As the alcoholic George Bush approached his 40th birthday in 1986,
he had achieved nothing he could call his own. He was all too aware
that none of his educational and professional accomplishments would
have occured without his father. He felt so low that he did not
care if he lived or died. Taking a friend out for a flight in a
Cessna aeroplane, it only became apparent he had not flown one before
when they nearly crashed on take-off. Narrowly avoiding stalling
a few times, they crash-landed and the friend breathed a sigh of
relief - only for Bush to rev up the engine and take off again.
Not long afterwards, staring at his vomit-spattered face in the
mirror, this dangerously self-destructive man fell to his knees
and implored God to help him and became a teetotalling, fundamentalist
Christian. David Frum, his speechwriter, described the change: "Sigmund
Freud imported the Latin pronoun id to describe the impulsive, carnal,
unruly elements of the human personality. [In his youth] Bush's
id seems to have been every bit as powerful and destructive as Clinton's
id. But sometime in Bush's middle years, his id was captured, shackled
and manacled, and locked away."
One of the jailers was his father. His grandfather, uncles and
many cousins attended both his secondary school, Andover, and his
university, Yale, but the longest shadow was cast by his father's
exceptional careers there.
On the wall of his school house at Andover, there was a large black-and-white
photograph of his father in full sporting regalia. He had been one
of the most successful student athletes in the school's 100-year
history and was similarly remembered at Yale, where his grandfather
was a trustee. His younger brother, Jeb, summed the problem up when
he said, "A lot of people who have fathers like this feel a
sense that they have failed." Such a titanic figure created
mixed feelings. On the one hand, Bush worshipped and aspired to
emulate him. Peter Neumann, an Andover roommate, recalls that, "He
idolised his father, he was going to be just like his dad." At
Yale, a friend remembered a "deep respect" for his father
and when he later set up in the oil business, another friend said, "He
was focused to prove himself to his dad."
On the other hand, deep down, Bush had a profound loathing for
this perfect model of American citizenship whose very success made
the son feel a failure. Rebelliousness was an unconscious attack
on him and a desperate attempt to carve out something of his own.
Far from paternal emulation, Bush described his goal at school as "to
instil a sense of frivolity". Contemporaries at Yale say he
was like the John Belushi character in the film Animal House, a
He was aggressively anti-intellectual and hostile to east-coast
preppy types like his father, sometimes cruelly so. On one occasion
he walked up to a matronly woman at a smart cocktail party and asked, "So,
what's sex like after 50, anyway?"
A direct and loutish challenge to his father's posh sensibility
came aged 25, after he had drunkenly crashed a car. "I hear
you're looking for me," he sneered at his father, "do
you want to go mano a mano, right here?"
As he grew older, the fury towards his father was increasingly
directed against himself in depressive drinking. But it was not
all his father's fault. There was also his insensitive and domineering
Barbara Bush is described by her closest intimates as prone to "withering
stares" and "sharply crystalline" retorts. She is
also extremely tough. When he was seven, Bush's younger sister,
Robin, died of leukaemia and several independent witnesses say he
was very upset by this loss. Barbara claims its effect was exaggerated
but nobody could accuse her of overreacting: the day after the funeral,
she and her husband were on the golf course.
She was the main authority-figure in the home. Jeb describes it
as having been, "A kind of matriarchy... when we were growing
up, dad wasn't at home. Mom was the one to hand out the goodies
and the discipline." A childhood friend recalls that,"She
was the one who instilled fear", while Bush put it like this: "Every
mother has her own style. Mine was a little like an army drill sergeant's...
my mother's always been a very outspoken person who vents very well
- she'll just let rip if she's got something on her mind." According
to his uncle, the "letting rip" often included slaps and
hits. Countless studies show that boys with such mothers are at
much higher risk of becoming wild, alcoholic or antisocial.
On top of that, Barbara added substantially to the pressure from
his father to be a high achiever by creating a highly competitive
family culture. All the children's games, be they tiddlywinks or
baseball, were intensely competitive - an actual "family league
table" was kept of performance in various pursuits. At least
this prepared him for life at Andover, where emotional literacy
was definitely not part of the curriculum. Soon after arriving,
he was asked to write an essay on a soul-stirring experience in
his life to date and he chose the death of his sister. His mother
had drilled it into him that it was wrong when writing to repeat
words already used. Having employed "tears" once in the
essay, he sought a substitute from a thesaurus she had given him
and wrote "the lacerates ran down my cheeks". The essay
received a fail grade, accompanied by derogatory comments such as "disgraceful".
This incident may be an insight into Bush's strange tendency to
find the wrong words in making public pronouncements. "Is our
children learning?" he once famously asked. On responding to
critics of his intellect he claimed that they had "misunderestimated" him.
Perhaps these verbal faux-pas are a barely unconscious way of winding
up his bullying mother and waving two fingers at his cultured father's
The outcome of this childhood was what psychologists call an authoritarian
personality. Authoritarianism was identified shortly after the second
world war as part of research to discover the causes of fascism.
As the name suggests, authoritarians impose the strictest possible
discipline on themselves and others - the sort of regime found in
today's White House, where prayers precede daily business, appointments
are scheduled in five-minute blocks, women's skirts must be below
the knee and Bush rises at 5.45am, invariably fitting in a 21-minute,
three-mile jog before lunch.
Authoritarian personalities are organised around rabid hostility
to "legitimate" targets, often ones nominated by their
parents' prejudices. Intensely moralistic, they direct it towards
despised social groups. As people, they avoid introspection or loving
displays, preferring toughness and cynicism. They regard others
with suspicion, attributing ulterior motives to the most innocent
behaviour. They are liable to be superstitious. All these traits
have been described in Bush many times, by friends or colleagues.
His moralism is all-encompassing and as passionate as can be. He
plans to replace state welfare provision with faith-based charitable
organisations that would impose Christian family values.
The commonest targets of authoritarians have been Jews, blacks
and homosexuals. Bush is anti-abortion and his fundamentalist interpretation
of the Bible would mean that gay practices are evil. But perhaps
the group he reserves his strongest contempt for are those who have
adopted the values of the 60s. He says he loathes "people who
felt guilty about their lot in life because others were suffering".
He has always rejected any kind of introspection. Everyone who
knows him well says how hard he is to get to know, that he lives
behind what one friend calls a "facile, personable" facade.
Frum comments that, "He is relentlessly disciplined and very
slow to trust. Even when his mouth seems to be smiling at you, you
can feel his eyes watching you."
His deepest beliefs amount to superstition. "Life takes its
own turns," he says, "writes its own story and along the
way we start to realise that we are not the author." God's
will, not his own, explains his life.
Most fundamentalist Christians have authoritarian personalities.
Two core beliefs separate fundamentalists from mere evangelists
("happy-clappy" Christians) or the mainstream Presbyterians
among whom Bush first learned religion every Sunday with his parents:
fundamentalists take the Bible absolutely literally as the word
of God and believe that human history will come to an end in the
near future, preceded by a terrible, apocaplytic battle on Earth
between the forces of good and evil, which only the righteous shall
survive. According to Frum when Bush talks of an "axis of evil" he
is identifying his enemies as literally satanic, possessed by the
devil. Whether he specifically sees the battle with Iraq and other "evil" nations
as being part of the end-time, the apocalypse preceding the day
of judgment, is not known. Nor is it known whether Tony Blair shares
these particular religious ideas.
However, it is certain that however much Bush may sometimes seem
like a buffoon, he is also powered by massive, suppressed anger
towards anyone who challenges the extreme, fanatical beliefs shared
by him and a significant slice of his citizens - in surveys, half
of them also agree with the statement "the Bible is the actual
word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word".
Bush's deep hatred, as well as love, for both his parents explains
how he became a reckless rebel with a death wish. He hated his father
for putting his whole life in the shade and for emotionally blackmailing
him. He hated his mother for physically and mentally badgering him
to fulfil her wishes. But the hatred also explains his radical transformation
into an authoritarian fundamentalist. By totally identifying with
an extreme version of their strict, religion-fuelled beliefs, he
jailed his rebellious self. From now on, his unconscious hatred
for them was channelled into a fanatical moral crusade to rid the
world of evil.
As Frum put it: "Id-control is the basis of Bush's presidency
but Bush is a man of fierce anger." That anger now rules the