Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Plagiarism by committee?

You won’t find any surprises in this article — it merely confirms what those who paid attention to the Bush administration’s patterns of unconscientious behavior already knew or suspected — but it is important to document even those facts that seem most obvious, since future historians may otherwise refer to George W. Bush’s “memoir” as a source without realizing what it actually comprises. That Bush plagiarized entire passages from books written by former advisors, including some that his administration had sought to discredit at the time of their publication, is indisputable. What this means should inspire some reflection.

Bush and courtiers in the Situation Room

George W. Bush and courtiers in the Situation Room.
[ Image Source ]

To be sure, no one save his most ardent admirers could ever have mistaken the former president for a fount of original thought. But this merely makes him what many of his supporters argued a president ought to be anyway: an ordinary American unburdened by excessive intellectual propensities but gifted in working with people and making good use of the expertise of the specialists under him. However, even conservative Republicans, if they really believe their leading pundits’ rhetoric about character and personal integrity, should be concerned about what else this episode illustrates about Bush, and what that suggests about the kinds of expert “specialists” who made up his administration.

That Bush had “assistants” in compiling and writing his book is unremarkable; that he would seek to efface them and take full credit is also not uncommon among aggressive narcissistic personalities, and such personalities are disproportionately represented among national elected officeholders. It is the pattern of literary thefts and deceptions that is suggestive: Repeatedly Bush presents as his own writings passages demonstrably copied from books written by his former aides. He also presents as recollections descriptions of events he never witnessed. In all of these things, he seems to take little account of the fact that he is certain to get caught. And he has obviously enlisted associates who also see nothing wrong with claiming credit for others’ work; thus (and not for the first time), he seems to surround himself with dishonest subordinates.

All of these behaviors are consistent with the Wikipedia description of psychopathy.

By themselves, of course, unethical acts in the publication of a memoir constitute slender proof for such a diagnosis; therefore I do not seek to offer any such thing. I merely refer you to the Wikipedia page as a starting-point and ask that you compare Bush’s behavior here with his behavior throughout his presidency and consider to what extent the aggregate of this known history seems to accord with what you find on the page.

Originally published as a review of a Huffington Post article on George W. Bush’s memoir.

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