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The Banality of Harm: A Psychological Profile of George Bush

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This past weekend, I caught the last fifteen minutes of what looked like a long interview with President Bush by Bill O’Reilly on Fox.

This was a different president from what I’ve seen before. He was with one of his own: a fellow far-right conservative. He smiled a lot. He spoke in an unbuttoned, less guarded way than usual, although he was still the typically defensive politician who refused to be drawn into any controversy not of his own making. He ducked a few questions – “what interrogation methods are we talking about?” and “is waterboarding torture?” – but this was all part of the expected cat-and-mouse pantomime of a politician playing the media. He was enjoying himself. His answers shot out easily. Conveniently, all his answers were rote. One had heard them before. (This habit gives Bush the quality of a wind-up doll. It can also make him a total bore. Question: has America become as boring as our president?)

Nevertheless, what I saw changed my whole view of Bush and his presidency.

For one, I’d never seen him this real before. Here at last he was appearing as himself. The actual Oz. Authentic. What you saw was who he was. All natural, relaxed and friendly, shooting the breeze with a confidant. In this informal atmosphere, one big difference stood out between him and any other current politician of a similar standing — Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, John Kerry, John Edwards, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair.

A Big Bang difference. A cosmic gulf.

Bush was a gulf away from them because of one big quality, or lack thereof: he came across as utterly unsophisticated. He was to a different manor — nay, universe — born. So much so, he bordered on the simple-minded. He conversed on the level of a high-school C student. My companion was so disgusted by what she called this “low-end” quality that she left the room.

Maybe it was because Bill O’Reilly ain’t all that sophisticated himself. Still, O’Reilly looked like the smarter guy, which was pretty bizarre, given that Bush is the president.

There is literally no intellectual depth or curiosity or layers to Bush. The man is perfectly uncultured. He said he had read three biographies of Washington, but he said it as if he was reporting on assigned high-school homework. He didn’t make any interesting remarks about Washington, as you’d get from a Clinton or a Gore or a Blair. He merely said historians are still arguing over Washington’s legacy, like they will one day over his. Washington was not a separate figure; no more than a measure. For the rest, Bush’s level of language and thought was as low and flat and empty as a denuded prairie.

I thought to myself: how can this unsophisticated man come from the Bush family? His father is sophisticated. The family is a blue-blood, Yale-bred, upper-class lot.

Yet W comes across as some kind of simple-pieties-type above-his-station yokel. Why? My companion pointed out that Bush was rebelling against the sophistication of his dad.

Then I wondered: how does such an unsophisticated man manage to boss around a sophisticated man like Tony Blair? How does he lead others? What is it about him that makes people follow him? On the evidence of the interview, if he worked in the same company as me, my co-workers would never single him out as our leader, because he’d be the most unsophisticated fella among us – a candidate for a low-level job that suited his level of intellect. Yet plainly, people follow Bush. He became our President. How? How come? I would like to attempt a couple of tentative answers.

About Adam Ash

  • Al Barger

    I started to type up a comment here, and it turned into a stand-alone column, Double Secret Bush Agent Adam Ash and the Banality of Moonbats

  • Zedd


    Please don’t misunderstand me. First I have to make it known that I am not ridiculing anyone. And from my personal experience, there is a difference between the two types of people that we describe. The people you describe are people that I have also known ,even uncles of mine. They actually posses a great deal of wisdom and in the few words that they utter they can convey a lot. You are right, they tend to slyly spit out something here and there but you can detect that they are a lot wiser then they let on. They are just shy. And don’t want to be bothered. Like you said, there is a lot of humar in their statements. Not the yuck yuck kind but subtle often teasing that sometimes takes you a second to get.

    I got it….. JEDD CLAMPIT. Off course not as back woods but you get the picture. Wise with very little said.

    I wouldn’t put GW in that category. I dont think he’s sly, shy or creative. I think he’s just winging it. I think he doesn’t know that he shouldn’t put himself in these positions. I mean he was CEO, Govenor then President. (????) Its Forrest Gump all over again. He’s just chuckling and sloganeiring his way through.

    This is just my sense.

  • nugget

    Zedd: That’s more clear, and I agree.

  • Zedd

    Al I didn’t follow your remarks.

    You don’t like the prez and the republicans because they have not lead the country well but you hate the demz because if they had a chance to rule you think they might to worse?

    Why do you think that?? I missed that in the peice.

    Also you think that Adam is a double agent, posing as a dem to raise up the rep base.

    WOW this base seems to need a lot of stimulation. Everything is being done to wake them up, most of it involves tricking them it seems (or just lies). They must be really reluctant to vote or just not wanting to vote for the available candidates if it takes such extreme efforts where like Fouste you sell your soul to the devil just to get them up and to the polls.

    Its reassuring however to know that republicans know that they are being blatantly tricked and lied to by their leaders in order to get them to vote for them. For so long I thought ….. “they cant see it?” Wheeeew. So you do see it and you dont care, atleast they are not dems, right?

  • Dave Nalle

    I think Al’s quandry is wondering why people like Adam say such blatantly idiotic things which make them and their cause look ridiculous and benefit their political enemies when they could just shut up and let the GOP destroy itself without their ham-handed intervention.


  • Zedd


    Why should Demz be scared to speak their minds because the Republicans may get mad and decide to vote? I’ve heard the Fox dumbells (sorry but it is sooooo true) say this over and over. Is this another rep strategy of “if you say it often enough it becomes reality”? Its silly.

    Look the base is already going to vote.
    A person like Adam WILL attract the disenchanted Republican. Those are your swing votes. Worry about them. Young urban professionals are who you need to coddle. Even they are sick of your BASE. They think they are a bunch of kooks.

    Have you ever thought that Adam may be envibing the demz. There is so much that Liberals have felt like they couldn’t say in these past years. Reading Adam is like getting a cool and refreshing drink of water. He is is great because he goes further than most people would dare go. He is comical and brilliant. He doesn’t take himself too seriously which makes him that much more interesting, smart and apealing.

    Demz and swinging Repz have been saying “What the????” regarding Bush since he took office. Adam went there and did a detailed analysis while making us laugh the entire time. It’s priceless and it gave so many of us, as you can tell from the comments, a chance to exhale.

    Just an unrelated thought…..
    Why do Fox reporters always look disshevled like they have been running from the cops and just stopped into the studio to make a quick report. Not only them but Rumsfeld, and Bolton. Lets not forget that guy who was originally nominated for homeland security tsar. Whats with the pervert creep look. Brit Hume looks drunk, we know what O’Reilly’s been doing. They look like they are living heavily in SIN.. is it just me??? Maybe.. Like John Stossel of ABC. Keep your eyes peeled on that one. Thats not going to end well. They’ll find a Laosian midget tied up in his basement in compromising pictures with a duck.

  • Adam Ash

    Thanks for your kind words. We do what we can.
    You’ve set me thinking: maybe I could turn my anti-Bush pieces into a one-man show. Make people laugh themselves into some enlightenment. Could be a lot of fun.

  • JustOneMan

    Oh Jet how right you are! In fact you have become the Poster Boy of Left Wing Integrity that has motivated me to switch parties…thank you emlightening me.

    The more I embrace my new left wing Dmocractic party I am begining feel….feel…well so much better and smarter than anyone on the right! Before I use to struggle with using reality and facts to justify my beliefs. Now that I am on the left facts and reality no longer matter! Gee why did I wait so long!

    From The Left….JustOneMan

  • Christopher Rose

    JustOneMan, much as I endorse your new role as joker of the week, as a long frustrated observer of the incredibly and increasingly insular American political scene, I must take a slight exception to your point – it’s a long time since either of your leading parties had any meaningful relationship with reality or facts, to the entire planet’s loss.

  • JustOneMan

    Chris???? Now I am really confused…didnt our party rally around that great american president reagardless of the fact that he looked all of the world in the eyes or that he, while under oath also lied…or the fact that we believe that somebody voted for something before they voted against it…or we democrats call Jimmy Carter one of Americas greatest presidents, or as the stock market booms, unemployment is at zero, minority home ownership is at an historic high and oil prices plummet we – “the democrats” are told by our leadership to scream the sky os falling the sky is falling”

    Please help me understand what I am to believe in…

    From The Left….JustOneMan

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I’ve been reading the comments here along with the article. I remember back to 2000 reading Bush’s bio and finding out that he had tried to quit cold turkey from drugs.

    I had gone to a few AA meetings as well as meetings from another anonymity group that is quite similar. I have a working knowledge of the twelve step program.

    After watching him a few times in 2000 both before and after his election, the conclusion dry drunk came through loud and clear. The fact that he ran several businesses into the ground and barely knew squat about anything told me the guy wasn’t smart enough to be president.

    And Dave, I have conducted quite a few job interviews and you get a very clear picture of a person in one minute.

  • JustOneMan

    Ruvy…Its always grand to hear from you our “Left Wing Prophet”. Yes, you are credit to our party! And dont forget to maik your ballot!

    Ruvy, pray tell, based upon your extensive interviewing experiece I am sure you may be aware and may even have first hand experience of Israeli standards and protocols of interviewing towel boys at Gay Bath Houses and for public urinal clean up so please go on…what else can you tell “just by looking” at Bush!

    WOW! I am even more amazed that we on the left are not only of superior intellect but have super powers such as yours?

    From The Left…JustOneMan

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    The act gets old. Real fast. Try sitting yourself down, opening up a word document and writing real satire, if that is what you really want to do. It don’t mattter to me what side you take. If it disgusts me, believe me, I’ll let you know. And I’ll also let you know if I like it. Otherwise, stick to the (un)real deal – or is it diehl?

  • Al Barger

    Dave Nalle summarizes the point of my response nicely in comment 105. That Mr Ash thinks folks might “laugh their way to enlightenment” by reading cheap anti-intellectual nonsense like this “banality of harm” column is indicative of why the Democrats are in such trouble.

    A few moonbats might look at stuff like this and laugh, but it’s not because it’s funny or witty, joyful or at all insightful. It won’t be pleasure or real enjoyment, but the bitter satisfaction of shared hatred.

    Meanwhile, even most people who don’t much care for the president would look at this shallow smugness and hatefulness and avert their eyes. Yuck. If voters look at it as a choice between bumbling Republicans versus the likes of Adam Ash and the Daily Kos, even a lot of nominal Democrats will hold their noses and pull the Republican lever. That’s a big part of the reason these schmucks have held on to Congress as long as they have.

    Zedd, do please note that I am not a Republican. I am a Libertarian. I have run for office repeatedly against Republicans. Specifically, I have never, ever voted for anyone named Bush.

  • JustOneMan

    Ruvy…thank you for your kind words..again the intellect on the left is so overwhelming…its nice to know how to treat a fellow lefty! WOW!

    From The Left…JustOneMane

  • Zedd


    Libertarians I get. However not of the G. Gordon Liddy variety…. Too angry and don’t know when to compromise and look at the big picture.

  • Al Barger

    Yes Zedd, I’m hip to “don’t know when to compromise.” I’ve probably erred a bit on the side of being too strident at times. Plus, I will admit to liking G Gordon Liddy.

    Some of our people can go a little overboard. Ideology can trip you right up- even if it’s a good idea. Dogma is dangerous, like the Kevin Smith movie.

    I try to be as careful as possible to check my ideological expectations against observed facts on the ground- but then you also have to be real careful about not torturing reason to make the facts fit the ideological model.

  • Bliffle

    “I thought to myself: how can this unsophisticated man come from the Bush family? His father is sophisticated. The family is a blue-blood, Yale-bred, upper-class lot.”

    I think he’s just lazy. IMO, early in life he discovered that he could coast by, even in Yale, because of his family.

  • Zedd


    I am not sure if I have an ideological model. I don’t if you’ve noticed but I haven’t spoken much about my ideology.

    I am personally vexed by apathy, dogma, and infelxibility. I am invigorrated by nuance; causial processing, refined deductive reasoning, humor, empathy, caused by a respect for the big picture.

    Because so many of us today are “locked in” its often assumed when I disagree with an individuals views that I automatically have a dislike for their party. As if their personal opinion about a specific situation, is automatically the opinion of millions who are members of their party. That is just odd to me.

    This mode of thinking is most prevelant in the Republican party. When Newt started the “revolution” his intention was to mobilize conservatives and give them as one force. It was during this erra that the “talking points” were established. One message being repeated over and over by everyone in the party so that the party faithful could identify one another by their codes. But moreso, the purpose was to demonize those who held views that fell outside of the established dogma. They used to call that the use propagand to brainwash the masses into unbridled loyalty. We saw it in dictatorships (you are either with us or against us). To Newts credit, he admitted a month or so ago that he never anticipated that things would go so far. He expressed displeasure with the extent of parisanship that is caused by this phenominon.

    I guess my ideology would involve something like, smile at people when you catch their eye…

  • Zedd

    Al there are a lot of errors in my last post. More than ussual I didn’t feel like editing but I think you get the sense of what I was trying to say. I don’t think that I would have caught them because my brain is working rather slowly today. This by no means that I was not commited to responding to you respectfully or commited to my statement. Im just pooped.

  • Al Barger

    Totally cool Zedd. I try not to presume too much about a person’s thinking based on one or two points, and I will particularly note not to do so with you. Plus, I’m hip to nuance and ambivalence.

    I might suggest gently that Brother Ash seems to be significantly lacking in nuance. Pretty much everyone who is not retarded has some ideological elements- ideas that they believe in. You about have to in trying to make some sense of the world. Some are more subtle and others just a lot more strident than others. I try to be more self-critical and restrained, though all have sinned and fell short of the glory of God.

  • Martin Lav

    Ash makes a very good observation that has nothing to do with intelligence or lack thereof (can any old idiot fly a plane?) and that is the “dry drunk” syndrome.

    Ruvy also touches upon it and I think that is the biggest issue with this man.

    I know a lot about it and Mr. Bush, though not drinking, needs a drink real bad….

  • Michael O’Connor

    I think what you have written is worthy in this respect: it shows that you are thinking about a very important person and some very important events. I also appreciate you admission that you really have not yet put your finger on the key to understanding the President. I appreciate your humble candor. However, we must also admit that from then on all is to some degree just speculation. (In order to avoid that impression, cite hard evidence to bolster your pronouncements. In some cases I read speculations and prejudices when I was hoping for insight.)

    Your comments also remind me of Reagan’s biographer, Edmund Morris, who also commented that he never really understood Ronald Reagan. It seems to me that when one is deeply motivated by a very spiritual relationship with God, secularists,New Agers, materialists, liberal theologians, atheists, agnostics, etc., don’t have a clue nor are they capable of understanding someone who has been smitten by God. Such commentators focus on the outer appearances, the outer acts, and outer words, the weaknesses and deficiencies, but they fail to understand the deeper meanings and motivations of such men. These erstwhile observers adhere to different principles,different presuppositions, different paradigms from the men they are writing about. To cite Bush as being ideologically motivated without any analysis of one’s own bent is, well,a bit disingenuous, a tad bit hypocritical. In spite of that criticism, I found that your comments contained much value. Keep them coming…

  • Colin Ricketts

    David Owen, former-Labour foreign secretary, founder of the British Social Democrat Party (now merged into the Liberal Democrats) and a bit of an international player I think, in the sort of “special envoy to” role, is also pushing a “Bush is mentally ill” theory at the moment.

    He was a doctor before his political career, and reckons both Bush and Blair suffer from The Hubris Syndrome, (the title of his book), which he claims is common in powerful people.

    Might make a good review/discussion.

  • JC

    A friend who briefed George Bush, Sr, was shocked at how unintelligent he was. Yale, as do other well-known Universities, hold spaces for the children of their benefactors and VIPs, regardless of their academic merit. I have met more than one and they are all too willing to tell you that they were admitted to Yale because of their parents – not their academic abilities.

  • JC

    Cheney said ‘We create reality.’ I can only imagine how well Cheney understood the psychology of the drunk he was leading around.