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Bush on the Couch

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The Pathological Optimist
By Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln’s Melancholy

Bush is rather the opposite of Lemony Snicket. He never anticipates an unfortunate event. And about those that come to pass, he makes not a peep. No matter the external reality, Bush maintains a confident—even aggressive—stance.

This isn’t merely an attitude; it’s a fixed belief that confidence is right and skepticism wrong. In this sense, he is the apotheosis of an ideology that afflicts the culture at large—that an optimist is a good person. He is the optimist-in-chief. But another phrase applies in his case: “pathological optimism.” Refusing to engage reality only works as long as reality is kept at bay.

Lincoln showed another path. His insistence on grappling with the worst conceivable scenarios—and candidly assessing errors—was crucial to his strength, not least because it drew his allies closer to him at times of trial. Perhaps Bush’s presidency faces a crisis not just because times are hard but also because he won’t see the hard times for what they are.


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