Anti-Intellectualism, Narcissism, and the Presidency

This week, our esteemed President decided to thumb his nose at educated Americans everywhere when he participated in the following exchange:

Dubya: I appreciate the Secretary of Energy joining me today. He’s a good man, he knows a lot about the subject, you’ll be pleased to hear. I was teasing him — he taught at MIT, and — do you have a PhD?Secretary Bodman: Yes.

Dubya: Yes, a PhD. (Laughter.) Now I want you to pay careful attention to this — he’s the PhD, and I’m the C student, but notice who is the advisor and who is the President.

Dubya then proceeded to knock Bodman’s glasses on the floor and give him a massive wedgie.  Metaphorically speaking, that is.

The first thing that I found offensive about this comment is that it’s part of a broader pattern of anti-intellectualism in America.  Intellectuals are viewed as a small, conceited group of elitists.  They are seen as arrogant, pretentious, and out-of-touch with the problems of “real folks.”  One who dares consider the nuances or subtleties of a given issue is seen as a navel-gazing “flip flopper.”  Look no further than our recent election for clear evidence of this trend.

The next thing that jumped out at me about Dubya’s remark is that it sounded familiar.  A little investigation reveals that Dubya’s been recycling this same quip over and over.  Let’s go back to earlier this year, in March:

Dubya: I’ve asked Jeff Brown to join me. He is a professor. He can tell you where — where do you profess? (Laughter.)

Dr. Brown: I have a PhD in economics, and I teach at a business school.

Dubya: Yes. It’s an interesting lesson here, by the way. He’s an advisor. Now, he is the PhD, and I am a C-student — or was a C-student. Now, what’s that tell you? (Laughter and applause.) All you C-students at Auburn, don’t give up. (Laughter and applause.)

. . .  and before that in February . . .

Dubya: Andrew Biggs is with us. He is the Associate Commissioner for Retirement Policy of the Social Security Administration, Washington, D.C. In other words, he is an expert on the subject….

George W. Bush: By the way, this guy — PhD. See, I was a C student. He’s a PhD, so he’s probably got a little more credibility. I do think it’s interesting and should be heartening for all C students out there, notice who’s the President and who’s the advisor.

So, in addition to being offensive, he’s repetitive.  I find it disingenuous how he tries to cover for this insult by pretending he’s just trying to encourage C students to persevere.  He’s not fooling me; in reality, he’s saying, “You eggheads aren’t better than me — I’m the president, and don’t you forget it.”

After considering Dubya’s ridiculous behavior, another idea occurred to me.  I think there is something else going on here, something deeper than simple anti-intellectualism.  I think Dubya’s behavior — in this matter and others — strongly suggests a pattern of narcissitic tendencies.

Consider: Dubya feels threatened by those who have achieved higher academic standing than he has.  When forced to rely on their input to lend credibility to his discussions (like the situations above), he feels compelled to act in an aggressive manner as a response to this perceived threat to his ego.  This is something narcissists often do.

Another interesting point to ponder: Narcissists rely on what is called a “Narcissistic Supply”.  “The Narcissist actively seeks to furnish himself with an endless supply of admiration, adulation, affirmation and attention.”1 Now consider the following practices:

  • Requiring citizens to sign a loyalty oath before being admitted to events where the President is speaking
  • Barring protesters from areas where the President might actually see them

These and other actions seem to clearly support a concerted effort to maintain Dubya’s narcissistic supply.

Dubya exhibits other traits that imply a narcissistic personality, too.  Consider the following:

Narcissism is fundamentally an advanced version of the splitting defence mechanism. The Narcissist cannot regard humans, situations, entities (political parties, countries, races, his workplace) as a compound of good and bad elements. He is an “all or nothing” primitive “machine” (a common self metaphor among narcissists). He either idealises his object – or devalues it. The object is either all good or all bad. The bad attributes are always projected, displaced, or otherwise externalised. The good ones are internalised in order to support the inflated (“grandiose”) self-concepts of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies – and to avoid the pain of deflation and disillusionment.2

Gee, that sounds familiar.  Remember this?

“Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  — Dubya, September 20, 2001 

Furthermore, this theory explains Dubya’s apparent detachment from the real world.

The Narcissist’s earnestness and his (apparent) sincerity make people wonder whether he is simply detached from reality, unable to appraise it properly – or willingly and knowingly distorts reality and reinterprets it, subjecting it to his self-imposed censorship. It would seem that the Narcissist is dimly aware of the implausibility of his own constructions. He has not lost touch with reality; he is just less scrupulous in reshaping it, remolding its curvatures and ignoring the uncomfortable angles.3 

It has been observed that narcissists also tend to seek out special and preferential treatment.  Um, can you say Texas Air National Guard?

There are also well documented links between the narcissistic pattern of self-indulgent behavior and substance abuse and addiction.  As we know, Dubya has dealt with these issues in his past.

The list goes on and on.  Check this out:  How to Recognize a Narcissist.  See if it reminds you of any Presidents you know.

While it’s enlightening to see Dubya’s behavior so succinctly explained, it’s a bit disturbing at the same time.  When you consider how this President’s personality has influenced the perception of the US around the world, it’s doubly upsetting.


1. A Primer on Narcissism, by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.,

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

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