GWB's Commutation: It's Bigger Than Scooter Libby genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Coming Unhinged

By now most Americans know that President Bush has commuted the sentence of convicted felon Scooter Libby...a move that has drawn criticism from Democrats and praise from conservative Bush-Cheney loyalists. A number of pundits and analysts suggest that the action will be met with disfavor by the average voter and will undoubtedly be viewed as further indication that this administration has little hesitation to value loyalty above the rule of law.

I'd like to address the issue from a slightly different angle...one that seeks to step back and understand the psychology that may explain this behavior and likely led to today's outcome. The danger of such an exercise is the same that comes with any attempt to extrapolate across the board conclusions in a world which by design defies generalization. In saying as much, it establishes the underlying premise of my argument...the belief that a number of religiously motivated conservatives have a need to see the world in absolute black and white...applying their notions of good versus evil...right versus wrong to all that they encounter.

On the surface, attempts to decipher good from evil and right from wrong is a noble endeavor and one that we should all embrace. However, the process begins to fail miserably when one becomes convinced that the equation by which one ascertains these answers is of divine origin and infinitely infallible...a process I believe can be equated with men like George Bush and Dick Cheney.

When seeking to understand this phenomenon, the tendency is to focus on the egregious nature of the actions while spending far too little time exploring the motivations and the psychological source from which they originate. We need to know why people are so motivated if we're to be able to affect some measure of change.

First a couple points of clarification. When speaking of "religiously motivated conservatives", there will always be exceptions to the composite profile that I'm attempting to identify and my hypothesis isn't intended to demonstrate the very behavior I'm criticizing...that being to paint all that one encounters with a broad brush in one of two colors...black or white. Additionally, even within any given individual identified to fit the composite, there will be exceptions too, and contradictions with the descriptive label I'm applying...meaning a religiously motivated conservative. These caveats are simply an acknowledgment of the complexity of human nature.

Now we build the psychological composite...one that I will construct with Richard Nixon and George Bush serving as the baseline template. I've previously drawn comparisons between Richard Nixon and George W. Bush...primarily a shared pattern of a disaffected early adult period characterized by ego damaging events perceived and internalized as failures. That substrate forms the platform for future endeavors...a platform that places the avoidance of failure above the achievement of success...a subtle distinction but one that is fundamental to my argument. Essentially, decisions become driven by an aversion to the feelings that were associated with the earlier life events.

That aversion becomes the justification for increasingly riskier and progressively more intransigent behaviors...which forms the virtual wall of denial that partitions ethical considerations apart from the prevailing and virtually all consuming fear. Beyond this point, Nixon and Bush diverge along the continuum of religion. We'll proceed with George Bush and his strong connection with religion, the appeal it provides, and the useful tool it becomes.

The attraction of religion is found in its absolute design and its structure as virtually irrefutable doctrine. Additionally, religion allows one to affiliate by proclamation. If one denounces one's prior sins, asserts an awakening born of a communion with Jesus Christ, and pledges allegiance to honor and uphold the established teachings, one is anointed with an instantaneous righteousness. Religion can then be utilized to bolster the necessary justifications for one's decisions and behaviors as well as to insulate the psyche from the doubts and fears that must be suppressed and that have the potential to sabotage the goal of never acquiescing to failure.

Religion can also be worn as a badge...one that connotes a degree of integrity and decency and automatically commands a level of respect...all of which advances the underlying objective. At this point, we have the core components of the composite. What remains is an effort to understand the dynamics of how it manifests itself in behavior like that witnessed today with the commuting of Scooter Libby's prison sentence.

A prior example is warranted. Over the course of the Iraq war, the President was asked whether he consulted his father...a seemingly logical act given his father's prior experience as president and his own successful invasion of Iraq. Much to the amazement of most observers, the sitting president stated that he went beyond his own father to the heavenly father. On the other hand, within the construct of the composite, his actions make perfect sense. The strained relationship between the senior Bush and his son is well known...a relationship that is arguably a reminder of past failures and a source of the associated feelings outlined above.

Looking at the events behind Libby's troubles, they can be traced back to the intentions of the President and Vice President to prevent negative scrutiny and criticism of the administration's actions relative to the initiation of the Iraq invasion...actions that are likely the result of the motivations previously discussed...the need to avoid failure and the associated feelings. Also keep in mind that measures of success...measures that one would normally expect to predominate...are seemingly inconsequential and are relegated to the mismanagement of underlings (Donald Rumsfeld immediately comes to mind).

It's also worth noting that Colin Powell, a man most people would view as authentic became an intolerable source of objective criticism...in other words a force for identifying and acknowledging failures and pushing for candid reassessments and adjustments. If reports are accurate, Powell was essentially removed from the loop in order to silence the source of uncomfortable and unacceptable feelings.

Some might find the commutation puzzling but it's consistent with the above arguments and it offers one further relevant comparison...and comparison is critical to understanding this added motivation. I contend that people who fit this psychological composite are keenly aware of comparisons and may actually be a bit obsessive in that regard...all motivated by the same aversion to the noted feelings.

A look back at Bill Clinton's prior presidency and his well documented impeachment for perjuring himself elicits an eerie similarity to the Libby prosecution. Clinton's subsequent acquittal provides a means of relative measurement which has the potential to cast the Bush presidency in a less favorable light. The dissonance that creates becomes an obstacle to overcome...one that must be disarmed in order to quell the infiltration of unwanted feelings.

The worst case outcome for this personality profile is a spiraling deterioration in behavior that has been sparked by a triggering event...often initiating a chain of linked negative events which are coupled with the absence of the normal willingness and wherewithal to enact and enable a process of self-correction. Obfuscation soon trumps objectivity and disaster is often inevitable.

Whether the presidency of George Bush will meet with the same fate as that of Richard Nixon remains uncertain. Notwithstanding, both men became victims of their own fears and a preoccupation with avoiding failure...a preoccupation that likely set them on a path of unfortunate and unenlightened self-destruction. In the end, fear left unchecked and unwound becomes reality unhinged. The door of denial that shields the psyche therefore tumbles to ground.

Image courtesy of www.damnengine.net

Daniel DiRito | July 2, 2007 | 5:57 PM
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