And I hope when you're older you'll come to this ceremony again, and find some comfort here.
-- George Bush, speech to Annual Peace Officers' Memorial Service
You don't need to be a clinician to understand that people act out when they experience bad feelings. And, observing Bush's face yesterday (in photos taken throughout Tuesday's annual Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the Capitol), he was obviously distressed.
It's not that we don't all experience psychic pain or troubled feelings at times. The point is what we do with them. Typically, we contain them while attending to business, then deal with them privately as circumstances allow.
I've addressed Bush's psychology and signs of slippage several times. When he's off (1, 2), the presiding symptom typically involves the expression of hostility or anger. In this case, however, Bush seems to be using the grief of others -- and, particularly, the comfort of women -- to get some relief for himself.
Whether Bush was suffering from something specific on Tuesday or his actions were reflective of an across-the-board reduction in coping capacity, I think his behavior -- and his mental health, overall -- deserves wider attention, in the same way a President's physical well-being need always be monitored.
Of course, the Peace Officers' Memorial Service is an emotional event dealing specifically with loss and grief. Still, for a President who has attended this service every year of his tenure and has always done his share of hugging there (see: 2004), something (in duration and manner) was different Tuesday.
According to ABC News:
Bush spoke for eight minutes. Then he came off the stage and talked to people in the crowd for 2 1/2 hours, methodically making his way along the metal barricades. He often works such a "rope line" as he ends events, but this was one of the longest of his presidency.
As much as George Bush likes to pretend he's emotionally bulletproof, this past Tuesday, he never looked so publicly troubled, and desperate.
(For an additional pic, see my companion piece at Huffington Post.)
(image credits to follow)