda to fulfill which includes electing a Democrat, any Democrat, to the White House in 2004. No competent psychoanalyst should express the opinions that this author does without conducting a complete face-to-face series of interviews with the subject, and reviewing medical records, if any. Professor van Wormer's history of this "patient" consists of nothing more than every biased rumor and slanted statement that she can dig up from public knowledge of the president that was well-known prior to the 2000 election and selective statements made by the president since coming to office in 2001. She does not even consider that, in the face of very difficult circumstances beginning with 9/11, the president has acted in a very principled manner and that some of the acts and statements she criticizes are the acts and statements of a principled mind and a principled man fulfilling the tremendous responsibilities that have been placed upon him by the highest office in America. Perhaps it is time for someone to psychoanalyze the psychoanalyst and see what she has in her past that could be brought out and dragged through the public mud.