George W. Bush had a drunk driving bust in 1976, and then ten years
later Jesus inspired him to give up drinking. If you'd had to do an
intervention in that case, what would you have suggested?
Well, the majority of people arrested for drunk driving are not
alcoholics, and one of the problems of the American treatment
system is that they deal with everybody the same way. George
W. Bush is a guy who said he wasn't an alcoholic, and knew some
alcoholics, people who had worse drinking problems than him. So
in a case like that I would focus on making him aware of the problems
that result from driving drunk, and try to deal with that specifically. For
instance, in that case it wasn't clear that the other people in the car were
drunk; so the simplest thing for all concerned would have been to have
somebody else drive the car. And that's a pretty simple resolution, as
opposed to convincing somebody they're an alcoholic and convincing
them to give up drinking. You can focus more specifically just on
getting people to stop driving drunk.
Joan Kennedy just got arrested again for drunk driving. For the fourth
time. She's been in and out of treatment, she's been in a million
treatment centers, and she's been sober for a while. But what happened
to her is typical. Because they teach her that she's an alcoholic, and she
although I can't judge from here she does seem to have a
longstanding alcohol problem. So what do they teach you?
They teach you not to drink. And in her case that's probably a good
message. But 95 percent of people who hear that message do drink again.
And because all they've taught her is don't drink,
she doesn't seem to have any plan for staying out of a car when she does
drink. And of course she could kill somebody, she could kill herself. And
she's lost her license again for umpteen years. She's probably well off,
but if a person depends on driving for their livelihood or getting their kids
around, that's a pretty serious life disruption. And that's typical of
American treatment. They only know one thing: teach people they're
alcoholics, tell them never to drink again, and leave it at that. Nobody will
tell Joan Kennedy, "If you do drink, you need to call somebody, either
your kids or your friends." And in fact she's probably so ashamed, because
of what she's learned in treatment, that it's harder for her to make that
call, which could be life-saving.
Bush also had a pretty spotty record as a pilot in the Air National Guard.
Does that indicate any kind of long term problem with operating heavy
Are you saying he was flying airplanes while he was drunk? Because I've
never read or heard anything like that. If you're saying he's a screwup, well,
there are lots of screwups out there who aren't alcoholics. And there are a lot
of screwups who occasionally get drunk. But to generalize from that evidence
that it's alcoholism is shoddy practice, although it's fairly typical of alcoholism
practitioners in the US. You could do that job; it sounds like you've got that
Labelling people alcoholics. You look at one piece of information, and
say "Look, he was a screwup in the Air National Guard too; ipso facto,
he's an alcoholic.
I'll keep it in mind. I'm always looking for new job opportunities.
Well, you're not a recovering alcoholic, so you probably couldn't put
enough teeth into it when you do it.
How about if I'm a practicing alcoholic?
Well then you're in denial and you wouldn't be making all these
observations about him. You'd be going "Oh he's just sowing his
wild oats." That's what AA says you'd be doing. Do I hear bottles
in the background? Are you drinking right now?
I'm having coffee in a cup, with a saucer to make it more elegant.
No, no, I'm diagnosing you and W. at the same time. It's a twofer today.
Well, even if W. wasn't an alcoholic, the fact is that the majority of
Americans have never been stopped for drunk driving, and it's pretty
likely the majority have never driven drunk.
Those are two different things. Clearly a large percentage of Americans
have never been arrested for drunk driving. But some people estimate
that a fair number of Americans, in the course of their lives, at one point
or another, have been over the legal blood/alcohol level. Especially before
we had this heightened awareness that we have now. Not that I want to
defend W. But these days you'd have to be asleep at the wheel not to
think twice about driving after you've had a couple drinks. But it's
possible that quite a fair percentage of people his age may at one time
or another have driven drunk.
So you don't think the D-Dubya-I story is a healthy reminder to
Americans that our country is run by degenerate slobs who take no
responsibility for themselves?
Well, again, I don't want to defend W., but that's when he was
about thirty. He had an unusually prolonged adolescence. And if
you want to hold that against him that's OK with me. But it is
possible to believe that somebody who did that 24 years ago should
be judged on his behavior now. You can find ample reasons not to
vote for him without going back 24 years.
Have you noticed Bush exhibiting any other obsessive behaviors,
other than compulsive drinking?
W. has specifically said that he did not consider himself an alcoholic. He
knew alcoholics and he didn't put himself in that category. He's said
he decided to quit because he was drinking too much and it was starting
to have an effect he'd wake up in the morning and not feel like
running. So he noticed a depreciation in his skill level, but he didn't
consider himself an alcoholic.
Then why did he need Jesus to help him quit drinking?
I don't know that he said he needed Jesus to give up drinking. The way
it worked in his mind was that by being confronted with Jesus he
realized that he should give up drinking. It was more kind of a
"cast away all your sins" kind of thing. And he didn't decide to
cut back his drinking. He just decided to give up alcohol altogether.
It sounds to me like the kind of guy who wouldn't even offer his daughters wine
You know, Americans are a pretty kooky lot around alcohol. America
has the highest percentage of abstainers of any western country. There
are microscopic numbers of people who abstain in France or Italy. But
close to 40 percent of Americans don't drink alcohol at all. And they
tend to accumulate in the Protestant South. In that environment you
can pull off the idea that you should give up drinking altogether. In
Italy people would notice, because you have wine with virtually every
So if Bush had found the Catholic Jesus instead of the Protestant
Jesus, would the outcome have been different?
He was brought up in a Protestant ethic. Southern Baptists are close to
90 percent abstinent now. I don't know that he's a Baptist. But the
Southern Protestant environment often alternates between heavy
drinking like W. did when he was a kid and absolute
You know I've written in my book Diseasing of America about
the tendency Americans have to label everything a disease, the way
recovering alcoholics have conquered the airwaves, telling everybody,
"Got drunk? You're an alcoholic like me. You need to abstain, you need to
join AA. You need to rely on AA, you've got to go forever."
In a way George Bush shares that outlook. He didn't decide to
cut back his drinking; he decided to eliminate it entirely, like it was
sinful. To a certain extent that same world view underlies AA. AA comes
out of a Protestant revival background, and there's a lot of God left in
it. At the same time, though, they look at Bush and say, "Oh God,
you didn't go to AA. You're not allowed to do that." Even though in a way
his resolution to quit entirely with the help of God has similarities to AA.
I've heard people on radio call-in shows say, "What's this about? You can't
quit drinking on your own! He's going to relapse any minute." Which doesn't
seem very likely. He's been governor for two terms and he seems to be
pretty good on his word that he isn't drinking. So then they'll have this
angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debate about George W. Bush, saying, "He
wasn't really an alcoholic, so he could quit on his own."
How many teetotaler Presidents have we had?
I was thinking about that. I'm not aware that there have been many.
I was thinking about Jimmy Carter, because he was a Southern
Baptist. But I seem to remember him having wine at dinner with
Rosalynn. So you'd have to go back over the whole schmear. If you
go back Harding was a pretty famous drinker, Jackson was
big partyer. And in colonial America heavy drinking was the norm.
George Washington was a big drinker in his day. Temperance didn't
come around until about 1830. At the Constitutional Congress it was
normal to have grog passed around.
Do you see any foreign policy implications? Like, how are you
supposed to meet the president of Russia without having a little
Well that's funny. His dad drank, right? He threw up on the Japanese
prime minister. But yeah, if you go to China, there's no AA there.
So when dealing with Russia or China, heavy drinking is part of
the negotiation. You know, George W. Bush is so awkward and
so American. People have already pointed out how funny it will be
to see him overseas; they tell funny stories about how he offended
Queen Elizabeth. She said to him, "I understand you're the black sheep of
your family." And he said, "I understand you're the black sheep of
your family too." You're not supposed to say that to the Queen. And
that's a typical ugly American thing. It would be part and
parcel of that to end up somewhere and say, "Oh, I don't drink." It's
almost a cultural offense to say that in some places. But I'm sure
George Bush will just say it.
Fuck the Queen. Who cares about her?
Yeah. "And who cares if all deals are sealed with vodka? That's their
custom. I don't drink. The hell with stupid Russia."
had played for the Rangers and
had a suspected drug user like George W. as the owner of his team,
would that have had an impact on his career?
Well, hadn't W. already quit when he owned the Rangers? Darryl
Strawberry seems to do a good job of taking drugs anyway. Of all
the bad things people have said about George Steinbrenner, I
don't think he's ever been accused of taking drugs. I'm pretty sure
Joe Torre doesn't take drugs. So Darryl can't quit even when he's
surrounded by people who don't take drugs. And of course the
solution he's getting is the opposite of what he needs. Darryl Strawberry,
and in fact most human beings, would be better off keeping their jobs.
They send him back to Tampa and say "You've got a couple things you're
good at, like playing baseball. We're not gonna let you do that. Why don't
you just hang around all day and see what you come up with?" That sounds
more like a recipe for drug use than otherwise. Most people do better when
they're gainfully employed, and doing what they're good at.
Would W. have used Jesus to cure Darryl's addictions, and
maybe even his cancer?
Well Darryl is a born again Jesus guy, don't you know that? You remember
Huckleberry Finn? Remember Pap got religion one night, and he
swore off alcohol? But he didn't make it through the night; he got
kind of powerful thirsty, and climbed down a stanchion and got drunk
as a lord? And they found him on the ground, half froze? You know, all kinds of
thieves and saints get religion, and they announce that that's the source of
their resolve to go straight. I guess what you'd have to say is that you need
a little more than that backing it up. George W. Bush seemed to have a pretty
stable family life. He seemed, a little late, to be feeling his professional oats. And
that seems to have calmed him down, so that he could stick to his pledge to
quit drinking. But Jesus alone as Darryl Strawberry demonstrates
isn't really enough to keep up the vow of abstinence.
So Jon Corzine, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, wakes up one day in his
Summit, NJ, estate, and he decides that instead of throwing millions
of dollars at the Democratic National Committee so the feeble,
earnest staffers there can waste it on FedExes and chairman Ed
Rendell's back electrolysis he'd rather fly his golden parachute
onto his own Senate seat. Well it sure beats
taking cash from evil corporations the way George W. Bush does, so he
can give further tax and legislative breaks to them; or the way Vice
President Al Gore does, so he can rail against them in public but reassure
them at White House coffees. Hell, no. What separates
previous moneybag contenders as Al Checchi and Michael Huffington
(besides the fact that he ended up winning) is that he used his cash to
become the Senate's pre-eminent liberal, aiming to help those in decidely
different tax brackets. Reasonable people can differ on, say,
whether the dream of universal
health care should be trusted to a federal polity whose previous
ventures into the medical profession include the
war on swine flu
and the post-Nagasaki eco-tourism of
Dr. James V. Neel
, but at least Corzine is trying to do the right thing.
Despite his rumpled professor mien and his
counterintuitive beard, Corzine was dissed by pundits and editorial
boards alike his opponent, GOP Rep. Bob Franks won the
endorsement of the New York Times
and the Philadelphia Inquirer
well as the other, lesser-read newspapers actually located in New Jersey.
But in the end Garden Staters sent him to Washington, D.C.,
because one thing seems pretty clear this is a guy who actually
gives a flying fuck about them, unlike poll-tested pols like Franks,
or Gore, or Bush, or the pundits themselves. In the focus-group-tested
wilderness, Corzine openly cries out for universal health care,
and a living wage, and opportunities for the
state's underclass. He's one of the few Democrats who
actually runs as a Democrat. So cheers, Mr. Corzine. Drinks are on