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The Reptilian Brain of George W. Bush


No, this is not about “Snakes on a Plane”.

According to neurologist Dr. Paul MacLean, researcher at the National Institutes of Health, you have three brains, not just one. (the primitive, the limbic and the neocortex or rational) The brain stem, the primitive, is the oldest. It evolved hundreds of millions of years ago and is more like the entire brain of present-day reptiles. It controls automatic brain functions and such things as fight or flight mechanisms. When stimulated, rational thinking stops; action becomes instinctive and ritualistic. This may account for a lot of what’s going on today.

President George W. Bush may well be a victim of his reptilian brain. With his polls hitting historic lows, he is caught in the ambivalence of fight or flight. After three and a half years, his war in Iraq has gotten nowhere. All he can say is “we must stay the course until the job is done”. He hasn’t said what the job is that has to be done, and no one in the mainstream media has really pushed him for an answer. (Maybe they, too, are suffering from reptilian brain stimulus)

Bush has despoiled a very special region of the world-Mesopotamia, universally revered as the cradle of civilization. The effect of the war on the Sunni and Shia population of Iraq has been so traumatic it has driven them back into a distant and primitive period of their history-back to the year 632 AD and the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Mihammad’s son-in-law, Ali, was the central figure in the Shia/Sunni split and a dispute raged over whom was the “rightly guided Caliph”. So in the year 2006, the Sunnis and the Shiites are killing each other, again, in a burgeoning civil war while an occupation by a foreign power and an insurgency are going on at the same time. Family feuds and wars, civil and otherwise, are usually caused by over-stimulation of reptilian brains.

We have learned one thing out of all this. If you’re running for office go for the reptile in the voter. Generate fear. That’s the most effective way to win. The war on terror. The war on drugs. Global warming. The coming of another Katrina. The nuclear threat. Iran. North Korea. Even Abortion and Gay Marriage. If you look at the range of issues, one stands above the others-National Security. George Bush was able to steal two elections on the fear generated by that one.

There’s an even bigger threat out there brought on by the overwrought brain stems of Wall Street manipulators. The financial market is always on the ragged edge of economic collapse. Its nature is to boom and bust. We all know that. We just gamble on when it’s going to happen. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know when the time is ripe for it to fall like an over-ripe plum. My reptilian brain tells me the day is not far off. Major American industries are in trouble. Ford and General Motors are in the dumps. Adelphia and Comcast vans go into a car wash and come out labeled Time-Warner. Pension plans are going bye-bye. The labor movement has been defanged. No longer are unions effective in winning decent wages for decent jobs. Collective bargaining is a happy memory, fading in the foggy past. Purchasing power is down. Prices are up. Oil is scarce. New wars are brewing. Syria? Iran? Maybe Venezuela? Whose reptilian brain is cooking all that up? The neo-cons’?

How do we get things back on track? How do we get people to start using their rational minds? Cajole them into it. No scare tactics. (We don’t want to rouse that reptilian brain). Rational campaigning worked in Connecticut. Senator Joe Lieberman, the old corporate warhorse, was routed in the Democratic primary by a fresh, young face, Ned Lamont. He comes from good billionaire stock. His granduncle, Corliss Lamont, bankrolled left wing causes back in the thirties and forties.

A good start would be to get rid of some of those encrusted incumbents in both the House and the Senate who seem to have become rusted into their seats. If we can get rid of some of those walking dead Democrats and the worst of the Republicans, this November, we might get somewhere by the time the Presidential election rolls around in 2008.

Let the Connecticut Democratic primary become a model for the rest of the 2006 campaigns in Congress. And let’s not rely on our reptilian brains to get it done.

STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, television writer-director-producer, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC, starting in 1953. In 1959, he participated in the formation of the renowned Murrow-Friendly “CBS Reports” series. In 1983, Fleischman won the prestigious Columbia University-Dupont Television Journalism Award. In 2004, he wrote his memoir. See:, E-mail:




STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, writer-producer-director of documentaries, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC. His memoir is now in print. See, e-mail

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