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Friday, April 06, 2007

The psychopath-in-chief
Posted by Jill | 6:01 AM
Though technically psychopathy is not an "official" DSM-IV category of psychological disorder, the term is often used interchangeably with "sociopath" and the "official" term, antisocial personality disorder. Yet through common use it's become a far more weighted term, and so we will use it here for the purpose of describing the man with his literal finger on the button; the man half of American voters believed not once but twice was the best man for the job.

Psychopathy is diagnosed using Robert Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). It would be interesting to see how the current president would score if administered this particular diagnostic instrument. Hare describes psychopaths as:

"...intraspecies predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they cold-bloodedly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret." (The Harvard Mental Health Letter, September 1995)

Remember the Washington Correspondents Dinner where George Bush joked about not being able to find Iraq's WMD and looking for them under his desk? That was just a taste of this president's pathology. Dan Froomkin reports on Bush's visit Wednesday to Fort Irwin in California's Mojave Desert:

Is Bush taking all this seriously enough? Or is it all just a game? In his tour of the deadly-serious training facility yesterday, Bush repeatedly joked around, with journalists serving as the brunt of his humor.

"The first stop was a card table set up in front of a cinderblock-type hut," New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg wrote in his pool report. "Sitting on top of it were suitcase devices used to view the images sent back from predator drones. 'Train it on Holland,' POTUS said as a soldier held up the drone, about two feet long and pointed it at Steve Holland of Reuters. Peering into the image received in the suitcase device's monitor, POTUS said to Holland, 'You're as rough looking here as you are regular.'"

Later, Rutenberg writes: "We arrived at another display of robotic rovers built to handle and search for road side bombs. With your pool assembled before him, POTUS grabbed the joy stick on a remote control and started sending a rover with a grab claw into the photographers, telling Jason Reed of Reuters - who was right in its path - 'You're not debris, you're still a human being.' . . . POTUS then turned his attention to your humble pool reporter, 'Rutenberg, come here,' then saying, 'Put your hand there by the claw.' LOL."

Rutenberg left out what happened next, but local reporter Tatiana Prophet of the Victorville (Calif.) Daily Press was fascinated by the conduct of the White House press corps, and wrote a story about them: "While this administration has been characterized by a ban on reporters' questions outside of a formal news conference, the media nevertheless have a familiarity with the commander-in-chief. . . .

"'Rutenberg, come over here,' Bush said to New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg. 'Put your hand up right by the claw.'

"The 'claw' was a robot arm of the Talon 3, a diminutive robot designed to disarm improvised explosive devices, which have become the biggest threat to troops involved in the Iraq War. . . .

"Rutenberg, kneeling in the desert dust, was a good sport as the president sent the robot toward him, to laughter from the soldiers and the media as well."

Nothing like a little physical abasement to keep the president in good spirits.

Disgusting. The way this president has had the White House press corps tap-dancing to his tune for the past six years; the way he goes to military bases and mock-threatens reporters with weapons and goes to tractor factories and tries to run over them while test-driving a tractor reminds me of this guy:

Even NBC's David Gregory, who's been known to ask Bush a tough question every now and then, can be reduced to playing Stepin Fetchit in a tux for this president.

What on earth are these people so afraid of? Is it all about access? Is it about losing access to this president? What kind of access do they have now, where they are only permitted to regurgitate what the Administration wants them to write? What kind of access is this? Or is it that like a harem of abused wives, they regard the jokes and the nicknames as some kind of expression of affection?

Whatever it is, it is doing the American public a profound disservice. History has told us that Henry VIII was fond of dressing up in disguises and surprising people, and a popular account of his first meeting with Anne of Cleves has her mistaking the by then obese and malodorous king for a particularly repulsive kind of commoner and being as repulsed by him as he was by her. Novelist Philippa Gregory adds a fanciful spin to this in her most recent Tudor novel, The Boleyn Inheritance, by having Henry's revulsion a result of Anne spitting into her hand after being manhandled and kissed by the disguised Henry -- and this gesture causing the veneer of pretending among those present that still reflected back to this most egotistical of kings his illusion that he was still young, virile, and attractive to fall away. But whether Anne simply ignored him because she did not recognize him without his finery, or something more, the likelihood that the aftermath of that less-than-auspicious meeting went the way the Tudor court equivalent of the White House Press Corps, Spanish Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys described it, is small:

And on New Years Day in the afternoon the king's grace with five of his privy chamber, being disguised with mottled cloaks with hoods so that they should not be recognized, came secretly to Rochester, and so went up into the chamber where the said Lady Anne was looking out of a window to see the bull-baiting which was going on in the courtyard, and suddenly he embraced and kissed her, and showed here a token which the king had sent her for New Year's gift, and she being abashed and not knowing who it was thanked him, and so he spoke with her. But she regarded him little, but always looked out the window.... and when the king saw that she took so little notice of his coming he went into another chamber and took off his cloak and came in again in a coat of purple velvet. And when the lords and knights saw his grace they did him reverence.... and then her grace humbled herself lowly to the king's majesty, and his grace saluted her again, and they talked together lovingly, and afterwards he took her by the hand and led her to another chamber where their graces amused themselves that night and on Friday until the afternoon.

It was one thing to need to placate a king who was by then pretty much acknowledged to be more than a wee tad fickle of nature and volatile of temper. But George W. Bush is not a king, no matter how much William Kristol might want him to be. And it is the job of the press corps not to indulge this president in his worst behaviors in exchange for the privilege of kissing the ring, but to keep Americans informed of what this man is doing in their name.

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