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George W. Bush, Problem Child or Average Guy?

By Mike Walsh
Written summer 2003

In my opinion, the only way to truly understand George Bush and his behavior is to think of him as the classic “problem child.” You know the kind of kid I’m thinking about—hotheaded, immature, loud, selfish, boastful, bullying, lying, irresponsible. However, the common wisdom is that Bush comes off as an “average guy,” which supposedly explains why he is so well-liked by middle America.

To find out which character type Bush more closely resembles, I compared Bush to each type using twenty personality traits. For the “problem child,” I use the incorrigible “Junior” from that 1990 cinematic achievement, Problem Child. For the “average guy,” I used an amalgam of characters played by Tom Hanks, who has made a very lucrative career portraying average Joes in movies such as Sleepless in Seattle, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, and The Green Mile.

The “Winner” column identifies which type, “problem child” or “average guy,” Bush resembles more for each trait. See the final score below.

 

Problem Child
“Junior” from Problem Child

Average Guy
Tom Hanks characters

Bush

Winner

Temperament

Says nasty things behind other peoples’ backs.

Very even tempered and fair. Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 stays calm and polite despite life-threatening circumstances.

Calls a reporter who doesn’t agree with him “a major league asshole.”

After former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson shows that the Bush administration lied about Iraq purchasing uranium from Niger, the Bushies punish him by leaking news that his wife is a CIA operative.

Problem Child

Violence

Very violent. Physically harms nuns, his grandfather, and his father. Torches bedroom because he doesn’t like the way his new parents decorated it.

Never harms anyone except during war time to protect his platoon.

Very violent. Unleashes shock and awe on Iraq even though the justification is false. Signs 152 death warrants during tenure as governor, making him the most lethal governor in US history.

Problem Child

Integrity

Coyly prays to God for forgiveness in front of his father to avoid punishment after wreaking mayhem.

Impeccable integrity. When one of his crew is scratched from the mission by a supervisor, Jim Lovell takes it upon himself to give the guy the bad news in person. Plus, he doesn’t badmouth the supervisor.

Capt. Miller in Saving Private Ryan urges his men to show no hostility toward Pvt. Ryan.

In late 1980s he sells stock in Harken in what appears to be insider trading. He files papers required by SEC eight months late but claims that the SEC lost the paperwork. He later blames the snafu on his lawyer.

Bush repeats lame, unsubstantiated allegations about Iraq from British dossier.

Convinces voters in Texas to finance a baseball stadium. When it is complete, sells his share for an enormous profit.

Wins presidential election by keeping thousands of Florida votes from being counted.

Problem Child

Respect for Others

Other peoples’ opinions are irrelevant, even his father’s.

Capt. Miller of Saving Private Ryan and Paul Edgecomb of The Green Mile respect the opinions of their soldiers and staff. Edgecomb even respects the opinion of the convicts on death row.

After a disastrous mission, Jim Lovell says, “Gentlemen, it’s been a privilege flying with you.”

Other peoples’ opinions are irrelevant, even our longtime allies’ opinions. In Bush At War by Bob Woodward, Bush states, “I’m the commander... see, I don’t need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being president. I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.” Bush evidently forgot that he owes explanations for everything he says and does to the people of this country.

Problem Child

Vocabulary

Uses bad language. Curses frequently.

Almost never curses.

Very bad at using language, but don’t “misunderestimate” him.

Problem Child

Open-Mindedness

Open-minded? What’s that?

Paul Edgecomb has open mind about the guilt of John Coffey, a convicted killer. He comes to realize that Coffey is actually innocent.

Sam Baldwin in Sleepless in Seattle accepts flaws in others. Dates a woman with a horrendous laugh.

When a member of his crew is replaced at the last minute, Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 is very supportive of the new guy, even though he’s inexperienced.

Narrow-minded. Intellectually dishonest. Ideology determines everything. If his rigid opinion doesn’t match the facts, he manipulates the facts.

For example, Bush came into office with a firm conviction that warnings of global warming were “bad science.” But he knew nothing about the problem and had to be tutored by experts before a trip to Europe, so he could discuss the issue intelligently. But Bush still hasn’t budged in his narrow, irresponsible position even though the United States emits one-fourth of world’s greenhouse gasses.

Problem Child

Friendship

Betrays his only friend, his father.

The kind of guy who would be a great friend and fun to be around. Well-liked by other characters.

Bush has completely alienated many of the US’s closest friends. Even the British won’t share intelligence information with the Bush administration.

When endemic fraud at Enron is made public, Bush says that Ken Lay was never a close friend. Yet Lay was at the White House a great deal before the scandal, he loaned Bush a jet during the 2000 presidential campaign, and Lay was one of Bush’s “pioneer” fundraisers.

 

Kindness

When a little girl disses him, he gets back at her by ruining her birthday party and throwing her gifts into the pool.

Paul Edgecomb doesn’t allow cruelty to the inmates even though they’re on death row.

Jim Lovell hugs a sick crew member to keep him warm.

Bush touts “compassionate conservatism,” but his policies always favor big industry and the wealthy at the expense of consumers. He cuts the budgets of social programs at every opportunity.

Problem Child

Honesty

Lies repeatedly to avoid punishment.

Unfailingly honest. He does not lie or deceive to get his way.

Will say anything to get his way. Calls a tax cut for the wealthy a “jobs program.”

Claimed to have over 40 nations in the “coalition of the willing.” In fact, only a half-dozen nations participate in the Iraq invasion and only the British make a significant contribution.

Opposes Patients Bill of Rights because he claims that it will lead to more lawsuits, when he knows it hasn’t in Texas.

Problem Child

Conscience

No evidence of a conscience.

About the execution of John Coffey, Paul Edgecomb states, “On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That is was my job?”

Capt. Miller in Saving Private Ryan feels guilty about the death of his men and killing in general.

Doesn’t know what a moral dilemma is. Never expresses any second thoughts about Iraqi death or destruction. As Rumsfeld said about Bush, “When he makes a decision, he makes it, and he doesn't go back and worry about it.”

During his 2000 presidential campaign, he seemed to gloat over the record number of death warrants he signed in Texas. During a magazine interview, he mocked Karla Faye Tucker on her pleas to be spared the death penalty.

Problem Child

Consistency

Runs away from home with a serial killer. When he realizes that the serial killer is nasty, he switches allegiance back to his father.

Stands by his convictions. Doesn’t waver.

Bush campaigned for a “kinder, gentler SEC.” When the Enron scandal broke and the public clamored for stronger regulations, Bush suddenly switched course and embraced the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. He and the Republican party had opposed stronger SEC regulations in 1998, which might have saved consumers billions.

Problem Child

Concern for the Environment

During a camping trip, he shoots a slingshot at birds, pees on a campfire, and lures a bear to the campsite to terrorize the other campers.

Lives on a lake in Sleepless in Seattle. Admires the natural beauty of the earth and the moon in Apollo 13.

Little or no concern for the environment:

—Eliminated or weakened as many environmental laws as possible since his inauguration.

—Broke his campaign promise to regulate CO2 emissions.

—Stopped lawsuits initiated by the Clinton administration against polluting Midwest electricity plants.

—Had a terrible environmental record as governor of Texas.

Problem Child

Bravery

Wreaks havoc but only when no one is watching.

Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 and Capt. Miller in Saving Private Ryan perform extraordinarily brave acts to save their men.

In Cast Away, Chuck Noland says, “I would rather take my chances out there on the ocean than stay here and die.”

Attacks Afghanistan and Iraq, two virtually defenseless countries.

Evidently afraid to face tough questions during press conferences.

Problem Child

Patriotism

Junior does not utter one patriotic word during the movie.

Capt. John Miller is willing to risk his life and the lives of his men to save Private Ryan and ease the suffering of Ryan’s mother.

Bush’s father got him in the Coast Guard, so he didn’t have to serve in Vietnam.

Problem Child

Vindictiveness

He beats up several kids with a baseball bat when they call him names during a baseball game.

Never vindictive. Paul Edgecomb of The Green Mile punishes a ruthless, sadistic guard, but only after repeated cruelties.

When Sam Baldwin’s son runs away in Sleepless in Seattle, he flies across the country to find him. When he finds him, Sam doesn’t punish him but says, “You’re all I have.”

Legendary for his vindictiveness. When the UN refuses to buckle to Bush’s bullying tactics, Bush and his cronies do the following:

—Tries to keep France, Germany, and Russia—the “coalition of the unwilling”—from being reimbursed for loans to Iraq and from getting contracts to help rebuild Iraq.

—Warns France that it will suffer consequences for having opposed the war on Iraq.

—Threatens to withdraw military bases from Germany.

—Bans US firms from attending the Paris air show.

Problem Child

Modesty

Junior is boastful and cocky.

Capt. Miller and Jim Lovell don’t make claims of bravery or heroism, even though both are very heroic.

Brags and says things like “dead or alive” or “bring ‘em on.” He reveals a childish machismo when he dons a flight outfit and lands on an aircraft carrier to celebrate easy victory in Iraq. Has a need to prove he’s a tough guy.

Problem Child

Maturity

None. Decidedly immature.

Handles responsibility—shipping center, death row, battalion, Apollo moon mission—fairly and maturely.

Jim Lovell doesn’t blame his crew after a major accident and does not let his crew argue among themselves.

Bush never apologizes. Always has a new excuse for lame behavior. Won’t admit a mistake. Has Tenet, then Stephen Hadley, then Condi Rice take blame for the false claim that Iraq purchased uranium from Niger.

Bush received a DUI and lost his license in Maine during the 1970s. He did not reveal the arrest while governor of Texas or during the 2000 presidential campaign, despite numerous opportunities. When the DUI was reported in 2000, he doesn’t apologize for being dishonest. Instead, Bush blames the man who revealed the incident.

Problem Child

Likeability

None. Nuns have a party when Junior is adopted. His new father fantasizes about suffocating him with a pillow.

His underlings in The Green Mile and Apollo 13 admire him greatly.

Sam Baldwin receives hundreds of marriage proposals in the mail.

A vast majority of the world’s population despises him.

Problem Child

Pack Mentality

When the problem child becomes an adolescent, he normally joins forces with other like-minded adolescents to form a gang, which creates even more havoc, such as beating up weaker kids and stealing their money.

Independent. No pack mentality.

Keeps his gang—Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Tenet, Powell, Ashcroft—on a short leash. They stay on topic all day, everyday, repeating falsehoods if necessary. Bush aggressively investigates any leaks from his gang.

Takes care of his own with tax cuts and refuses to release documents from previous administrations that might embarrass his gang members.

California votes for Gore, so Bush does nothing while his friends in the energy industry, including Enron, rip off California residents for billions. Then he blames California for the energy deregulation fiasco.

Problem Child

Cynicism

Thinks everyone else is extremely stupid.

Never cynical. Sam Baldwin in Sleepless in Seattle believes that true love happens only once. All characters surmount difficult odds, creating a positive impression of man’s capabilities.

Assumes that the American public is extremely stupid if he thinks he could get away with so many obvious lies.

Problem Child

Score card: Bush is more like the archetypal problem child in 20 categories, and more like your basic average guy in 0 categories. Conclusion: Our president is the ultimate problem child.


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