What Bush left out of “Decision Points”
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.
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.
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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