Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Nora Ephron Headshot

What's Eating George Bush?

Posted: Updated:

I'm sorry to have to return to what continues to be, for me, the Rosebud event of the second Bush term, but since I live in New York and am free from the kind of facts and "inside information" that burden most people who write about politics, I keep thinking about the day the plane flew into the airspace while the President rode his bicycle.

As you may recall, on May 11, 2005, a small plane made an unauthorized detour into the air space over the nation's Capitol, setting off a red alert. The Secret Service evacuated Dick Cheney and rushed Laura Bush to a bunker in the White House. The President was not there. He was off riding his bicycle in Beltsville, Maryland, and the Secret Service didn't notify him about the incident until it was over. At the time they claimed they didn't want to disturb his bicycle ride. It's my theory that this incident was one of the reasons for the rift between Bush and Cheney -- a rift, I'm proud to say, that I was one of the first to point out (on the Huffington Post), on the basis of no information whatsoever, and which now turns out (according to this week's Newsweek) to be absolutely true.

Emboldened by the success of this deduction, I would like to ask another question that I've been wondering about for some time: What's wrong with the president? Is he fighting depression? Is he being medicated in some way that isn't quite working? What's up? I even bought a copy of one of the supermarket tabloids that alleged he'd started drinking again, but the article (like all articles in supermarket tabloids) was extremely disappointing; even the over-exciting picture of the President on the front page, holding a glass of wine, turned out to be an old irrelevant photograph of him making a toast at some banquet; there was no real evidence in the article that he was back on the sauce.

But I've been wondering about what's going on with W ever since he emerged from his bizarre groundhog-like vacation and responded to Hurricane Katrina as if he were under water. He had no affect at all. He was almost robotic. His meager vocabulary seemed to have shrunk even further. He conveyed no feeling for the victims -- and this was early on, way before anyone realized how many poor people were involved. It was strange. What's so hard about cranking yourself up for hurricane victims, especially when you think they're mostly white people who have lost their second homes on the Gulf Coast?

At the time I wondered if Bush was on Paxil or Lexapro, drugs that several of my friends are taking and that seem to have turned them into strangely muted versions of themselves. I asked my friend Rita, who's a shrink, but Rita is very careful about committing on subjects of this sort. She did point out, though, that sometimes, when the President talks, his mouth has a strange sideways twitch, which is apparently common in people who are on antidepressants. Actually it might have been my husband who said this, I can't remember.

But I started thinking about all this again on Sunday. On the Chris Matthews Show, there was some old footage of the president from last year's presidential campaign. He was outdoors, talking to a group of people in hard hats; he was energetic, focused, confident, on top of the world. Now you could easily counter: of course he was, it was a lovely day, he was surrounded by supporters, things were going well. But the President we're seeing these days is a completely different man.

He has, of course, a lot of reasons to be depressed -- no point in enumerating them, you know what they are. But most of all, I think he's depressed because the job has turned out to be so much more onerous than he expected -- he said as much to a friend of mine in September. "You have no idea," he said, "how hard these five years have been." This is a fairly breathtaking remark given the number of people who, thanks to this president, are now dead as a result of his five years in the Oval Office, but never mind.

The point is that it seems possible to me that when George Bush gave up alcohol in 1986, he dealt with the depression that often accompanies sobriety by becoming an obsessive exerciser. And that's what he's essentially done ever since. He's never held anything that could be confused with a job. Owning a basesball team is not a job. Even being governor of Texas takes only a couple of months a year, it turns out. So he was free to exercise.

But at some point this year, something happened and the exercise regimen stopped working. Bush started becoming depressed. My theory is that a certain amount of panic ensued, and more exercise was prescribed: hence, the afternoon on the bicycle in Maryland, and the reluctance to disturb an already disturbed, irritable man. (Interestingly, the incident happened just after the President returned from a four-day trip to Europe, which had not only required him to work several hours each day but undoubtedly interrupted his exercise routine.) Then came the vacation in August, the odd, sequestered vacation, a perfect time for the President's doctor to try medication, or change medication, or adjust medication. Then Katrina and the emergence in the fall of an unenergetic, irritable, muted, unfocussed President, the man you see today.

Look it up: depression + symptoms. You'll read it for yourself: loss of energy, irritability, feeling "slowed down," inability to concentrate.

Not that I'm an expert on any of this, of course. But it's possible, isn't it? Just asking.