- "...people progress in their moral reasoning (i.e.,
in their bases for ethical behavior) through a series of levels... The
first is "the Preconventional Level," where one usually finds
oneself in elementary school. The first stage of this level is where George,
I believe, makes his home. It's called: Stage Zero."
- If George wasn't driving the world down the road to extinction
with his wars, his environmentally disastrous choices and world alienating
policies--"Look at me, ma, no hands" he says while sitting behind
the wheel of our children's future--I'd think he was almost fascinating.
- Fascinating the way one who is steeped in myriad psychological
- I'm a psychotherapist. And, having never seen George
in therapy, despite my open invitation, it would be unethical for me to
make an official diagnosis of him. So, I won't. But, I can kick some thoughts
- Remember Tom Hanks' movie, "Big," when the
kid, by an accident of fate, finds himself turned into an adult, playing
grown-up roles he is not developmentally ready for? This is George. I don't
mean this maliciously or satirically; I really mean it. I think developmentally
speaking George is a big kid. Lots of people are. The difference is they
don't have the means to bomb human beings into "pink mist," obliterate
the infrastructures of countries, and poison the world with coal and pesticides
and carbon dioxide and depleted uranium and napalm, as they play grown
- Nowhere was George playing grown-up more conspicuous
than his staged re-election photo op on the USS Lincoln. When I saw him
all dressed up pretending to be a naval aviator, I kept waiting for him
to pull out his GI Joe doll with karate action, sit down and start playing:
"Bring 'em on. We can take 'em. Huh, Joe? Take that--heeeyah,"
while making Joe do a big karate chop as the real soldiers look on, saluting
their Commander in Chief.
- And now KB Toys has come out with an Elite Force Naval
Aviator Action Figure to immortalize George's "historic" day
of pretend play. And with that, in a moment of unintentional, yet brilliant
psychological mindedness, they have placed George, the pretend combat-ready
naval aviator, exactly where he belongs--in the make believe world of the
10 and under set.
- In short, George is stuck.
- Without getting into too much psychobabble, in human
development terms this means he had some significant issue or trauma at
one stage in his development that precluded him from advancing to higher
stages. Again, theorists would argue that we all have developmental issues
to one degree or another. And we do. But, again, most of us are playing
out our intrapsychic havoc in the battlefields of our minds, not the battlefields
of the world. Our casualties, disastrously enough, are often our relationships,
not the lives of U.S. soldiers and civilian mothers and children bombed
out of their homes in far away neighborhoods.
- There are many ways to think about human development.
One could explore cognitive, psychosexual or psychosocial development.
I suspect George is developmentally stuck in many ways, so we could look
at any of these.
- But perhaps more than any other president I can think
of, George evokes pure morality as a rationale for his policy decisions.
This, as opposed to choices based on reason and facts and evidence informed
by morality. [Example: George's rationale for going to war were WMD's that
were an imminent threat to the U.S. Oops. No WMD's. Now George says in
essence, "Yeah, well, so? Saddam is bad. Really bad. And we're good.
So, us being good and Saddam being bad justifies all the lying and misleading
about this illegal war."]
- So, while I don't psychologically assess people from
a moral perspective, it makes sense for George. You have to meet people
where they are.
- A preeminent theorist on moral development is Lawrence
Kohlberg, a famous Harvard professor, who demonstrated through his scientific
studies that people progress in their moral reasoning (i.e., in their bases
for ethical behavior) through a series of levels. He delineated three levels,
further broken down into six stages.
- The first is "the Preconventional Level," where
one usually finds oneself in elementary school. The first stage of this
level is where George, I believe, makes his home. It's called: Stage Zero.
- Kohlberg writes: "Stage Zero: Egocentric judgment.
The child makes judgments of good on the basis of what he likes and wants
or what helps him, and bad on the basis of what he does not like or what
hurts him. He has no concept of rules or of obligations to obey or conform
to independent of his wish."
- I know! It's uncanny.
- We saw George's egocentric judgment during his college
years as he publicly argued for the right of his fraternity, DKE, to use
cruel hazing rituals, such as branding, on its pledges. After all, George
said, "the resulting wound is 'only a cigarette burn.'" (New
York Times, November 8, 1967).
- We saw it in AWOL George, who didn't see the need to
fulfill his obligations, his promised duties in the National Guard because
it didn't align with his wishes.
- And we have seen unprecedented self-serving judgment
time and time and time again during Bush's tenure as president.
- One example among thousands: The current administration
is seeking to create legislation that will make some 18 year old kid who
wrongly downloads a song off the Internet without permission a felon. A
felon. Such a label will dog her and impede her for the rest of her life.
This, as Kenneth Lay, who robbed countless families of their life savings
is not held accountable, but is running free, living not off his wife as
he pretends, but off the fruits of his manipulation. So, what's the moral
here? Rob a corporate buddy of George's of a buck fifty and, because it's
technically illegal, you're forever bad. Run a corporation, be a buddy
of George's, rob your employees of thousands upon thousands of dollars
and, although it's illegal, you're still good.
- A summation of George's egocentric philosophy might very
well be his words to Bob Woodward: "I am the commander, see. I do
not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about
being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they need
to say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
- What a profoundly childlike thing to say (not to be confused
with childish). It sounds to me like a kid trying desperately, yet transparently,
to convince people he is fit for a role he secretly is unsure he can fulfill
- An appropriate response by Woodward to George's subtext
might've been, "Such a big boy, Georgie! Yes you are!!"
- I'm not a big Clinton fan, believe me, but can you imagine
those words coming out of his mouth during the absurd Lewinsky debacle?
- An interviewer asks: "But didn't you say you did
not have sexual relations with that woman?"
- "I am the commander, see. I do not need to explain
why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president...I
don't feel I owe anybody any explanation."
- Now, we all know many a president has lied and distorted
the truth in office. But, the difference is they kept in mind the concept
of rules and obligations that they had to at least pretend to obey and
conform to. Not just George, but this entire administration has completely
flouted what every other administration previously has not--the need to
pretend to play by the rules. The rules are forever changed, they tell
us. Remember 911!
- Speak brashly and carry a big photo of Ground Zero is
their new philosophy. And Remember 911! is the battle cry that drowns out
any dissenting skirmish this administration finds itself in. Remember 911!
Is the catch-all response that replaces any obligation to account for their
actions. It is the cozy, protective cloak that has made the Bush administration
all but impervious to questioning and doubt.
- And not can they be heard crying, Remember 911!, but
Beware The Terrorist Hiding in Your Underwear Drawer! Code Orange. Code
Orange. Duct tape at the ready! Of course, a terrorist attack could absolutely
happen again. We'd be foolish to think otherwise. But, this in no way negates
the fact that the Bush administration has brilliantly and unabashedly exploited
our post-911 apprehension. There is no greater fuel for righteous indignation
and the resulting lack of critical thinking than fear. And the Bush administration
is fanning the flames of fear every chance it gets.
- So, through our post-9.11 eyes, many of us have very
understandably come to see the radical (yes, the Bush administration is
not conservative, it is radical) egocentric judgment of the Bush administration
as truth. And in many cases, it has become law. The Patriot Act is the
radical, egocentric judgment of a few, turned law.
- And it is from the same Stage Zero mindset that a plethora
of alarming legislation is being passed as hard fought civil liberties
are being overturned. It is from Stage Zero that John Ashcroft and the
proposed "Patriot Act II" will be enforced. Ashcroft's egocentric
judgment--the same judgment that spent $8,000 of tax payers' money to cover
a stone breast apparently too titillating for John's libido--is going to
determine who is a terrorist and who isn't, who can be expatriated and
who can't. It will be Ashcroft, the same man who reportedly thinks Calico
cats are signs of the devil, who is the final arbiter of right and wrong,
good and bad. And let's not forget that Rumsfeld was reportedly all too
recently considered so way out there his colleagues didn't take him seriously.
- While the causes of all this egocentric morality are
beyond the scope of this article, it is worth saying that, in George's
case, it is surely informed by his particularly privileged background that
has left him without a realistic sense of how the vast majority of us live
and struggle. As he said in a moment of uncharacteristic truth telling
to Reverend Jim Wallis, "I don't understand how poor people think."
- In addition, his morality and subsequent choices are
surely informed and perhaps superceded by his addiction issues and by his
deep-seated shame and desperate need for validation.
- George's egocentric judgment is also given credibility
under the auspices of his religious conviction. I do believe George is
a religious man. But, he has in many ways prostituted his religion to serve
his true dogma--the advancement of the corporation.
- So, for all his touting of religious and moral imperatives,
George's policy decisions constitute nothing less than a moral failure.
They have nothing to do with God, despite George's fantasy of divine rule,
they have nothing to do with compassion, and they have nothing to do with
helping you and me in any real way. Intrapsychically, they have everything
to do with George's wish to finally be more than what he fears he is--a
moral/business/personal failure. And interpersonally, they have to do with
paybacks and power jockeying.
- I believe George's handlers exploit his insecurities,
posing him as an Air Force Naval Aviator here and a Friend of the Poor
there, feeding into his need to play those rolls. At the same time, it
fills their need to have an affable, malleable front man, willing to please
and needy enough to believe the rolls in which he is cast. Karl and Dick
and Co., I believe, are to a certain extent manipulating George just as
they are trying to manipulate us.
- So, why don't we all see through this and call them on
it? Because George's handlers and speechwriters and the rest of the gang
are very adept at pretending to be at a stage where they aren't: Stage
- Kohlberg writes: "Stage 5: The social-contract legalistic
orientation. Right action tends to be defined in terms of general individual
rights and standards that have been critically examined and agreed upon
by the whole society... The result is an emphasis upon the "legal
point of view," but with an additional emphasis upon the possibility
of changing the law in terms of rational considerations of social utility...The
"official" morality of the American government and Constitution
is at this stage."
- This is where most of us Americans believe we are, or
at least we used to. Because this is much of what our country was founded
on. And the Bush administration knows this and they exploit it. They talk
the talk of Stage 5 as they walk the walk of Stage Zero.
- But such incongruity is crazy making. It's like a mother
who beats her child as she tells him she loves him and would never hurt
- Like the abused kid, many of us want to believe George
is telling the truth and is looking after our best interest. He seems like
a nice enough guy. We try to contort our sense of morality and reality
to fit his, questioning our own. But, while we hear George tell us the
economy is recovering, we see thousands upon thousands in our communities
laid off with no future job prospects. And we can only contort and deny
so long until finally something gives. So now, the facade is cracking and
many people are starting to see the real, ugly, self-serving picture behind
George's wall of pretty words. And it is through this crack that activists,
progressive politicians and those of us concerned about the once unimaginable
state of our country must thoughtfully, respectfully and gently enter and
begin to mobilize and organize.
- The final of Kohlberg's stages is Stage 6. Again, Kohlberg
writes: "Stage 6. The universal ethical-principle orientation. Right
is defined by the decision of conscience in accord with self-chosen ethical
principles that appeal to logical comprehensiveness, universality, and
consistency... At heart, these are universal principles of justice, of
the reciprocity and equality of the human rights, and of respect for the
dignity of human beings as individual persons."
- Kohlberg believed many people never truly reach Stage
6. But, I think it is not unreasonable to hope that the man who is running
our country and our world should aspire to this stage. Having a Stage Zeroling
behind the wheel is a sure sign our world will be driven into an enormous
ditch before you can say Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.
- To help clients move through the stages, Kohlberg believed
a therapist should present him or her with moral dilemmas to discuss. Never
have I considered, nor do I plan on doing therapy with clients this way.
But, I think it is my patriotic duty to help our morality-touting Commander
in Chief rise out of Stage Zerohood and step into a stage more fitting
of his position.
- So, again, I invite you, George, to come see me in therapy
and work out some of your moral development issues, just as I invited you
to work out some of your shame issues a while back.
- In the meantime, here is a moral dilemma for you to chew
on to help you work your way up the moral ladder. Hope it helps.
- Moral Dilemma: You are an exceptionally privileged man
who has a long history of personal and business failures. Despite yourself,
you find you are appointed to the most powerful position in the land through
the help of friends and family in high places.
- You say you are compassionate (burning the flesh of others
aside). Yet in your short tenure in office, you have instituted public
policies and norms that have irretrievably pockmarked the face of the world
such as walking away from international treaties, years in the making:
The Kyoto Treaty, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the International
Criminal Court Treaty, and the Land Mines Ban Treaty, making our world
infinitely more dangerous.
- You have created the largest federal budget deficit in
American history, as you blithely accept the highest unemployment rate
in decades, (the upturn of the last economic quarter was mostly due to
payments to the coffers of a few defense contractors. So only a few of
your friends have seen the benefits of the slight upturn. And the small
unemployment decrease was due to people so frustrated they just dropped
out of the job market).
- And as the US now boasts the highest proportion of children
born into poverty in the "developed" world (22%) and 43 million
Americans have no health insurance, your administration is slowly but surely
gutting all our country's safety nets, which will ultimately add fuel to
your privatization frenzy and create a truly vicious cycle.
- Through this same privatization, you are pilfering the
jobs and futures of millions of federal employees in the name of national
security, effectively gutting the Civil Service Act of 1883, dragging federal
employment practices back to the good old days of nepotism and cronyism
while you do your best to pass a law to cut the overtime pay of hard working
- Your administration reportedly instructed the EPA to
lie to the people of New York City about the toxic air they have been breathing
since 9.11, which has caused very serious respiratory illnesses. You ask
soldiers to continue to die, to expose themselves to higher and higher
levels of toxic depleted uranium that promise years of subsequent health
problems, as you show a uniquely George-esque brand of "supporting
our troops"--ignoring the demands of the family members of active
troops who are clamoring for some answers and accountability for this war;
trying to block the pay raises of those on active duty; and pledging to
veto a bill that would overturn an old law that, in effect, makes veterans
pay for their own benefits.
- Do you have Laura look up what the word compassionate
means in the dictionary and pick a new, more appropriate word like, say,
self-interested? Do you have a moral reckoning and become the man you pretend
to be? Or, do you forever remain "...a white Republican guy who doesn't
get it..." as you said to Reverend Jim Wallis and, true to your pervasive
pattern, continue to pull an Orwell and tell us War is Peace, Occupation
is Liberation, and Self-Interest is Compassion? Discuss.
- - Carol Norris is a psychotherapist, freelance writer
and member of CODEPINK: Women for Peace. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.