Perrspectives - Bringing light to Darkness

Bush's 12-Step Program

April 16, 2004

Like many Americans, I was deeply disturbed by President Bush’s performance during his April 13 press conference. His verbal incontinence, ill-timed smirks and uneasy pauses are nothing new. But once he got past his sober opening statement, his deer-in-the-headlights gaze, unnerving silences, and bizarre “I see dead people” comment suggested something seriously amiss. And his shocking inability or unwillingness to own up to any of his immense inventory of presidential mistakes led me to think something was very, very wrong indeed:

"I'm sure something will pop into my head here...maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."

Like many people, I worried that George W. Bush might have “fallen off the wagon”, or worse. Knowing of his victory over alcohol in the 1980’s, however, I ruled out backsliding. No, George W. Bush has won his battle with the bottle. But it seems he is still struggling with a key stage in any 12-step recovery programmaking amends.

As we’ve done before, Perrspectives is here to help.

Easy Does It

By way of background and for those unfamiliar with the story, George Bush in the 1970’s and 1980’s was a legendary party animalspiritually adrift in the oil fields of West Texas. Though she denies issuing a “Jim Beam or me” ultimatum to her husband, Laura Bush was clearly worried about his heavy drinking bouts with his friends. “For the first time, they weren't just spending their time sitting around kicking back with hamburgers and beer,” she recalled.

It was the Reverend Billy Graham who in the mid 80’s helped put a 40-year old George W. Bush on the path of the straight and narrow. At a Bush family gathering, Graham asked, “are you right with God?”

“No,” Bush replied, “but I want to be.”

The rest is history. A repentant, born-again Bush quit alcohol cold turkey. By the 2000 presidential campaign, he would claim that his favorite philosopher was “Christ, because he changed my heart.”

Making Amends

Which brings us back to 2004. Reviewing the Alcoholics Anonymous “Recovery Program”, it’s clear that W has made substantial progress. He quickly cruised from Step 1 through Step 7, including admitting powerlessness over alcohol, turning his life over to God, and humbly asking Him to remove his shortcomings. (As at Andover, Yale and the Texas Air National Guard, Bush appears to have gotten a pass on Step 4, “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”)

Given his staggering failure to answer questions posed to him about his mistakes during the April 13th press conference, however, it is also clear that George W. Bush is stuck on steps 8 and 9:

8. Make a list of all persons harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.

9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

So here, Mr. President, is your cheat sheet (again, no doubt a familiar device) for Step 8, listing those to whom you should make amends. Hopefully, you’ll have plenty of time after January 20, 2005 for Step 9.

Just for starters:

  • General Eric Shinseki. In February 2003, General Shinseki presciently forecast to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraqi occupation would require “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers.” In response, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who dismissed his estimates as “wildly off the mark”, savaged Shinseki. Secretary Rumsfeld echoed, “the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far off the mark.” In June 2003, the honorable war hero Shinseki retired.
  • Richard Clarke. Clarke, a 30 year civil servant whose career spanned Republican and Democratic administrations, made damning – and unrefuted – charges about the Bush team’s mishandling of the pre-9/11 terror threat and the war on Iraq. His book Against All Enemies and powerful testimony before the 9/11 commission have been met with a withering personal assault by the Bush administration. While Cheney and Rice merely dissembled, others in the administration implied he was gay (“weird”). While conservative hacks like Laura Ingraham (“that little fop”), Ann Coulter (“this angry, embittered, strange man with no personal life was in this misogynistic snit with her [Rice]”) and Dennis Miller (“fury of a woman scorned”) keep up the smears, the country is still waiting for answers to Clarke’s questions.
  • John McCain. Leading up to the South Carolina primary in 2000, Bush operatives phoned voters with push polls implying McCain was anti-Catholic, his wife Cindy a drug addict, and that they had an illegitimate black child. (In reality and quite admirably, they’d adopted a baby from an orphanage in Bangladesh) All of these slurs came as candidate Bush chastised McCain that he couldn’t “take the high horse and then claim the low road.”
  • Paul O’Neill. During his tenure as Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill (“Big O” or “Pablo” to Bush) was largely ignored by the administration and mildly scorned by conservatives. But when his story appeared in Ron Suskind’s book, though, O’Neill was quickly brutalized – and investigated. Compared to the all-out on war on Richard Clarke, though, this was a mercy killing.
  • Jim Jeffords. The one-time GOP senator’s principled opposition to the Bush 2001 tax plan led to massive retaliation by the President and his staff. It’s no wonder he became an independent.
  • Richard Foster. Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was threatened with dismissal by then-agency chief Thomas Scully if he answered questions from congressional Democrats about the true cost of the Medicare reform bill before a series of key votes last summer. Foster’s numbers showed that the administration’s package over ten years would cost a whopping $550 billion, and not the $400 billion figure shared with Congress. The true numbers were released by the Bush administration only after the bill’s passage. And it looks like neither the GOP Congress nor HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson is going to do anything about it.
  • Residents of California and Enron Shareholders. In the spring of 2001, the Bush administration took no action to address out of control energy prices in California, despite now-confirmed claims of market manipulation by Enron, Dynegy and others. When Enron imploded, George Bush amazingly denied that Ken Lay was a close friend and long-time supporter.
  • The Israelis and Palestinians. Over three years, the Bush administration has done essentially nothing to address the single most critical issue in the Middle East and one of the root causes of anti-American terrorism. And now, the President backs the unilateral Sharon plan that preempts the very outcome (trading all Jewish West Bank settlements in exchange for no Palestinian right of return) most believe both sides must reach for real peace.
  • Jews in General. While we’re at it, the Bush team and some of its true believers have some interesting attitudes towards Jews generally. This includes James Baker’s famous “f**k the Jews” comment and W’s fundamentalist followers’ belief that Armageddon and the mass death and conversion of the Jews described in Revelation is soon at hand. Asked what he would say to Israeli Jews in 1993, the born-again Bush himself joked, “you’re all going to hell.”
  • Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. As we’ve reported elsewhere, the Bush administration’s need for payback put the life of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame at risk. Leaking her identity to conservative shill Robert Novak was retaliation for her husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s New York Times op-ed piece detailing Bush’s fraudulent claims about Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium in Niger.
  • Families of American Soldiers. The President’s has consistently – and cowardly misappropriated the courageous image of American servicemen and women. This includes the USS Abraham Lincoln photo op, with the flight suit and insulting “Mission Accomplished” banner. Fast forward a year to the 4/13 press conference, when a sympathetic Bush exclaimed, “look, nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens.” All the while, he has barred the networks from covering the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base. Not long after his mother Barbara Bush put it so eloquently on ABC’s Good Morning America, “why should we hear about body bags…why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that,” President Bush taunted Iraqi insurgents to “bring it on.” Two weeks later, Mary Kewatt told Minnesota Public Radio, “well, they brought it on, and now my nephew is dead.”
  • The 9/11 Families. While it’s not fair to say the Bush administration should have prevented the Al Qaeda attacks, the 9/11 commission revelations clearly show it could have. George W. Bush should apologize not for the attacks themselves, but for his cowardice, deceit and stonewalling in seeking to prevent the American people from learning the truth. From initially opposing the formation of the commission, refusing to testify or extending its life to withholding documents, witnesses, and cooperation, Bush has a lot to answer for.

To the American people, George W. Bush needs to make amends for all of the above. There is, of course, so much more, with the Iraq WMD fraud, double-speak on the environment, the tax give-away to the wealthy, a staggering budget deficit, a moribund economy, and the attempted merging of church and state, just to name a few. To own up to all that, though, the President would have to move on to Step 10:

Continue to take personal inventory and when wrong, promptly admit it

In November, America can start on its own 12-step recovery program. Step 1 is to admit we have a problem.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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