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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Binge & Purge Presidency

Binge & Purge Presidency
Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster: National Archives
Click for full-sized Image

Critics often describe the Bush administration's conception of presidential power as involving an "Imperial Presidency," but I wonder if it might be more accurate to refer to it as the Binge & Purge Presidency. Wikipedia lists the DSM-IV-TR criteria for bulimia nervosa as consisting of binge episodes involving a "sense of lack of control," followed by "recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior" to prevent the obvious consequences from binge eating. It also says that "[b]ulimia is often less about food, and more to do with deep psychological issues and profound feelings of lack of control."

Bulimia is a serious medical condition and not something that should be taken lightly; nevertheless, I think that there are more than a few coincidental parallels between binge and purge behavior when it comes to eating and some of the "binge and purge" behavior we see on the part of the Bush presidency. Since bulimia is considered fundamentally a psychological disorder and is similar to mental illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder, we shouldn't be surprised to find similar patterns of behavior outside the usual context of eating and food.

Recently we witnessed the administration launch a new "binge" by sending more troops into harm's way in Iraq. Now, the administration is involved in a "purge," which is the elimination of independent U.S. prosecutors who might investigate and turn up wrongdoing by some Republicans, including those in the administration. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales promises that no prosecutors were forced out for the sake of politics, but how can he be believed? He wouldn't even tell the Senate how many have left and his boss won't let the Senate (in most cases) confirm the replacements.

This doesn't mean that Gonzales is lying, though — remember that he is capable of interpreting the Constitutional ban on suspending habeas corpus ("Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.") as not preventing the president from denying habeas corpus to anyone he pleases. It doesn't say "right," therefore the Constitution doesn't say that every person in the U.S., or even U.S. citizen "is assured the right of habeas corpus." If he sincerely believes that the president can deny habeas corpus to anyone at will without violating the ban on suspending habeas corpus, then he can believe anything.

Psychological disorders are usually associated with a person experiencing severe distortions of reality. People suffering from bulimia and anorexia typically can't see themselves for what they really are — they perceive themselves as fat even if they are severely malnourished, let alone if they simply look normal. In the Bush administration, we shouldn't doubt that many are capable of looking at themselves and perceiving themselves as defending civil liberties even as they dismantle and undermine our rights, as expanding democracy in the Middle East even as they pave the way for new theocratic regimes, and as protecting Americans against terrorism even as they enhance the recruitment efforts of extremist groups.

How many different situations can you identify where the Bush administration has launched on some sort of binge, but then shortly thereafter engaged in some sort of "inappropriate compensatory behavior" like a purge in order to either distract attention from or avoid the consequences of that binge?

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