Understanding the mind of Bush


The phrase ‘what was he thinking?’ was undoubtedly uttered many times during George W. Bush’s presidency. Dan McAdams took this question a step further.

McAdams, the chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University, recently published a book entitled, George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream: A Psychological Portrait, which examines the psychological factors that affected the polarizing president’s controversial decision to invade Iraq in March of 2003.

On Friday afternoon, McAdams was at Laurier discussing the method behind his book as part of the annual Hunsberger Lecture. The lecture is set up by the WLU psychology department and the Faculty of Science Students’ Association (FOSSA) to honour the late Bruce Hunsberger, a psychology professor at Laurier from 1974-2003.

“When it comes to George W. Bush, people generally fall into two camps,” said McAdams, noting that some consider Bush an idiot, while others think of him as a saint. “I wanted to consider him from a purely psychological perspective … I tried to present an objective study without taking a side.”

McAdams broke down the psychological forces behind Bush’s decision to invade Iraq into three “layers”: the president’s psychological traits, his developmental goals and his desire to make his life into a “redemptive narrative.”

According to McAdams, Bush exhibits a high extroversion, low openness to experience personality, which means he is an extroverted person that isn’t very receptive to ideas that conflict with his own.

“These traits set him up to do something like the Iraq invasion, that kind of game-changing event,” he said. “9/11 gave him the perfect stage to act out these traits.”

McAdams went on to explain that Bush’s developmental goals revolved around following in the heavy footsteps of previous men in the Bush family. None more prominent than his father, another former president, George H.W. Bush.
“George W. desperately wanted to be like his father, and with good reason, I’m a liberal democrat and I would want to be like his father,” McAdams joked.

“If you look at all the history, George W. greatly admired his father and deeply hated anyone who was against his father; more than anyone else, Saddam Hussein.”

Something that drew a lot of debate when Bush invaded Iraq was whether or not he was trying to follow in his father’s footsteps and ‘finish the job’ by killing Hussein. For McAdams, this makes perfect psychological sense.

“It was deeply personal,” he said. “From the stand point of George W., ‘This guy tried to kill my father for crying out loud.’”

The final psychological force McAdams discussed was Bush’s desire to, “Reconstruct his life story.”

Before becoming governor of Texas and eventually president, Bush failed in the oil business, while spending a large portion of his life as a heavy drinker.

According to McAdams, after kicking his personal demons and finding success as first a part-owner of the Texas Rangers and then becoming governor of Texas and eventually president, the next step was to eradicate “evil” in the world, and in Bush’s eyes there was no greater evil than Hussein.

McAdams maintained that though his psycho-analysis of Bush provides some background to why he decided to invade Iraq, there were obviously other factors at play. Noting the political and economic factors, McAdams said he was simply looking to, “See if these principles can shed some light.”

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