GEORGE BUSH: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY
Chapter -XXV- THYROID STORM
Caesar non super grammaticos
(The emperor cannot defy the grammarians.)
--Marcus Pomponius Marcellus to Tiberius
When speaking in his capacity as an ideologue, George Bush has always expressed a great admiration for Theodore Roosevelt. When Bush moved into the Oval Office, he removed the portrait of Calvin Coolidge placed there by Reagan and replaced it with a likeness of the Rough Rider. Bush's references to his devotion to Theodore Roosevelt are strewn across his public career, and especially his White House years. They came thick and fast during the period of the Panama invasion, but were also prominent during the Gulf crisis. Here is one from late November, 1990:
Certainly I get inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt. Actually there's a parallel, not an exact parallel obviously, between San Juan Hill and Kuwait City. I've just been reading an interesting treatise on Teddy Roosevelt; his conviction and his determination and his leadership inspire me. All of those things inspire Presidents, I think. [fn 1]
Bush's endorsement for Teddy Roosevelt is an endorsement for a world outlook and for a policy orientation. Inseparably from that, it is also a statement of affinity for a certain form of psychopathology that is associated with Teddy.
As one of the authors has shown [fn 2], Roosevelt's maternal uncle was Captain James D. Bulloch, the head of the Confederate intelligence services in Europe and the outfitter of the infamous Confederate raiders Alabama, Shenandoah, and others. Theodore Roosevelt's elevation to the presidency represented a personal union between the New York-Boston patrician financiers with the secessionist slaveholders. First and foremost, Teddy Roosevelt was a political steward of the Morgan interests which dominated Wall Street. We see that Teddy Roosevelt's networks shared some essential features with those of George Bush. In many ways, these are the same networks.
In outlook and policy, Theodore Roosevelt was the president who elevated the solidarity of the white race, and especially of its alleged "Anglo-Saxon" component, above the ideas of the American Revolution. The argument was that shared "blood," language, culture, and the other bonds among the "English- speaking peoples" were far more important than the American System of Franklin, Washington, Hamilton, Henry Clay, and Lincoln. Roosevelt marked the end of the sharp animosity towards the British crown which had been left in American public life in the wake of British support for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Roosevelt directed a wave of race hatred against Chinese and other yellow- skinned orientals; against Latin Americans and peoples of Mediterranean origin; against Germans; and against black and brown skinned people in general.
Teddy Roosevelt was of course a militant imperialist and empire- builder. The "Roosevelt corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine is no corollary, but rather a total reversal of the original anti- colonialist intent of Monroe and his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams. Teddy Roosevelt's claim to exercise international police powers over debtor nations launched a new imperialism, this time based in the United States.
Teddy Roosevelt was a dedicated Malthusian who did everything he could to abort the economic development of the United States west of the Mississippi. This Malthusian environmentalism lives on in the administration of the "environmental president." In order to enforce his alien policies, Teddy Roosevelt was in the vanguard of the creation of a US domestic police state. He got his start by leading police-state attacks on the New York Tammany Democratic machine as New York City Police Commissioner, and later carried his assault to other constituency groupings, the kind Bush reviles today as special interests. Roosevelt founded the centerpiece of the US domestic police state apparatus, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and made Charles Bonaparte, a relation of the French imperial house, the first FBI director. Roosevelt's program of "trust-busting," (which wiped out industrial forces opposed to the Morgan interests) and his conservationism led to the creation of a whole series of regulatory agencies, which are busily strangling US economic activity today.
On a deeper level: if London had not been able to count on the United States as a future ally, it is doubtful that the British government would have encouraged Russia and France to go to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany in 1914. Without the short-term certainty of US intervention on the British side, the Bolshevik revolution would have been far less likely. Theodore Roosevelt's role as the first overtly and extravagantly Anglophile US president after the Civil War thus helped to pave the way for some of the greatest disasters of the twentieth century.
Above and beyond all policy and strategic issues, Bush is attracted by the psychological Gestalt of Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt suffered from a very limited attention span. He was vain, self-centered, unstable and tended towards exhibitionism. The most concise summary of Teddy's pathology can be found in a letter by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice of the British Foreign Office, certainly one of the most important influences on Roosevelt's life; some would call him Teddy's British controller. When another British diplomat, Valentine Chirol, complained about Teddy's wandering focus and intermittent attention span, Spring-Rice replied:
If you took an impetuous small boy on to a beach strewn with a great many exciting pebbles, you would not expect him to remain interested for long in one pebble. You must always remember that the President is about six. [fn 3]
This restless and distracted inability to concentrate, this incapacity for the prolonged contemplation and examination of issues and problems, is one of the factors that made Teddy Roosevelt the psychological wreck that he was. Teddy could not think; the psychological background noise was far too loud. Instead, he was driven to undertake his legendary hunting exploits of killing vast quantities of birds and animals, his prodigious feats of physical exercise and, later, his hollow martial posturing as a "Rough Rider."
The polar opposite to Theodore Roosevelt on all of these points of world outlook and literary expression is Abraham Lincoln. Bush was often paid lip service to Lincoln as a great president, and even organized a lecture in the White House about the contributions of the Civil War president. But there have also been a few unguarded moments in which Bush has revealed his instinctive hatred for Lincoln. In mid-1990, Bush attended a performance at Ford's Theatre, which is still used for dramatic productions and other events in downtown Washington. At the end of the evening Bush was asked by a correspondent if he had enjoyed his evening. Bush remarked that whereas Lincoln had only been able to enjoy the first act of the play he had seen at Ford's he, Bush, had been able to enjoy the entire evening. This quip was reported in the British press.
Bush's affinity for Teddy Roosevelt is based most profoundly on the shared cognitive impairment of these two political figures. In the case of Bush, the inability to think is expressed most demonstrably in the incoherence of verbal expression. Thanks in part to Dana Carvey, who has some insight into this side of Bush's character, the "Bushspeak" issue has been on the table at least since 1987-88. But Bush has been spewing out garbled verbiage for a very long time. The following sample was recorded by Elizabeth Drew in February, 1980, during a ride from Worcester, Massachusetts to Boston. Ms. Drew commented that Bush seemed to enjoy campaigning. Bush replied in part:
I do. Isn't that awful? I really enjoy it, and I say 'awful' only because I'm just beginning to wonder what the hell's happening to me, you know, but I really do enjoy it. I loved going through that cafeteria, kidding with them and learning stuff and sitting and chatting and trying to be responsive to the person and yet have a concern for what concerns them. I mean it when I say I'm better. I'll be better, more sensitive, stronger, from things like that. And there is the smell of the greasepaint and that other crap; there's some of that. I mean, this is very different today. There was a time nobody'd stand out in even hot weather to see me. I was all alone four months ago, and here people are waiting. And there's a certain forward adrenaline that exists today. Hopefully, there will be more of them. Maybe not: maybe I'll be lousy and they'll go away, but that's part of the fun of it. Part of it is the process itself. It's a good process. [fn 4]
The leading feature of this sample is Bush's total lack of rigor; his personal idiom is incapable of expressing causality or precision. Already the subject-object relations are blurred, antecedents are a realm of anything goes, and verbal action has dwindled to insignificance. Underneath the avid and enthusiastic persona is a mind that is petulant, bored, and blase about everything that does not touch the interests of the ego. The result is an impression of overwhelming, undifferentiated banality. One is reminded of a narrative voice like the following:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything personal about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. [fn 5]
The Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye inhabited the world that also belonged to George Bush, the world of the northeast prep schools of the 1940's. Apart from the obvious parallels between George and Holden, there is the interesting question of whether Bush might have a closer relation to this literary personage. In the course of the errant Holden Caulfield's time in New York City, he takes a girlfriend to a matinee theatre performance; during the intermission the girlfriend, named Sally, spots "some jerk she knew on the other side of the lobby. Some guy in one of those very dark grey flannel suits and one of those checkered vests. Strictly Ivy League. Big deal." Holden recounts the later conversation between Sally and her friend: "You should've seen him when old Sally asked him how he liked the play. He was the kind of a phony that have to give themselves room when they answer somebody's question. He stepped back, and stepped right on the lady's foot behind him. He probably broke every toe in her body. He said the play itself was no masterpiece, but that the Lunts, of course, were absolute angels. Angels. For Chrissake. Angels. That killed me. Then he and Sally started talking about a lot of people they both knew. It was the phoniest conversation you ever heard in your life." "The worst part was, the jerk had one of those very phony, Ivy League voices, one of those very tired, snobby voices. He sounded just like a girl. He didn't hesitate to horn in on my date, the bastard. I even thought for a minute that he was going to get in the goddamn cab with us when the show was over, because he walked about two blocks with us, but he said he had to meet a bunch of phonies for cocktails, he said. I could see them all sitting around in some bar, with their goddamn checkered vests, criticizing shows and books and women in those tired, snobby voices. They kill me, those guys."
Who was Sally's friend? "His name was George something - I don't even remember- and he went to Andover. Big, big deal." Who was the "phony Andover bastard" who so exasperated Holden Caulfield? Can this be a very early cameo appearance of George Herbert Walker Bush? J.D. Salinger is not known for giving interviews, but George Bush, Big Man on the Andover campus, would have been a figure of some note under the clock in the Biltmore during the early 1940's, which seems to be the epoch in which this episode is set.
Bush's devotion to racist genetic determinism recalls a slightly earlier figure of the Eastern Liberal Establishment in literature; this is the Amory Blaine of F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. For the egotist Amory Blaine, whose motto was "I know myself, but that is all," and who called out to an arch- traitor and arch-villain "Good-by, Aaron Burr, you and I knew strange corners of life," was also a believer in the superiority of whites and blondes. As Amory tells one of his college friends:
We took the year-books for the last ten years and looked at the pictures of the senior council. I know you don't think much of that august body, but it does represent success here in a general way. Well, I suppose only about thirty-five per cent of every class here are blonds, are really light--yet two-thirds of every senior council are light. We looked at pictures of ten years of them, mind you; that means that out of every fifteen light-haired men in the senior class one is on the senior council, and of the dark-haired men it's only one in fifty. [fn 6]
The other figure from F. Scott Fitzgerald who shares traits with Bush is Nick Carraway, the recent Yale graduate who is the narrator of The Great Gatbsy. Nick Carraway was fascinated by Jay Gatbsy and other denizens of the demi-monde of organized crime, recalling George Bush's long personal friendship with Don Aronow and others of the Meyer Lansky milieu in Florida.
Other aspects of Bush's outlook and mode of expression can be traced back to Dink Stover at Yale, a series of boy's novels by Owen Johnson which began coming out after the First World War, just after the Harriman brothers, Prescott Bush, and Neil Mallon had graduated. Dink Stover was a preppy from Lawrenceville who talked about democracy and equality during his first three years at Yale. He always helped old ladies and did the right thing. When Tap Day rolled around, Dink Stover was tapped by Skull and Bones. Key elements of Bush's public mask, or persona, correspond to the community-service oriented do-gooder Dink Stover, an early addition to the thousand points of light.
Bush's language is the mirror of his personality, and it merits more than cursory examination. The most outstanding quality of Bushspeak is first of all its garbled incoherence and lost syntax. In one of his debates with Dukakis on September 25, 1988, Bush commented on the number of the homeless who are mentally ill:
But-- and I-- look, mental-- that was a little overstated-- I'd say about 30 percent. [fn 7]
Some may claim that the most dissociated utterances by Bush are not his own responsibility, but result rather from Bush's attempt to regurgitate the contents of verbal briefings and briefing books. This assertion has a specious credibility. In hyper-prepared appearances like the debate with Dukakis, Bush does have a tendency to spout lines that mix up phrases and one-liners that he has drilled. In an answer on defense policy during the same debate with Dukakis, Bush stated: "We are going to make some changes and some tough choices before we go to the deployment on the Midgetman missile, or on the Minuteman, whatever it is. We're going to have to- - the MX. We're going to have to do that." And then he added: "It's Christmas." And then, as the audience laughed, "Wouldn't it be nice to be the iceman so you never make a mistake?" The reference to Christmas was intended to be self- ironic; on September 7, 1988, Bush had announced that it was Pearl Harbor Day; now, on September 25, he was announcing that it was Christmas.
But garbled incoherence is so much a staple of Bush's spoken discourse that it cannot be attributed solely to the pressure of his handlers; it is a life-long habit which has become more accentuated during the years of his presidency. In February 1988, Bush told prospective voters in the New Hampshire primary:
I have a tendency to avoid on and on and on, eloquent pleas. I don't talk much, but I believe, maybe not articulate much, but I feel. [fn 8]
Was Bush worried about not being an exciting candidate? "Charisma short? Needing a charisma transplant? Not much," was his rejoinder. A high school student of Knoxville, Tennessee wanted to know if his president would seek ideas from foreign countries to improve education. Bush's riposte:
Well, I'm going to kick that one right into the end zone of the Secretary of Education. But, yes, we have all-- he travels a good deal, goes abroad. We have a lot of people in the department that does that. We're having an international-- this is not as much education as dealing with the environment--a big international conference coming up. And we get it all the time--exchanges of ideas. But I think we've got-- we set out there-- and I want to give credit to your Governor McWherter and to your former Governor Lamar Alexander-- we've gotten great ideas for a national goals program from--in this country -- from the governors who were responding to, maybe, the principal of your high school, for heaven's sake. [fn 9]
In a speech to graduating college seniors, Bush described the visit of the new Czechoslovak President, Vaclav Havel, to the White House in early 1990:
And the look on his face, as the man who was in jail an dying, or living -- whatever-- for freedom, stood out there, hoping against hope for freedom. [fn 10]
Bush once admitted that he had difficulty keeping the most elementary sense of direction in his mental life; he told a group of school children, "I read so much sometimes I start to read backwards, which is not very good." [fn 11]
Bush is a bureaucrat and administrator at heart, with all the sinister overtones these have rightly acquired during the twentieth century. His discourse is highly bureaucratic, and is famous for being so. Bush's obsessions with "things", as in the notorious "vision thing," reflects the essence of Aristotelian bureaucratic cataloguing. We saw the "adversary thing" back in 1976; since then we have seen the "Super Tuesday thing," "the vice presidential thing," and a nostalgic glance at "this drilling thing," in reference to Bush's "experience in offshore drilling." [fn 12] When Bush talked by telephone with the astronauts of the space shuttle Atlantis, he asked, "How was the actual deployment thing?" Sometimes this can even occur in the plural, as in this reference to his dog Millie's puppies: "Kids just love those little fuzzy things." Bush's language is also peppered with the acronyms of the inside-the-beltway Washington functionary. "My allied colleagues and I should agree to take up these ideas at the C.S.C.E. summit this fall, to be held around the signing of the C.F.E. treaty," Bush said on one occasion. Those who do not know what GATT, SPRs, G-7, Start, Cocom, OTS, and Chapter VII mean are going to have a hard time following Bushspeak. [fn 13] And like all bureaucrats, Bush loves the passive voice. His stock reply on Iran- contra was, "Mistakes were made." Who made them? Bush's answer, which he alleges is borrowed from Yogi Berra, was "Don't make the wrong mistakes."
Very often Bush's pronouncements are designed for self-defense against his detractors. In the spring of 1988, Bush was asked his reaction to Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip, and to the political satire of Dana Carvey of Saturday Night Live. Bush answered:
I used to get tense about that. My mother still does. She's 87. She doesn't like it when people say untrue and ugly things about her little boy. Having said that, it doesn't bother me any more. You know why, because we took a tremendous pounding, not just from elitists like Doonesbury, coming out of the elite of the elite, but untrue allegations, and you know I don't worry about it anymore, because the American people don't believe all this stuff. So I'm saying, why should I be all uptight? [fn 14]
Although he likes to suggests that it is his opponents who are the real elitist, sometimes Bush has to defend his own patrician social background against criticism. When Bush was campaigning in New Jersey before the 1988 primary, he was asked if the patrician governor of that state, Tom Kean, had a background so similar to Bush's that he could not be considered as Bush's vice presidential running mate. Bush's reply:
Did they ask Tom Kean when he was a great success in business, a great success in government, did they ask where he went to school or what his background was? Did they say, 'Tom, you can't be a very good governor because you weren't born in a log cabin in the middle of Newark'? No, they didn't ask that.... So I don't worry about fitting into some kind of mold. It's what you feel, what you believe, what kind of experience you've had." [fn 15]
Many times the purpose of Bush's remarks is to evade questions. He often refused to talk about his role in Iran-contra: "I forgot to tell you, I don't talk about what I told the president," was a favorite line. Who would be his running mate? "I forgot to tell you, I'm not in the speculation business." Would he purge the Reaganites? "I forgot to tell you, we're going to have wholesale change." [fn 16]
Bush has called himself "a restrained kind of guy." He has often denied having "a rancor in there" against his opposition, but his rage states have become increasingly difficult to control over the years. He was unable to control his temper when defending his kow-tow to Deng Xiao-ping during 1989; after a ranting defense of his China policy he thanked the press for their questions, saying: "So, I'm glad you asked it because then I vented a spleen here." [fn 17] Bush's rage episodes have often been associated with public criticism. Commenting once again on the Doonesbury comic strip, Bush once confessed: "Four years ago I'd go ballistic when I read some of this stuff. But hey, let him do his thing, and I'll do mine." "Ballistic" for Bush refers to a rage fit which might cause him to chew on the White House carpets; this is a not infrequent event. For lesser tantrums Bush has coined another expression, "semi-ballistic," as in an offhand remark during the 1988 campaign about his feelings when given speech drafts which he finds unsuitable: "Everybody on this airplane will have seen me semi-ballistic when people hand me things that I'm simply not going to say."
Another feeling state which, judging from the evidence of his statements, is meaningful for Bush is the state of being "frantic." During the 1988 campaign, Bush was asked about his tendency to assail Dukakis. Bush replied"
I don't feel frantic. I don't feel under any time constraints. There is a little bit of cholesterol rise, the frustration level going up. So I'm getting a little bit more combative. [fn 18]
During 1989, Bush still faced grilling about Iran-contra from a reporter. "You're burning up time. The meter is running through the sand on you, and I am now filibustering," taunted Bush. [fn 19]
Bush's pattern of uncontrollable rage states became worse during 1990, in the interwar period between Panama and Iraq. During February 1990, Bush came under fire for duplicity, lying to the press, and excessive secret diplomacy. After a night's sleep on Air Force One on the way to an anti-drug summit in Colombia, Bush came out of his quarters to confront the traveling press corps in a way that the Washington Post correspondent found "both testy and teasing." Bush, visibly furious, announced "a whole new relationship" with reporters. "From now on it's gonna be a little different. I think we have too many press conferences," ranted Bush. "It's not good. It's overexposure to the thing." Had he not slept well?, asked one reporter. Bush replied, I can't go into the details of that. Because someone will think it's too much sleep, someone will think it's too little. I'll give you a little insight into that. I had a very good night's sleep. And I've never-- if I felt better it'd be a frame-up. There's something you can use.
Bush was incensed because he had denied that there was about to be a four-power conference on the future of Germany, and such a conference was announced the next day. Bush had been misleading about his plans for the Malta summit with Gorbachov, and he had kept secret the mission of Scowcroft and Eagleburger to Beijing on July 4, 1989. Various press accounts had noted these discrepancies, and Bush was now having a fit. Would he be signing a joint communique at the drug summit with Colombia, Peru and Bolivia?
I hate to be secretive, say nothing of deceptive. But I'm not going to tell you that.
Would he discuss possible US military interdiction of drug trafficking?
I'm not going to discuss what I'm gonna bring up.
Would the drug summit bring any surprise proposals?
I'm not gonna discuss whether there are any surprises or not. This is a new thing. A new approach. Even if I don't discuss it. I'm not going to discuss it.
Would the Colombian government now abandon its policy of extraditing drug traffickers?
Bush: I have no comment whatsoever on that.
Q: Did you know about it?
Bush: I have no comments on whether I knew about it.
Q: Is it true?
Bush: I can't comment on whether it's true or not.
Q: Did we turn you into this?
Bush: Yes. When I told you...that I didn't think there would be a deal [on the four-power conference on Germany], and then they shortly made a deal, and I'm hit for deceiving you. So from now on it's going to be a little different.
Would he schedule a summit with Gorbachov for June, 1990? Bush again refused to answer, "Because I'm not gonna be burned for holding out or doing something deceptive." Later the same afternoon, Marlin Fitzwater, the top White House spin doctor, attempted to interpret what had been an infantile fit of rage by assuring the reporters: "He was just kidding. He was having fun." [fn 20] In retrospect, it is also clear that Bush's thyroid was also on the warpath.
Later the same spring, Bush went semi-ballistic when reporters declined to join him for jogging at 7:15 AM in Columbia, South Carolina. The White House reporters all got a wake-up call at 7 AM calling on them to join Bush for jogging in 15 minutes; usually the reporters watch Bush from the sidelines, but this time he was magnanimously inviting them to come running with him. There were no volunteers. Bush then bullied Rita Beamish of Associated Press into running with him, 13 laps around a football field for a total of 25 minutes. But even after that exertion, Bush was still full of fury. He proceeded to launch a diatribe at the press corps:
The rest of you lazy guys, get out there and run. A fit America is a fine America. A fit America is a strong America. A fit America should include photo dogs [Bushspeak for photographers] as well as print reporters who slovenly sit back in the grandstands while some of us are out running.
Bush then attacked the "boom men," who hold microphones on long poles to pick up Bush's remarks. Not long before, a boom man had accidentally dropped a microphone on a table in the Oval Office, and Bush had apoplectically complained of ruined antiques; had it been the Theodore Roosevelt desk? Bush railed that if the boom men exercised more, they would have more "strength in the forearms to keep these microphones up in the air." One reporter responded to the tirade: "I do not get paid to play with the president when he feels like playing." [fn 21]
When on vacation, Bush has always maintained a frenetic, hyperkinetic pace. After winning the 1988 election, Bush repaired to Delray Beach, Florida, to cavort with his plutocrat friend William Stamps Farrish III. Despite the exhausting rigors of the campaign, Bush "spent the bulk of his day exercising and resting: a quarter-mile swim, a 20-minute run, and a nap." He came back from a two-mile run in an "upbeat, almost giddy mood." [fn 22]
Bush's hyperkinetic antics at Kennebunkport during September, 1989 were described as follows by a first-hand observer:
It was just an average day on President Bush's vacation.
Hungering to catch a bluefish, he packed up his speedboat Fidelity and headed out to sea. But when he remembered that he had forgotten First Lady Barbara Bush, he turned the boat around and accidentally ran over a board, which broke a propeller.
Undeterred by his disabled boat, the president took his party to the horseshoe pit, where they tossed several games for about 45 minutes as Mr. Bush exclaimed, "Mr. Smooth does it again" with each ringer. But soon that got old, and it was time to head to the golf course for 18 holes.
This is President Bush, a man of nearly manic movement. All during his vacation, the last thing he did was relax. He's up at the crack of dawn for jogging, out on the tennis courts, teeing off for golf, pitching horseshoes, fishing, swimming, entertaining friends.
Bush, in sum, "can't sit still"; he even accepted a dare from his grandchildren and dove off a stone pier into the Atlantic Ocean, which is kept cold along the Maine coast by the frigid Labrador current. [fn 23]
George Herbert Walker had reformed the rules of golf, eliminating the stymie; George Bush transformed the game into a manic exercise called "speed golf," whose object is to complete 18 holes in the briefest possible interval of time. According to one journalist who attempted to match Bush's record of 1 hour 37 minutes for a threesome, as compared with almost four hours for leisurely golfers. Speed golf may not be for everyone, but it is President Bush's game, however. He calls it cart polo. Bush has taken a leisurely game and turned it into what one reporter called a forced march-- on wheels. "He barely gets out of the cart, whacks it, and he's gone," says Spike Hemingway, Bush's longtime friend and frequent playing partner. Others have dubbed it aerobic golf, or golf in the fast lane. "Do you know who the winner is in speed golf?" a Portland, Maine doctor asked me. "The first one in the hole." [fn 24]
During the summer of 1989, "Bush revealed himself to be a playful yet relentless exhibitionist," wrote another commentator. "He was forever restless and rarely alone." Out on the golf course, he called for silence: "All right, the crowd is hushed. They sense that Mr. Smooth is back." Later, when it came time to play tennis, Bush ordered a press aide to round up the photo dogs and reporters to "come see what Mr. Smooth is like on the courts." [fn 25] For Newsweek, Bush's routine was a "pentathlon."
Bush's desire for frenetic movement, seeking in space what has been lost in time, carries over into his notorious penchant for foreign travel. By July, 1991, he had logged 339,257 miles on Air Force One, and visited 32 countries, having surpassed in less than 30 months the previous record set by Nixon between 1969 and 1974. [fn 26]
Bush has a history of psychosomatic illness. During the 1950's, when he was in his early thirties, he had been, according to his own account, a "chronic worrier." One morning during a "hectic business trip to London" Bush had fainted in his hotel room, and was unable to get to his feet. A hotel doctor thought he had food poisoning. Bush says he later sought treatment from Dr. Lillo Crain at the Texas Medical Center. Dr. Crain told Bush that he had a bleeding ulcer. "George, you're a classic ulcer type," Bush says he was told by Dr. Crain. "A young businessman with only one speed, all-out. You try to do too much and you worry too much." Bush says he expressed doubt there was any chance he could change his ways. The doctor replied, "There'd better be, or you won't be around in ten years, maybe five." Dr. Crain added: "If you want to keep this from happening again, it's up to you." [fn 27] Bush claims he worked at "channeling my energies", and "never suffered a relapse."
After Bush's May 10, 1989 White House physical examination, a cyst was found on the third finger of Bush's right hand; this was surgically removed in October, 1989, and pronounced benign. This was allegedly Bush's only problem. On April 12, 1990, White House physician Dr. Burton Lee announced that Bush "is in truly excellent health." "He continues to keep extremely fit through vigorous physical activity." Bush was diagnosed with "early glaucoma" in his left eye, a condition that was treated with Betagen eye drops. X-rays of Bush's hips and back confirmed the presence of a "mild degenerative osteoarthritis," which allegedly had been discovered by previous examinations. [fn 2] On March 27, 1991, Bush was given another routine physical, and the White House doctors (and spin doctors) announced once again that their charge was in "excellent health."
On May 4, 1991, Bush delivered an address at the commencement exercises of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. This campus had been the site of the first anti-war teach in of the Vietnam epoch, in 1965, and the Ann Arbor campus had been the scene of significant anti-war activity during Bush's Gulf adventure. Today Bar was also present. His new speech writer Tony Snow, the former editorial page editor of the Moonie Washington Times had contributed to a speech attacking the campus inquisition called "political correctness." The scene was the cavernous Michigan Stadium south of the main campus, a larger version of the Circus Maximus in Rome. Bush was looking for a wedge issue for the 1992 campaign, and the campus dictators of the politically correct were a big target. There were hecklers with signs denouncing Bush, so he launched into his text with vigor:
Although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones. It declares certain topics off-limits, certain expressions off-limits, even certain gestures off- limits...In their own Orwellian way, crusades that demand correct behavior crush diversity in the name of diversity.
At this point the hecklers came to life with loud chants of "Bush lies." Since the beginning of the Gulf crisis, Bush had been confronted by hostile demonstrators. We know from his 1965 debate with Ronnie Dugger how much he was upset by such "extremists." The chants kept going as the infuriated Bush struggled to be heard.
The power to create also rests on other freedoms, especially the freedom -- and I think about that right now -- to speak one's mind. I had this written into the speech, and I didn't even know if these guys were going to be here.
The demonstrators kept up the chorus of "Bush lies." Bush's temperature was rising from semi-ballistic to ballistic. He told the students to ... fight back against the boring politics of division and derision. Let's trust our friends and colleagues to respond to reason .... And I remind myself a lot of this: We must conquer the temptation to assign bad motives to people who disagree with us. [fn 29]
After this speech, Bush flew to Andrews Air Force base and thence by helicopter to Camp David. During this period, Bush's White House chief of staff, John Sununu, had become the target of public criticism because of his frequent use of military aircraft for weekend vacations and skiing trips. Boy Gray had come forward as the enforcer of White House travel regulations against Sununu, whose motto was reportedly "fly free or die." There were also moves afoot to re-open the 1980 October surprise investigation, always a point of immense vulnerability for Bush. He had been forced to deny once again on May 3 that he had engaged in secret dealings with the Khomeini regime to delay the release of the US hostages in Teheran.
Slightly after 3:30 PM, Bush gathered his retinue of Secret Service agents and announced that it was time to go jogging. After about 30 minutes, he began complaining of fatigue and shortness of breath. He then proceeded to the Camp David infirmary, where Michael Nash, one of his resident team of doctors, determined that Bush was experiencing atrial fibrillation, an irregularity of the heartbeat. Nash recommended that Bush go to Bethesda Medical Center for treatment. Bush arrived at Bethesda at 6 PM.
The news that Bush had entered the hospital at Bethesda was flashed by wire services around the planet. Bush was exhibiting a fast, irregular heart rhythm. The heart was working less efficiently, producing a tendency for shortness of breath, light- headedness, and even fainting. Sometimes atrial fibrillation is associated with a heart attack, or with damage to a heart valve. The first step in Bush's treatment was the attempt to slow the heart rate and to restore the normal rhythm. After an hour of tests, doctors gave Bush digoxin, a drug used to restore the usual heart rhythm. When the digoxin proved unable to do the job alone, Bush's physicians began to administer another heart medication, procainamide. Though doctors claimed that Bush showed "some indications of a positive response" to this therapy, Bush's heart irregularity was resistant to the medicines and persisted through Sunday, May 5. Doctors also began to administer an anticoagultant drug, Coumadin, in addition to aspirin. Bush was thus being kept going with four different medications.
At this point, Bush's medical team was forced to contemplate resorting to electrocardioversion, a procedure in which an electric shock is administered to the heart, momentarily stopping the heart and resetting its rhythm. This prospect was enough to create a crisis of the entire regime, since electrocardioversion would have required Bush to undergo general anesthesia, which in turn would have mandated the transfer of presidential powers to Vice President Dan Quayle. Back in 1985, we have seen that Bush was the beneficiary of such a transfer when Reagan underwent surgery for colon cancer. The transfer would have been accomplished under Section III of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which states that:
Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
The specter of Acting President Dan Quayle brought forth a wave of public expressions of consternation and dismay. According to a Washington Post-ABC public opinion poll published May 7, 57% of those responding said that in their opinion Quayle was not qualified to take over as Acting President. In the night between Sunday May 5 and Monday May 6, Bush was still experiencing sporadic episodes of an irregular heartbeat. But on the morning of Monday, May 6 his doctors suddenly pronounced him fit to return to the Oval Office, where he was seated at his desk by 9:30 AM, and resumed what was described as his normal work schedule. The doctors conceded only that they had asked Bush to curtail his usual frenetic schedule of recreational sports.
Bush returned to work wired with a portable heart monitor. This was a device about the size of a telephone pager, with white wires leading to patches on his chest which measured the rate of his heartbeat. Bush stated that he was "Back to normal and the same old me." He declined to show off his heart monitor with the quip "Do you think I'm Lyndon Johnson?" LBJ had pulled up his shirt to show reporters a scar on his stomach after a gall bladder operation. [fn 30]
On May 7, Bush's chief attending physician, Dr. Burton Lee, gave a briefing at Bethesda in which he disclosed that Bush's bout with atrial fibrillation had been caused by an overactive thyroid gland. Lee assured the press that the problem had been an overactive thyroid secreting too much of the hormone thyroxin, which helps to regulate the body's metabolic rate. This hormone goes into the circulatory system, and thus can disturb the proper functioning of the heart. Lower the rate of production of thyroid hormone, and everything would return to normal, was the message. Lee said that Bush would undergo a thyroid scan and other tests to help determine the appropriate treatment. Contradicting earlier statements by Fitzwater that there had been no recent danger signals regarding Bush's health, Lee now revealed that Bush had experienced a small weight loss and episodes of unusual fatigue during jogging over the previous few weeks. The weight loss had been of eight or nine pounds during the month before Bush was hospitalized. Bush had been tired enough to complain, "Gee whiz, I must be getting old," on earlier joggings runs. [fn 31] Some of Bush's symptoms appear to have emerged in February, during the time of the Iraq war. Lee claimed that Bush had never undergone tests of his thyroid functions because he had shown no symptoms of thyroid disturbance-- a patent absurdity. According to Burton Lee, the first indication of a thyroid disturbance came on Monday morning, when a blood test showed that the level of thyroid hormone in Bush's blood was above normal. These results were then confirmed with repeated blood tests.
The official White House line was that this was good news, since thyroid disorders were easily treated. Fitzwater recounted that "The President was overjoyed. It means the problem was not a problem with his heart and that it is virtually 100 percent treatable." Burton Lee chimed in with his opinion that biochemical hyperthyroidism is "easily treatable."
On May 9, Bush's doctors announced that he was suffering from what they chose to call Graves' disease, a condition in which the thyroid gland becomes enlarged and produces excessive levels of hormone in response to "false messages" from other parts of the body about how much of the hormone is needed. Graves' disease is a disorder of the immune system in which the body produces an antibody which "mimics" the hormone that usually tells the thyroid how much thyroxin to produce. One decisive test was said to have involved Bush's swallowing of a small dose of radioactive iodine, followed by observation with a device resembling a geiger counter to obtain an image of the thyroid. This thyroid scan revealed a gland that was enlarged, and absorbing iodine at faster than the normal rate. During this press conference, Bush's medical team also conceded that Bush had experienced a renewed bout of atrial fibrillation in the form of a "rather brief episode" during the night of Tuesday, May 8.
During this press conference, Burton Lee once again repeated the story that Bush's thyroid had never been tested during his previous annual or other checkups. He offered the estimate that Bush's thyroid condition had developed after his last medical checkup, which had been conducted on March 27, 1991. According to Dr. Kenneth Burman,a thyroid specialist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who had been assigned to Bush's case, the issue of whether thyroid tests should be a part of routine physical examination was controversial. Burman added that his personal opinion was that such tests were not cost-effective! Press reports reflected surprise on the part of outside experts about this alleged neglect of thyroid testing. Also joining in this press conference was Dr. Bruce K. Lloyd, the chief of cardiology at Bethesda Medical Center.
Bush's doctors announced that he had ingested a dose of radioactive iodine on the morning of May 9. Bush drank this iodine at Bethesda. One thyroid expert, Dr. Bruce D. Weintraub of the National Institutes of Health, told the Washington Post that as a result of this thyroid cocktail, which was designed to destroy a large part of Bush's thyroid, the public might henceforth see "a slower and less frenetic George Bush." [fn 32] As a result of the radioactive cocktail, Bush was "mildly radioactive" for a few days, and was told to refrain from hugging his grandchildren for their protection.
Some experts called attention to the allegedly bizarre anomaly that Barbara Bush had been diagnosed as suffering from Graves' disease in January, 1990, in the immediate wake of the Panama crisis. One of the antibodies associated with Graves' disease triggers abnormal deposits of fat behind the eyes, leading to the bulging eyes that are associated in the popular mind with hyperthyroid disorders. For some time after she was diagnosed, Mrs. Bush suffered from disturbances in her vision. In addition, during the summer of 1990, the family dog Millie, a springer spaniel, was found to have contracted lupus, another autoimmune disease. Millie was treated with the steroid drug prednisone, and apparently recovered. Finally, it turned out that Bush's son Marvin, a resident of Alexandria, Virginia, was also afflicted by an autoimmune disorder, this time regional enteritis.
As will shortly become clear, there would have been good reason to investigate Bush's frequent episodes of apoplectic rage as a causal factor in the autoimmune disorders of his immediate family circle. The most likely explanation for the afflictions of Millie and Barbara is that they were both driven frantic by George's obsessive and rage-filled outbursts in the White House family quarters. This may have included various forms of mental and even physical abuse. The emotional trauma of living with George would be more than enough to produce autoimmune problems in those around him. Perhaps in an attempt to distract attention from this highly plausible path of investigation, Marilyn Quayle was sent forward to tell CNN of a plan to test the water at the vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory, where George and Barbara had lived for eight years before moving to the White House. Mrs. Quayle told the media that Bush's White House physicians had "ordered all sorts of tests" on the water in the vice president's residence, which is over a century old. "Obviously there is a little bit of concern," said Mrs. Quayle. "It seems a little bit much of a coincidence. I don't worry overmuch about it, but I think it's something that does bear looking into." Mrs. Quayle added that she hoped the results of the tests "relieve a lot of people's minds-- definitely, I hope they relieve mine."
What Marilyn Quayle was referring to was part of a program to test the water at the White House, the Naval Observatory, Camp David, and Kennebunkport. Sanitary engineers were said to be looking for concentrations of iodine and lithium, two chemicals which had been linked to thyroid disorders. Bush's doctors later said that they had ordered the tests in the hopes of uncovering clues to the remarkable coincidence of three autoimmune disorders in the Bush household, including the dog Millie. Bush's pose was one of studied skepticism: "You're kidding," he told reporters. "I'm not going to lose confidence in the water at the White House until we know a little more about this," Bush said. In any case, the water at the White House "tasted fine to me." [fn 33]
During the visit of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Bush described himself as "dead tired" on one occasion during the visit. During a May 20 press conference with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, Bush spoke with a raspy voice, and his attention seemed to wander. When asked about his poor performance with Kohl, Bush conceded that he had experienced "slowing down on the mental processes." On more than one occasion, he seemed to lose his train of thought during answers to the questions of the journalists. The raspy voice was still noticeable in a press conference on May 21. On that same day, the White House announced the results of what was billed as Bush's first complete checkup since the day he swallowed radioactive iodine. The White House said that Bush had lost a total of 13 pounds since the onset of the crisis, but had managed to gain back a pound and a half. Tests showed that Bush's thyroid functions were now in the low-normal range, it was further alleged. Doctors tried to explain away Bush's fatigue by saying that it reflected the body's adjustment to a thyroid gland which was overactive less than two weeks before, but had now possibly become underactive as a result of the radioactive iodine therapy, which had destroyed many thyroxin-producing cells. By this point, Bush was still taking digoxin, procainamide, Coumadin, aspirin, and non-radioactive iodine drops. These last, it was said, were designed to reduce the amounts of thyroxin entering the bloodstream. [fn 34]
Bush was in Kennebunkport for Memorial Day, and the White House propaganda machine was churning out the line was that he was now well on his way to complete recovery. "I'm sleeping much better and I really do feel good and I wish I had about four more days here," Bush told the press. "Been taking a little sleep after lunch here, which is good. Been sleeping very well." During this weekend, Bush tried fishing at nine of his favorite locations. On Sunday, May 26, Bush played a total of 27 holes of golf. Reporters found that he was back to his old ways as he "circled the golf course like a man on a merry-go-round." When he "passed the 18th hole once again on this vacation, he exuberantly flung a golf club at his cart and looked horrified when it nearly hit one of his Secret Service guards." According to press reports, Bush was still suffering from dryness of mouth. He had reduced his intake of caffeine, and of alcohol. On Monday, May 27, Bush traveled to New Haven to speak at the Yale commencement, and lost three pounds due to the rigors of the trip. On Tuesday, after he had returned to Kennebunkport, he told reporters: "Yesterday I got a little tired at the end of the day, and today I feel fine. You have to pace yourself a little." [fn 35]
Bush's speech at the Yale commencement was devoted to a pugnacious defense of his China policy, the policy of the kow-tow to the butchers of Beijing. In the words of one observer: "George Bush's address to the Yale graduating class was more like a tantrum than a speech. In it, he was defiant about renewing most-favored- nation trading status for the Chinese, and crushingly condescending to the opposition he faces. [...] The resolute commander-in-chief sounded like the querulous candidate of yesterday. He can do what he wants, talk out of both sides of his mouth and stage a preemptive strike on critics who say his position is immoral." [fn 36]
On Wednesday, May 29, Bush proposed a freeze on the purchase and production of surface-to-surface missiles in the Middle East. On this day Bush was again out on the golf course, and questions about his health were raised once again by his ghastly personal appearance, which was best conveyed by a photograph appearing on the front page of the London Financial Times of Thursday, May 30.
After the beginning of June, references to Bush's atrial fibrillation and thyroid crisis become exceedingly rare, a tribute to the power of the Brown Brothers, Harriman/Skull and Bones networks. On September 5, Burton Lee announced that he had halted Bush's daily doses of procainamide and digoxin shortly after the middle of August. But Bush continued to take daily doses of coumadin to prevent blood clots, medication to replace lost thyroid hormore production, and aspirin every other day, also to prevent blood clots. This announcement came at the end of Bush's 29 day vacation in Kennebunkport. The White House spin was that Bush "appears to have overcome weight loss and fatigue associated with the thyroid condition, called Graves' disease, and treatment for it." [fn 37] Then, in mid-September, Bush underwent a two-hour medical examination designed to provide a "medical stamp of approval" for Bush's health as he prepared to run for re- election in 1992. "I gotta prove I'm well," said Bush as he went in for the checkup. According to Dr. Burman, "the president has been restored to his normal vigorous state of good health." Lee said that all tests had showed Bush's heart functions to be normal; he also claimed that there had been no recurrence of atrial fibrillation after May. Bush had commented in August that the only thing that could keep him from running for a second term would be a health problem. He now described his own condition as "100 percent. Perfect bill of health." [fn 38] And that, as far as the regime was concerned, was that.
Despite the claims of Dr. Lee that political considerations played no role in his treatment, it is clear that all statements by White House physicians about Bush's physical and mental health must be regarded with the greatest skepticism; such pronouncements are likely to be as reliable as the censored war bulletins of Operation Desert Storm. Was there still a problem with Bush's health, including his mental health? The answer is an emphatic yes, a yes buttressed by the observation of continued paroxysms of obsessive rage on the part of Bush, who has not calmed down at all. Bush remains on an emotional roller-coaster, complete with the snap decisions so typical of the hyperthyroid personality. In short, Bush's thyroid and mental disorders have the most devastating implications for his ability to govern.
The first question regards the nature and even the name of Bush's malady. According to a leading Baltimore psychiatrist who could not be described as politically hostile to Bush, it is clear that the man in the White House is suffering from the full-fledged symptoms of Basedow's disease. The difference between Graves' disease and Basedow's is more than a technical quibble: the term Graves' disease as used in the English-speaking world is misleading in that it plays down the symptoms of mental disturbance which are more explicitly associated with Basedow's disease. According to this specialist, it is pointless to test the water in the White House, the Naval Observatory, Kennebunkport, and Camp David, since it is well established that Basedow's disease is emotionally triggered. An emotional upheaval, psychic shock, or other mental trauma stimulates the master endocrine gland of the body, the pituitary gland, into an overproduction of its hormone, which in turn provokes an overactivity of the thyroid, speeding up overall metabolism and further exacerbating the nervous and emotional crisis. This pattern of overstimulation of the mind, the pituitary, the thyroid, the mind, and so forth becomes a vicious, self-feeding cycle, which can be life threatening if it is not effectively treated.
According to this Baltimore expert, the fact that Bush has experienced a pattern of atrial fibrillation is cause for concern not so much because of what it portends for Bush's heart, but rather because it shows that Bush's case of Basedow's disease is already well advanced, with a significant excess of thyroid hormone. The overproduction of thyroid hormone can theoretically be brought under control through the administration of radioactive iodine, but this does not mean that the disease itself is easy to treat or to bring under control with any finality. Precisely because Basedow's disease is emotionally triggered, a sudden increase in emotional stress can result in a renewal of erratic behavior.
The good news, in the view of this expert, is that patients suffering from Basedow's disease do not have to be placed into a mental institution. Their symptoms can be managed, although they will continue to have their ups and downs. But such management requires a stress-free environment. The implications for Bush's further tenure in the White House are obvious enough: the Federal Aeronautics Administration will not grant a pilot's license of any kind to a person who has been diagnosed with Basedow's disease.
The Baltimore specialist also pointed out that although samples of Bush's blood, taken by his White House doctors and frozen over a period of months and years, might be tested for thyroid hormone in order to answer the all-important question of when Bush's case of Basedow's disease actually began, these findings might be fragmentary because of the significant day-to-day variations in the level of thyroid hormone. If a sample had been taken after Bush heard the news that Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz had declined to accept Bush's threatening letter handed to him by Secretary of State Baker, Bush's level of thyroid hormone that day might have been high enough to warrant immediate hospitalization.
In the opinion of this expert, these points all represent standard, well-known medical doctrine which is not subject to any controversy among physicians and specialists. Bush's White House medical team must therefore be keenly aware of all of them.
According to a California professor of radiology, hyperthyroidism is traditionally associated with patients who are irritable, restless, overactive, and emotionally labile. They often lack the ability to concentrate, and have symptoms of anxiety. They also exhibit impulsive behavior. In addition, there are outright psychiatric disorders which are associated with hyperthyroidism. This professor pointed to Bush's decision to initiate hostilities against Iraq, in which he rejected the advice of eight out of nine secretaries of defense, three former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, and other prominent experts in order to wage war. Could this kind of decision-making process be associated with Bush's hyperthyroidism? In this specialist's opinion it is difficult to say, because of the difficulty of determining with precision when Bush's hyperthyroid condition began. Bush's choice of Dan Quayle as a running mate might also fit into this type of pattern.
This California professor noted that there exists a literature on hyperthyroid patients who have developed schizophrenia. Sixty per cent of patients with hyperthyroidism show intellectual impairment of some degree. What will Bush be like if and when he becomes euthyroid? The California professor regarded this as a fascinating question to follow.
According to a Venezuelan endocrinologist, hyperthyroidism must be regarded as a psycho-somatic illness characterized by obsessive states. When the patient is unable to consummate his or her obsession, then cardiac arrhythmia results. When this happens, the condition of the patient deteriorates. This mechanism strongly suggests that such thyroid patients be disqualified for posts that involve stress and weighty responsibilities. According to this expert, it would be difficult for Bush to remain in office until January, 1993, and it would be madness for him to attempt a second term. This specialist has a background of research in the psychological causes of thyroid disorders; one form of the etiology of hyperthyroidism he has studied involves the tendency of young children whose parents have died to develop thyroid problems as a result of grief and bereavement.
The question of the influence of Bush's hyperthyroid condition on his decision-making, especially his rageful and obsessive decisions to go to war in Panama and the Gulf, could not be avoided even by the pro-regime press. A New York Times article by Dr. Lawrence K. Altman, MD, posed the question, "does an overactive thyroid gland affect mood and judgment?" According to this piece, experts interviewed admitted that they had "wondered about a theoretical link between [Bush's] Graves' disease and his presidential decisions. Most experts believe that people with hyperthyroidism do not make decisions as well as they would normally." "An important question," wrote Altman, "is when Mr. Bush's case of Graves' disease began." One way to shed light on this question would be to test stored blood samples that Bush's doctors would routinely keep. But the Secret Service has a policy of destroying all such specimens for security reasons! According to Dr. Andre Van Herle of UCLA, among patients suffering from hyperthyroidism, "some are not disturbed at all; others are basket cases." Altman elaborates that people with hyperthyroid conditions can exhibit uncharacteristic behavior like showing shortened attention spans, making snap decisions, behaving frenetically, and tiring more easily than usual. People have been known to inexplicably get married or divorced when such important decisions are out of character. Students with overactive thyroids may be so jittery that they cannot sit through class or they do poorly on examinations.
The worst form of hyperthyroidism, known as thyroid storm, can be characterized by fever, marked weakness, muscle-wasting and psychosis. Mr. Bush's doctors have described his case as mild, and never near thyroid storm.
According to Dr. Peter C. Whybrow, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, mild depression can be an initial symptom of hyperthyroid disorder. People with overactive thyroid glands "don't perform quite so well," in his view. "They feel, for reasons they cannot explain, a little agitated, a little preoccupied with themselves, jumpy. Their concentration is a little off." According to Altman, "some experts have raised the possibility that Mr. Bush could have had a mildly overactive thyroid in the 1988 Presidential campaign, or even earlier." Any normal medical checkup administered by a private doctor would have detected Bush's thyroid ailment through a $20 blood test that is done automatically unless it is specifically ruled out by the physician in advance. [fn 39]