- HARTFORD (APJP) -- Alcoholics
Anonymous has a name for someone who is a drunk in every way except for
the actual imbibing of spirits. They call that person a "dry drunk."
This is not a judgmental term, nor should this be a judgmental topic in
America, where there are, by even the most conservative estimates, 10 million
adult alcoholics, and very few families that have not been touched, in
one way or another, by this national scourge. This same scourge has, by
his own admission, also touched the life of our Commander in Chief.
- Whether George W. Bush is or was an alcoholic is not
the point here. I am taking him at his word that he stopped what he termed
"heavy drinking" in 1986, at age 40. The point here is that,
based on Bush's recent behavior, he could very well be a "dry drunk."
Of course, he may just be an immature bully who will gladly sacrifice thousands
of lives to get his way even against the advice of the most respected and
mature members of his own party.
- Still, Bush's past battles with the bottle are worth
pondering at a time like this, one of the most dangerous in the nation's
history. When a recovering alcoholic begins to engage in what AA calls
"stinking thinking," he or she begins to exhibit the old attitudes
and pathologies of their drinking years. These include an increase in anxiety,
mild tremors, mild depression, disturbed sleep patterns, inability to think
clearly, craving for junk food, irritability, sudden bursts of anger and
unpredictable mood swings. According to AA literature, "Boredom and
listlessness may alternate with intense feelings of resentment against
family and friends, and explosive outbursts of violence."
- Bush said he was a "heavy drinker." But let's
not be coy here. Anyone who has ever imbibed heavily over a long period
of time knows that "heavy drinker" is the rich man's (or the
politician's) code for alcoholic.
- For the record, Bush claims to have stopped drinking
for reasons that change each time he's asked about his substance-abusing
past (which isn't often, thanks to a cowed press). Let's say he started
experimenting with alcohol, as per the national norm, at 16 at prep school,
and he began getting regularly wasted at Yale at 18. This would mean that
Bush drank steadily "heavily" for at least 22 years. We are,
then, asked to believe that he went cold turkey after more than two decades
of heavy drinking, a nearly impossible feat even for someone, as he claims,
who was rescued by God.
- Far be it from me to cast stones when it comes to alcohol.
I've seen the devastating toll alcoholism can take. My brother was an honors
student in college, when he began drinking heavily (party drinking, as
was the tradition at southern colleges back then). By the time he was in
his mid-30s, real and dramatic changes had occurred in his metabolism and
brain chemistry. Medical experts told me at the time that just 15 years
of sustained drinking can do irreversible physical harm of this sort. In
other words, even if my brother stopped drinking, the damage would remain
done. But by most measuring sticks, my brother was a functioning member
of society. He held jobs, paid his rent and bills, and he made heroic efforts
to beat his cursed addiction. He climbed the 12 steps more times than Stallone
climbed those steps in "Rocky."
- Though I deeply loved my brother and miss him terribly
now, I could not deny the damage, even in his long periods of sobriety,
that alcohol did to him. Rather, I could not deny the damage, but I could
not bear to watch it happen. I could feel it in my bones that he was up
against something stronger than his will and his prodigious intellect.
Stinking thinking, like kudzu, simply overtook his mind, and alcohol killed
- It is worth reflecting on George W. Bush's academic history.
He graduated from two of the finest institutions of higher learning in
this country: Yale and Harvard. He didn't make great grades, but he graduated,
an accomplishment warranting some respect. Many rich, well-connected boys
have flunked out. [NOTE from the editors: ...or tossed out, as was one
Richard Scaife, from Yale, allegedly for his own love of the bottle.]
- The question is then begged, and seems to at least deserve
some pause for pondering: how did he, at age 58, get so fumble-tongued,
incapable of stringing more than two coherent sentences together, snippily
irritable with anyone who dares disagree with him or even ask a question,
poutily turning his back on the democratically elected president of one
of our most important allies because of something one of his underlings
said about him (Germany's Schroder, of course), listlessly in need of constant
vacations and rest, dangerously obsessed with only one thing (Iraq), to
the exclusion of all other things (including an economy that is slowly
sucking the life from the nation as well as the retirement savings of anyone
reading these words)?
- Furthermore, why is Bush so eager to engage in violence
and so incapable of explaining why?
- For drunks to function for any length of time in the
world, they need enablers. Congress is filling that bill splendidly right
now for Bush. As BuzzFlash put it about the recent corporate scandals,
"For most of his adult life, those people around him enabled Bush's
alcoholism. Now the Democratic Senate is enabling the corporate corruption
problem of his administration by not using their Constitutional powers
to demand the truth."
- Not only the Congress but the nation seems to be watching
this happen. No. They are encouraging it to happen. Who knows, maybe we
are all in shock, just as we are when a member of our family does something
appalling or outrageous under alcohol's bidding. God knows, the crazy behavior
by the administration is so wild and unprecedented, covering such frightening
unknown territory up ahead that it may be easier to look away.
- But we can't look away. George W. Bush needs an intervention.
Let's be his interveners. Let's raise our sober voices. Let's ask questions,
demand more than temper tantrums and pouting from the Commander in Chief.
Let's do this before it's too late and a dry drunk's dream of glory becomes
our national nightmare.
- Alan Bisbort is a columnist for the Hartford Advocate.
His more recent book is "Famous Last Words" (Pomegranate).
- Copyright © 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997,
1996, American Politics Journal Publications, Inc.
- Reprinted from American Politics Journal: