Rupert Cornwell: Out of America

Big freeze over the Thanksgiving turkey: It's America's most enjoyable family holiday. But in the Bush household, there's a major split
Click to follow

The grounds for this concern are, admittedly, slender - a brief item in a political tipsheet called Insight Magazine. It claims the Oval Office atmosphere "has become unbearable", and that "even the [Bush] family is split". The President, it is said, maintains daily contact with only four people: his wife Laura, mother Barbara, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Karen Hughes, his old Texas consigliera who's been given the nigh-impossible task of improving America's image abroad. All are women, but that's another story. What of the indispensable Karl Rove, apparently back in favour after escaping indictment in the CIA leak probe?

Insight is no liberal blog, but a newsletter linked to The Washington Times, the arch-conservative newspaper. Yet here is this committed Bush ally in the media, dishing what - if true - is some very damaging dirt indeed.

Is it true? Probably only a dozen people can say for sure. But you can make a very plausible case for a certain froideur between father and son. Reports of such problems have cropped up regularly, ever since the invasion of Iraq. The reason advanced is obvious: Senior opposed the war that Junior launched.

The elder Bush is far too much of a gent to comment. But his faithful retainer Brent Scowcroft did so in The New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. Mr Scowcroft was Senior's close friend and National Security Adviser in 1991, who was against going all the way to Baghdad then, and held a similar view in 2003. The piece confirmed Mr Scowcroft's estrangement from the son, highlighting the divide between a pragmatist who sees the world in shades of grey and this born-again Christian President obsessed with "evildoers". Mr Scowcroft has frequently been a surrogate spokesman for Senior; it was widely assumed he was performing a similar role last month in The New Yorker.

Junior does not seem too proud of his dad. He constantly refers to Dick Cheney as the finest Vice-President in history, forgetting his father held that job for eight years. There was that line about consulting not his biological father but "a higher father" over going to war in Iraq. At last year's Republican convention, choreographed by the White House, Mr Bush Senior was not invited to speak.

The Bushes are not the only First Family divided on Iraq. Consider the Clintons. Hawkish Hillary, anxious to show she is "tough on defence" ahead of an all-but-certain presidential run in 2008, is still an unapologetic supporter of the invasion. Not so Bill, who last week described his successor's Middle East adventure as "a big mistake". Even so, you don't feel this particular difference is going to diminish enjoyment of the Clinton Thanksgiving turkey.

But the Bushes, with their Oedipal mix of son, father and mother, are another matter. Until lately Mr Clinton was leader in the presidential pyscho-studies stakes, having inspired enough learned works to fill a mid-sized bookshop. Bush Junior is now coming up fast on the rails. "I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure me out," he once declared, "I'm just not into psychobabble." Alas, Mr President, others are.

Take Justin Frank, a Washington psychoanalyst and professor of psychiatry (and an unabashed liberal). He is the author of Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of a President. It presents a scary picture - of an untreated ex-alcoholic who has the same disdain for international law that he once had for his National Guard reporting requirements.

The book delves into Mr Bush's problems with the language and his black-and-white mode of thought. It reads terrifying things into his alleged youthful cruelty to animals, and the "anal/sadistic" indifference to the pain of others. And so on. Finish the book and you'll believe the President should be locked up. The most convincing part is the exploration of the love-hate relationship with his more accomplished father, and the stew of feelings - insecurity, jealousy, rivalry and suppressed anger - it engendered.

But enough of that. It's Thanksgiving, and such notions should be set aside. Still, you can't help feeling that the watchword around the Bush table on Thursday will be that of Basil Fawlty when the Germans came to visit his hotel: don't mention the war.

Comments