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Posted at 2:20 PM ET, 11/15/2010

What Bush left out of “Decision Points”

By Dan P. McAdams
Guest Blogger

About this blog: In “George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream: A Psychological Portrait,” coming from Oxford University Press next month, Dan P. McAdams focuses on several key moments in the former president’s life as cornerstones of his personality: the death of his sister at age seven, his commitment on his 40th birthday to stay sober, his reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and his decision to invade Iraq. McAdams, who is chairman of the Psychology Department at Northwestern University, here asks if Bush told the whole story in his memoir “Decision Points” about his turn away from drink.

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I argue in my book that the key to Bush’s psychology was a deep story of redemption that he constructed and internalized around the age of 40. As a self-defining myth for his own life, the story told how the prodigal son who had squandered two decades with drink and waywardness managed to turn it all around at midlife and dedicate himself to family, God, and public service.

The culmination of the story, in Bush’s mind, was the morning after his 40th birthday party, when he returned from his customary 4-mile run to tell Laura that he would never drink again. And if the public record is to be believed, he never did. The rest, of course, is history.

It is fitting, therefore, that Bush begins “Decision Points” with an account of how he quit alcohol that morning. “Quitting drinking was one of the toughest decisions I ever made, “ he writes. “Without it, none of the others that follow in this book would have been possible.”

Quitting alcohol was a new beginning for Bush. But it was also the end of a sequence of events, punctuating the fourth decade of his life, which resulted in his full psychological transformation. In chronological order, the other key events were (1) meeting and marrying Laura at age 31, (2) becoming a father of twins at age 35, and (3) experiencing an evangelical religious conversion in his late 30s. Bush alludes to all three of them in Chapter 1 of “Decisions Points.”

But the flat and psychologically simplistic account he provides fails to convey the real drama that characterized the redemptive journey Bush traveled in his 30s.

Take, for example the religious conversion. As he did in his campaign autobiography, “A Charge to Keep,” Bush trots out the heart-warming chestnut about visits Billy Graham made to Kennebunkport to talk faith with the Bush clan.

But the real, honest-to-God conversion experience took place in a Holiday Inn coffee shop on April 3, 1984, when the itinerant preacher Arthur Blessitt brought his salvation show to Midland, Texas.

As described in Steven Mansfield’s (2003) “The Faith of George W. Bush” and other sources, Blessitt was a Jesus-freak sort of a guy who carried a cross on his back as he trekked from one revival to the next, often conducting “toilet baptisms” wherein drug addicts flushed away their stash and dedicated their lives to Jesus.

In the presence of another born-again Christian, Blessitt led the future president through a prayer: “Cleanse me from my sins and come into my life as my Savior and Lord. . . . I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and desire to be a true believer in and follower of Jesus.” That evening, Blessit wrote this in his diary: “A good and powerful day. Led Vice President Bush’s son to Jesus today. George Bush, Jr.! This is great! Glory to God.”

Excising Blessitt from the official account is just one of many examples in “Decision Points” where George W. Bush makes himself out to be a much less interesting person than he actually was. Whitewashing his biography may burnish Bush’s reputation in the eyes of those who already love him, but it is too bad for other readers of his long-awaited memoir. Hoping for redemption in the eyes of American history, the Decider unfortunately decided to take the boring route.

By Dan P. McAdams  | November 15, 2010; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags:  George W Bush drinking; george w bush decision points; george w bush memoirs  
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Comments

What Bush left out of his book? Mostly, the facts.

Posted by: wrw01011 | November 15, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The California Congress has many Mexican-American members that will do everything in their power to promote illegal immigrants from Mexico. Granting any benefits at all to illegal immigrants is unconstitutional and does not respect the citizens of California or the state constitution. In-state tuition for illegal immigrants is hardly a subtle type of outsourcing of employment to foreign countries. In fact, Mexican illegal immigrants retain their Mexican citizenship. Mexico has a university and the resources to take care of its own; however, Mexico is run by a regime that dictates that Mexicans should immigrate illegally to the United States. It assists the illegal immigrants with high level education and training so that they could displace Americans who have high level jobs, not just working class type of jobs.

I will look for Bush's new book at the public library.

Posted by: byetheway77 | November 15, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The California Congress has many Mexican-American members that will do everything in their power to promote illegal immigrants from Mexico. Granting any benefits at all to illegal immigrants is unconstitutional and does not respect the citizens of California or the state constitution. In-state tuition for illegal immigrants is hardly a subtle type of outsourcing of employment to foreign countries. In fact, Mexican illegal immigrants retain their Mexican citizenship. Mexico has a university and the resources to take care of its own; however, Mexico is run by a regime that dictates that Mexicans should immigrate illegally to the United States. It assists the illegal immigrants with high level education and training so that they could displace Americans who have high level jobs, not just working class type of jobs.

I will look for Bush's new book at the public library.

Posted by: byetheway77 | November 15, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

God, what a stupid article. I stopped subscribing to WAPO after 30 years and never regretted it. Now, even for free, some of their tripe is intolerable.

"Psychological transformation... " - Bush is way too shallow to be able to draw any conclusions about. There is nothing there and if his book is not interesting it is because he is either hiding something or simply has no depth. Usually, it is both. You simply can't trust him.

Posted by: jackson641 | November 15, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

more... why did bush-cheney-rice all refuse to testify under oath before congress regarding 911? something to hide?

Posted by: tazdelaney | November 15, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Based on several stories here and elsewhere one thing left out of "Decision Points" were the attribution credits for swaths that were lifted from other authors, including the Post's own Bob Woodward.

Posted by: washpost18 | November 15, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

George Walker Bush, the Great Manipulator.

Posted by: whocares666 | November 15, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

His strategy about invading Iraq and removing Hussein was highly successful. It completely deflected all attention from his ineptness at every other facet of government.

Posted by: johnnormansp | November 15, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

like many addicts, he traded substances.. he didn't "quit"

Posted by: newagent99 | November 15, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

it's not "the boring route"--like all addicts (at least the ones I've counseled), they're public life is infinitely more interesting than their private lives. Fact is, bush's public record is way more interesting than another story of 'redemption', and 'clean living'. His psychological profile--such as it is--is strikingly similar to lots of other addicts: make bad choices, hit 'rock bottom', experience religious conversion, evince unabiding zealotry for the agent of religious conversion, demand everyone recognize the 'truth' of said conversion. The only difference here is that bush came from a politically connected family, and daddy bought him the WH. Again, the interesting part is the public record--it's not his fault he's an unexceptional recovering addict.

Posted by: iconografer | November 15, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

That a man who had problems with alcohol till 40 turned a new leaf and went on to become the president of the US is an interesting story. I guess the author is right that this should have been dealt in more detail by Prez Bush in his autobiography. Best of us cannot and do not want to talk too openly. I am sure his wife played a huge role in his transformation and his later success.
It is fashionable to run down presidents. Bush was no saint but his uncluttered thinking was a big positive. Maybe he would have handled the economic crisis better. Again, I would say, the silent force behind Mr. Bush was his wife who is not given her due.
Now they are after Obama. Give these guys a break. They are mere mortals, agreed, but at least be fair to them!

Posted by: rishipub | November 15, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Bush? Unbelievable! Granted his wife is and was probably the only thing that he has ever done that was a good thing. His whole family are liars-crooks and thieves-History will show that he was one of the worst presidents in our history--Drunks and addicts rarely change and as someone already mentioned he just changed his addiction--In the movie"W"
It was interesting to see that when he had to actually work on a job he was just plain LAZY-He is a deplorable human being-We will spend many many years fixing what he and his family has destroyed in our country--The real culpret in this whole thing is US--We elected him TWICE! Our softness and apathy will now be tested and Im not sure we will get thru this--This isnt the 60s--People think more about money-video games-sex and just playing than they do about their own future-There is very little teaching about the ARTS or Human Values--Most are interested in making money and everything that comes with that--Look at our great leaders of the last 100 years--Teddy-FDR-Wilson-IKE-Truman-JFK-Reagan and even Carter-yes Carter-I believe Carter will go down as one of our better Presidents-All of the above put our country and our citzens FIRST! What we have now are a whole bunch of weak people on the left and a whole bunch of liars and thieves on the right-Until we get a leader with some balls we will be in trouble!
Final note--Im 60 and I still LOVE sex! But at the cost of my family and future? Never!

Posted by: spc7ray | November 19, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

So, Bush was upset by Kanye's portrayal of him as "rascist"? What of the worlds condemnation of him (and by extention, us)as a "war criminal" (for GITMO, Abu Ghraib,the invasion of a soverign nation, and oh so many other reasons). Given this, it would seem that being called names by Mr West would be the least of his concerns. Or was this merely a way of deflecting critsm by focusing on its delivery by a controversial figure, thus rendering all such critism meritless and thus meaningless? Hey, its worked before! This book confirms what history will surely confirm, "He still doesn't get it".

Posted by: intense19 | November 21, 2010 4:20 AM | Report abuse

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