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By Jay Cost

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The Newsweek School of Presidential Psychology

This is merely impressionistic, but it seems to me that the writers over at Newsweek really enjoy psycho-analyzing President Bush. The latest comes from Howard Fineman.

Though I've never heard him use the term, my guess is that George W. Bush sees himself as a hacendado, an estate owner in Old Mexico.

That would give him a sense of Southwestern noblesse, duty-bound not just to work "his" people, but to protect them as well.

His advisor, Carlo Rove, has explained that a system called "democracy" now gives peasants something called "the vote." It would be shrewd, Rove said, for hacendados to grant their workers' citizenship.

That's the best explanation I have for why Bush is in the midst of what may be a suicide mission on immigration policy--embarrassing for him and ruinous for his party.

This reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in Arrested Development. Lucille and Oscar are arguing over whether Buster is going to be shipped off to Iraq. Lucille shouts, "You're high!" Oscar responds, "Well - you can win every argument that way, but that doesn't make you right!"

I feel vaguely the same way about Fineman's piece. What good does this kind of armchair psychoanalysis do us? What have we learned from this, beyond what Howard Fineman thinks? Fineman is not - so far as I know - a professionally trained mental health worker. Nor, for that matter, does he have the kind of access to the President to make such psychoanalytic judgments. It makes for good rhetoric - but really, does an assertion like this explicate, clarify, or elucidate anything at all? If not, why is this worth our while?

Amateur psychoanalytical argument is, I think, the second worst explanation for human behavior. If you are a professional mental health worker, then it is a different story. But if you are not, it is just a weak basis for inference. The weakest is, of course, recourse to ill intentions. Q: Why did he do something that puzzles you? A: He is evil. That is the weakest answer I think you can give. The second weakest answer is essentially what Fineman argues. A: He is crazy.

You can win any argument by using either of these answers. But, really, how much do you actually explain?

-Jay Cost