and we all sort of know it

Posted on Tuesday 29 August 2006

Jacques-Marie-Émile Lacan, the French Psychoanalyst, proposed an unusual theory about how human beings develop a sense of self in infancy. He hypothesized that early if life, we observe that others are entities, but are not yet aware that we, too, are unified in the same way. Thus the baby’s delight at discovering its own foot, or hand. At some point, the child sees its own reflection in the mirror and realizes that it is also a whole thing. This is new knowledge. The child has no notion of how to be a unified entity, so it becomes what it sees in the mirror. While this may seem a bit of heady theorizing, it is an idea with many clinical applications – some are things all of us know. Young physicians have the degree, but have no felt sense of "doctorness," so they dress themselves from head to toe in white clothing, pockets filled with instruments, and talk of nothing but medicine. They ‘put on’ doctorness. Pre-teen push the dress styles of their older peers to absurd extremes. "If I look like a cool teen, then I’ll be seen as a cool teen [and maybe then I’ll feel like a cool teen instead of an awkward, pre-adolescent child]." In fact, this "if I look like a…, then I’ll be seen as a…, and then maybe I’ll feel like a …" is part of any becoming.

Karl Rove was sent to pick up George W. Bush at the train station. He reported that on seeing him, he thought "here’s the guy that can be what I want to be – a president." Bush looked like a president to Rove, something Rove couldn’t see in his own mirror. So, Rove created the president-he-wanted-to-be in George W. Bush. Rove didn’t find it there, he put it there. He was more than the architect, as Bush has named him. He was even more than Bush’s brain. He was the mirror in which Bush came to see a "president." Rove taught him how to look like a president, the president Rove himself wanted to be. The result is easily observable. Bush has no internally felt sense of "president-ness." With Rove, and later Cheney, he mirrors their reflections to acheive his "president-ness." It’s all looks. And we all sort of know it!

So the illusion for yesterday was to be the president who shepherded New Orleans through the crisis of Katrina. He appeared in front of rebuilt houses, with rolled up sleeves, and said “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s amazing what the world looked like then, and what it looks like now.” Every other T.V. Channel showed the tragedy of New Orleans – and the impotence of the government in dealing with it effectively. Last week, he had a comic Press Conference draped in the robes of the president who is stomping out world terrorism. Rove knows how to make him look like a successful president. Bush has actually even learned something about how to look like a successful president. But, unfortunately, it all remains in the realm of illusion. It’s all they know how to do. We all sort of know this and we’ve cut him an enormous amount of slack. Some have done it because he’s said what we want to hear. Others have hoped he’d grow into the job. Others are afraid of the reality we’d have to deal with if we had a real leader [the picture of America we’d see reflected back to us wouldn’t be a pretty one].

George W. Bush can never acheive the expected internalized sense of being a real president, a reflective leader. It’s not in him. To quote a book title, he’s "trapped in the mirror." He can only play the fiddle of decider, hero of New Orleans, commander-in-chief of the War on Terror, Christian Soldier marching as to War – even while Rome burns around him [or should I say, "them?"].

    August 29, 2006 | 9:59 AM

    This post reminded me of how I felt after the 2004 election; completely devastated. The thing that had me really down though wasn’t the fact that Bush was still President, it was that most of the people who voted actually wanted him to be President. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around it ever since, with limited success. Thanks for suggesting some reasons beyond the ones I’ve been able to come up with. Namely that most of the people in this country are idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

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