October 03, 2004

James Fallows Is Puzzled

James Fallows is puzzled by the degeneration in George W. Bush's speaking ability:

The Atlantic Online | July/August 2004 | When George Meets John | James Fallows: The Bush on this [1994] tape was almost unrecognizable—and not just because he looked different from the figure we are accustomed to in the White House.... This Bush was eloquent. He spoke quickly and easily. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions. He mishandled... fewer words] than most people would in an hour's debate. More striking, he did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones. "To lay out my juvenile-justice plan in a minute and a half is a hard task, but I will try to do so," he said fluidly and with a smile midway through the debate, before beginning to list his principles....

Bush calmly said, "I think this is a diversion away from talking about the issues that face Texas"—which led him right back to the items on his stump speech ("I want to discuss welfare, education. I want to discuss the juvenile-justice system ..."). When talking about schools he said, "I think the mission in education ought to be excellence in literature, math, science, and social science"—an ordinary enough thought, but one delivered with an offhand fluency I do not remember his ever showing at a presidential press conference. When Richards was asked about permitting casino gambling, she replied with a convoluted, minutes-long answer with details about Indian tribal rights. Bush, when asked the same question, had simply said, "I'm against casino gambling"—and when asked, after Richards's discourse, if he wanted to elaborate, said, "Not really."... The man on the debate platform looked and sounded smart and in control....

I bored my friends by forcing them to watch the tape—but I could tell that I had not bored George Lakoff, a linguist from the University of California at Berkeley.... Lakoff confirmed that everything about Bush's surface style was different. His choice of words, the pace of his speech, the length and completeness of his sentences, all made him sound like another person. Even his body language was surprising. When he was younger, Bush leaned toward the camera and did not fidget or shift his weight. He arched his eyebrows and positioned his mouth in a way that, according to Lakoff, signifies in all languages an intense, engaged form of speech. Lakoff also emphasized that what had changed in Bush's style was less important than what had remained the same. Bush's ways of appealing to his electoral base, of demonstrating resolve and strength, of deflecting rather than rebutting criticism... have been constants in his rhetorical presentation of himself over the years, despite the striking decline in his sentence-by-sentence speaking skills, and they have been consistently and devastatingly effective...

Of course, then came Bush's performance last week:

The Atlantic Online | October 2004 Unbound | Bush vs. Kerry: Round One | James Fallows: ...hunched down behind his lectern, looking small... grimaces that he wore each time he was criticized or challenged.... When Bush has been "skillfully on message," as he has been in every one of his previous debates over the last ten years, he has been able to dress up his two or three main points with a variety of supporting details. When he has been "clumsily on message," as in most press conferences this year, he just says the same two or three things over and over again and seems unable to respond to or even hear questions. His performance in this debate was in the latter category...

There appear to be four possible theories to explain Bush's deterioration--both long run (since 1994) and short run (since 2000):

  1. George Lakoff's theory: it's deliberate--these daya George W. Bush wants to sound more like John Wayne.
  2. Kate O'Beirne's theory: George W. Bush is out of practice, because nobody has dared contradict him to his face for four years.
  3. The "worried man" theory: George W. Bush knows he has messed up badly, and is scared, and it shows.
  4. The "organic brain damage" theory: something is going badly wrong inside George W. Bush's brain--perhaps the result of lots of substance abuse in his youth.

A quick bounce-back next debate would be evidence in favor of (1) or (2). A similar extremely poor performance would be evidence in favor of (3) or (4).

Posted by DeLong at October 3, 2004 03:22 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Scratch #1. In the most recent debate Bush was whiny. "You forgot Poland", "It's mean to talk about our allies that way", "I do too know the difference between al Qaeda and Saddam" and so on. He he had these hesitations and didn't nail his sound bites.

2, 3, and 4 all look good.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson at October 3, 2004 03:31 PM

I just heard John Zogby - today - Sunday 10/3 - on Air America “going out on a limb” and predicting a Kerry win. Apparently the undecided voters had their big break last week - *BEFORE* the debate- and it was against Bush. (The actual question was “Does the president deserve another term?” The answer was stunningly, overwhelmingly, “No.” Zogby doesn’t think the debates will make that much of a difference, except for water-cooler type talk, which of course will favor Kerry.)

This is, of course, barring whatever surprise Karl Rove pulls out of his sleeve at the last minute. Yes, it WAS today, not a rerun. Air America is having an all-new Sunday show from now until the election.

And speaking of that, Zogby apologized for not having new post-debate data. Oddly enough, “something” took down their entire phone system while they were doing their latest poll. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

(What Zogby actually said: “I’m going out on a limb here, but I think that, from now on out, people will looking for reasons why they shouldn’t vote for ‘that tall guy’”. And a bit more of the same. You see, in the middle of last week - that is, *BEFORE* the debate - there
was a sudden change among the undecideds for whom Kerry is "that tall guy" and Bush is just "the President". Abruptly and en masse they broke
against Bush and for Kerry on that question "Does the president deserve another term?" Suddenly a whopping percentage, a huge majority, said "No." I forget if it was 70 or 80 or even 85 percent, but some shocking number. Zogby says it was the first time he's seen this level of break in this election, but it comes at some point in every presidential election. And it's more than "significant". It's decisive - or has been in normal elections. Right at this moment, Kerry would win - if the election were held today, before what machinations Rove has up his sleeve.)

Posted by: Margaret at October 3, 2004 03:34 PM

P.S. Re the change in Bush: what about simple aging? I'm 54 and I know I can't speak off the cuff as well as I could 10 years ago either.

Okay, there has been some past substance abuse here too. Just prescription drugs though.

Posted by: Margaret at October 3, 2004 03:37 PM

You forgot the feedback loop theory. Screw up once or twice, then have yourself portrayed as someone who can't speak, then start to believe it yourself, then get nervous the next time you speak (perhaps prompted by warnings from your advisors "people think you're an idiot, don't screw up this time"), and screw-up. A downward spiral that ends when you can't hardly say anything at all.

Posted by: Ugh at October 3, 2004 03:38 PM

i'll be very surprised if bush doesn't perform much better next time, so i'm inclined towards a combination of 1 and 2 (despite zizka's highly relevant point about 1, i'd say that if you've been in a no-criticism zone for 4 years, you might sound whiny when you're faced with actual criticism, even if you think you're john wayne).

on the other hand, it's much harder to guess in advance what kinds of questions these random undecided voters will pose than it is to guess what kinds of questions the "professionals" will pose, so if 3 or 4 (or even 5) are true, we'll get a good sense of it from this particular format.

Posted by: howard at October 3, 2004 03:52 PM

I just heard John Zogby on Air America “going out on a limb” and predicting a Kerry win. Apparently the undecided voters had their big break last week - *BEFORE* the debate- and it was against Bush. (The actual question was “Does the president deserve another term?” The answer was stunningly, overwhelmingly, “No.” Zogby doesn’t think the debates will make that much of a difference, except for water-cooler type talk, which of course will favor Kerry.)

Yes, it WAS today. Air America is having an all-new Sunday show from now until the election.

And speaking of Rove...Zogby apologized for not having new post-debate data. Oddly, “something” took down their entire phone system while they were doing their latest poll, which they're now re-doing. Hmmmm.

(Zogby quotes: “I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I think that, from now on out, people will looking for reasons why they shouldn’t vote for ‘that tall guy’”. Both candidates "get 40 percent just for showing up" and these core voters won't change "unless Bush or Kerry turns out to be a serial killer."

It was a whopping percentage, a huge majority, who said "No." Zogby says it was the first time he's seen this level of difference in this election.

Posted by: Margaret at October 3, 2004 03:58 PM

I just heard John Zogby on Air America “going out on a limb” and predicting a Kerry win. Apparently the undecided voters had their big break last week - *BEFORE* the debate- and it was against Bush. (The actual question was “Does the president deserve another term?” The answer was stunningly, overwhelmingly, “No.” Zogby doesn’t think the debates will make that much of a difference, except for water-cooler type talk, which of course will favor Kerry.)

Yes, it WAS today. Air America is having an all-new Sunday show from now until the election.

And speaking of Rove...Zogby apologized for not having new post-debate data. Oddly, “something” took down their entire phone system while they were doing their latest poll, which they're now re-doing. Hmmmm.

(Zogby quotes: “I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I think that, from now on out, people will looking for reasons why they shouldn’t vote for ‘that tall guy’”. Both candidates "get 40 percent just for showing up" and these core voters won't change "unless Bush or Kerry turns out to be a serial killer."

It was a whopping percentage, a huge majority, who said "No." Zogby says it was the first time he's seen this level of difference in this election.

Posted by: Margaret at October 3, 2004 03:58 PM

Running for governor of Texas is different than running for President. For the former, Bush could specialise in a few issues and sound like he knew a lot about them. And he was 10 years younger. But Presidenting is hard -- and the evidence is that he's not qualified for it. A variant of theory 3, then.

Posted by: P O'Neill at October 3, 2004 04:04 PM

There is no evidence that before the debate voting patterns were shifting to Kerry from Bush, just the opposite. The state pools were ominous. We must hope the debate changed such patterns, but we had best be cautious.

Posted by: Ari at October 3, 2004 04:07 PM

I favor #2 with perhaps a dash of #3. The vacation President has faced a complacent press corps, and rarely at that, and lately, an artificially constructed crowd of supporters during his campaign. This didn't give him much practice for confidently representing his mess. Also, lets not forget, keeping track of four years of lies can really slow down the thinking process and presents an additional systemic burden.

Posted by: Dubblblind at October 3, 2004 04:07 PM

off course there's also the straw man explanation - Fallows buids him up to knock him down. Has anyone else seen these tapes? It seems to me more that he dislikes the demeanor. I therefore think that what has changed is us - we pay far far more attention to looks than we used to?

Posted by: Giles at October 3, 2004 04:09 PM

Isn't there a 5th possibility - that there wasn't much to deteriorate from, that he always had an empty mind and never had anything of substance to say, and was drafted by the GOP establishment for that very reason, and what is playing out now is the truth of the saying you can't fool all the poeple all of the time?
I'm not saying he was a bad human being or did not have an average level of social intelligence that rubs off from family associations and expensive private school/college educations; I read Post's Biography done in 1999 and some things really stood out even if they were a little touched up - such as the effect of the loss of his sister on the family and his attempt to right that for his parents especially his mother; or his having helped find jobs for all the Spectrum (his bankrupt oil company) employees after the Harken buy-out, but at the bottom of it all, he had a shallow intellect and curiosity, with a slightly skewed megalomaniacal view of himself and his family destiny driven essentially from never having seen his father in an objective light as all adults eventually see their parents. While this can be forgiven in someone who is a P&G salesman or an accountant (though probably not Enron's) this is a dangerous myopia for a head of state to suffer from. And explains why he was so taken up by the idea of warring with Iraq, setting up a "Marshall"-like plan for the MidEast, etc. - everything someone with a more mortal view of himself would stop and say 'can I pull this off? and without help?'

Posted by: LibertyGuard at October 3, 2004 04:09 PM

I think #3 has some validity: Bush heretofore has tried things and failed and been rescued. He's now facing a very bad failure, with many people dying as a result, and he's on his own: no one to rescue him. The feeling of being in over your head can be enormously dispiriting, causing amazing flop sweat. The temporary reprieve of speaking only to audiences that love him (and knowing that in advance) could help him feel better, but there on the stage with John Kerry it all falls away and he suddenly faces the facts of his presidency: that could be quite a shock.

Posted by: BayMike at October 3, 2004 04:22 PM

George Bush has been a tough cmapaigner and should not be taken lightly in the least.

Posted by: Ari at October 3, 2004 04:22 PM

How was Bush in practice in 1996? Had he been politicking for the 4 years prior? He has meetings all the time. Surely he must be presenting information in concise and cohesive ways, building consensus, etc. Yeah, yeah, CEO President -the nice thing about it is that you don't have to explain yourself; but surely he couldn't have been doing MORE of this sort of thing before 1996. Had he freshly descended from a monastary, sure...

I say scratch #2.

Code switching is the linguistic term for altering speech patterns to reach certain types of people. The best code switchers are able to reach those people without compromising the message. It's hard for me to believe that an eloquent man could put on such a good performance but leave the message behind.

Maybe scratch #1?

So what to make of Bush seeming to have an excellent grasp on the situation in Darfour? He definitely came off as having a handle on it and described it in terms of what it is (as opposed to what Allawi said, how a widow felt about it, or how it plays on TV).

Posted by: Saam Barrager at October 3, 2004 04:24 PM

Well, I think (4) is in the same bucket as those psychologist diagnoses of presidents (dead or alive), such as the person who's been saying that W has symptoms of dyslexia (except the obvious ones such as reversing consonant or word order that would have been witnessed by others many times over the years).

I can't accept (1) on the same basis as the conspiracy theory bouncing around about an earpiece: if that were the case, I can't imagine he would have done as abysmally as he did.

That leaves (2) and (3) or some combination. I don't think they're much in contradiction. Adding to (3) might be the fact, subtly noted from time to time, and explicitly during the debate, that W and "41" have a difference of opinion about Iraq, coalitions, and the use of the military. It would go in line with his alleged substance abuse problems to have father issues, and having the implicity disapproval of Dad might be one underlying reason he's off his game.

I'd also posit (5) as different enough from (3) to warrant its own slot. In 1994 Bush was not running on a record. As an "outsider" he was free to wing it on his compassionate-conservatism angle and without having to speak about accomplishments you can wrest almost any policy into that grab-bag. This time, though, he cannot escape the criticism and evaluation as the incumbent.

I would agree he can't be taken lightly. He had a very well-received appearance in my hometown last month, and he was very effective and likeable in his stump speech. To the extent that experience of him can trump the debate experience, he may still have lots of mileage.

Posted by: Dan Hartung at October 3, 2004 04:36 PM

A combination of 1 and 2 would suffice for me. There was practice, but not enoguh of a rough and tumble sort of practice. This is a president who has avoided press conferences where he could have sharpened an approach. The White House staff would not be tough enough to prepare well for such a debate and George Bush was not prepared.

Posted by: lise at October 3, 2004 04:47 PM

I think #3 is the most likely. On some level, Bush must know how completely he has failed his country.

Posted by: Walt Pohl at October 3, 2004 04:53 PM

Ugh and Liberty Guard are both right. He's dumb, the word has gotten back to him, and he's been given a tight script.

But Lakoff? Again? I am becoming increasingly convinced that his presence, so close to the end of the campaign, is a diversionary tactic.

Take Lakoff's view on Arnie's win in California.

It's plain wrong. Arnie won with 88.4% turnout. Jesse Ventura won in a similar fashion. People who had their pulse on entertainment industry came out and voted.

The frame? Throwing away facts that don't fit? Sure, they are fine. But it seems like a co-ordinated effort to push Lakoff into the current debate. To continuously get the left to talk about the-debate-about-the-debate.

Hmm?

Posted by: Josh Narins at October 3, 2004 04:54 PM

# 5: no matter how hard Bush tries and he has been trying but he can't defend a miserable record.

Debates are not the place for using stump speeches as your rebuttals.

Posted by: jess at October 3, 2004 05:17 PM

Funny how spluttery and defensive people (even Bush haters) get when #4 is mentioned.

#4 would mean our entire candidate filtering and Presidental support system had failed and allowed a totally unqualified/unable candidate to slip through and not then be removed.

Just the thought creates so much cognative dissonance that it cannot be allowed to occur, much less be spoken. Very much like the Bush Administration's view of Iraq.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer` at October 3, 2004 05:20 PM

"Our entire candidate filtering and Presidental support system had failed and allowed a totally unqualified/unable candidate to slip through and not then be removed." (Cranky.)

Exactly.

"I'm not saying he was a bad human being" (LibertyGuard.)

Well, I am.

WELL< I AM

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson at October 3, 2004 05:37 PM

Not to be a civics scold, but is it possible that Demosthenes himself would be challenged to defend the current administration's record? If you have problems with competing opinions that's one thing. If you have problems with the basic laws of phyiscs and the fundamental axioms of arithmetic that's a far more challenging forensic hurdle.

Posted by: jhe at October 3, 2004 05:54 PM

Based solely on observing Bush from the 2000 campaign to the present, we can definitely rule out both 2 and 3. Bush has been speaking like someone who dropped out of fifth grade since he first appeared on the national scene. Witness the collections of "Bushisms" on the net and even appearing as books.

Theory 1 doesn't hold much water because if it's a deliberate affectation, Bush could surely be expected to work with it to express what he wants to say. Instead, we would have to believe that his affectation overmastered him and rendered him an incoherent blithering idiot. That's just not plausible.

Number 4 is possible, but not well supported by the evidence.

Number 5 fits the known facts best. He's an idiot--a shallow, vacuous, incurious man who refuses to take instruction or to learn even from his own experience.

I've no doubt that Fallows observed tremendous differences between the Bush of '96 and the Bush of '04, and that may be explained (somewhat) by Theory 4. But it may also be explained by the fact that Bush in '96 was dealing with parochial matters that were easily encapsulated and thus easily memorized. Today, he's dealing with a changing and complex world that he never much cared about to begin with.

Posted by: Derelict at October 3, 2004 05:55 PM

The "premature dementia" argument has been out there since a physician who deals with it wrote a letter to a mainstream journal (forget which).

Posted by: Dick Fitzgerald at October 3, 2004 06:05 PM

The "premature dementia" argument has been out there since a physician who deals with it wrote a letter to a mainstream journal (forget which).

Posted by: Dick Fitzgerald at October 3, 2004 06:05 PM

The "premature dementia" argument has been out there since a physician who deals with it wrote a letter to a mainstream journal (forget which).

Posted by: Dick Fitzgerald at October 3, 2004 06:06 PM

The "premature dementia" argument has been out there since a physician who deals with it wrote a letter to a mainstream journal (forget which).

Posted by: Dick Fitzgerald at October 3, 2004 06:06 PM

You and Cranky and Dan H are all missing the point about #4. It's not a matter of drug use, it's a matter of basic brain development. The argument is not that Bush has dyslexia per se but that he has a mild cognitive disability which affects how the brain processes language. Dyslexia is one example of such a disability, but there are many varieties -- most of them are mild enough that they don't make a person non-functional, and most of them are not correlated with any lack of intelligence.

It's perfectly plausible that the effects of such a disability might increase with age. The fact that the same characteristics have been observed in Bush's father and other members of his family lend credence to the theory. Kevin Phillips had a bit about this in American Dynasty.

Posted by: mdl at October 3, 2004 06:14 PM

Suppose he's just going deaf? (mildly)

It's not unusual in men his age to be mildly deaf, and would account for his leaning forward, his word-mangling (worse than his usual), and this would even account for a bit of bad temperment. Many people beginning to become deaf are in denial, yet get frustrated because they cannot seperate what's important from the background noise, etc. without visible effort.

Don't misread my charitable explanation here; I don't like him, and will be voting against him. But I watched my grandmother and mom go through this, and some of it seems familiar.

Posted by: tjallen at October 3, 2004 06:16 PM

I actually favor a variation on hypothesis 4 -- that GWB has either fallen off the wagon or has become dependent on prescription meds that affect his cognition. The benefit of (4) -- either the classic formulation of Dr. DeLong or my own -- is that it explains why Bush has become so much less able to handle himself with the press and in public appearances, leading his handlers to limit his press availabilities, to carefully vet the people who attend his rallies, and to permit interviews, increasingly, with only friendly reporters like Brit Hume.

Like everyone else I look forward to seeing how he does in the next debate.

Posted by: PT at October 3, 2004 06:19 PM

> You and Cranky and Dan H are all missing the point
> about #4. It's not a matter of drug use, it's a
> matter of basic brain development. The argument is
> not that Bush has dyslexia per se but that he has
> a mild cognitive disability which affects how the
> brain processes language.

Doesn't really affect my argument either way. A person with such a "mild cognitive disability" is not capable of being President of the United States. And if that "mild disability" is getting worse and his advisors are not meeting daily with Congressional leaders of both parties to discuss the situation then I would consider they are committing treason.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer at October 3, 2004 06:26 PM

I plunk for #3, which I believe contains #5 as a subset. He's over his head. From the moment the Supremes put him into office I have believed that he would rue that day, though I never in my wildest imagination thought I would rue it as much as I do, and I lost a night, maybe two night's, sleep over it. He is just plumb stupid. I must have seen him at Yale as an undergrad running around with his shirt off and a tie on to get into Commons, though I couldn't distinguish him from half a hundred like him. We had them as students. They barely passed, and sometimes failed.

Someone posted somewhere that he has the talent of a time-share salesman. I think this pretty much sums him up, and explains his success in the face of so many failures.

I think he will crack. Kerry can destroy him, and if he has the killer instinct he is reputed to have, he will (and should). People will differ on this, but I think our national interest would be well served by his breaking down on television. It gives everyone (including his supporters) an excuse to repudiate him and everything he stands for.

As an aside -- I have been reading a biography of his great, great great on his mother's side, Franklin Pierce. Another disaster for the Republic, and for the same reason. He sold out to the slave interest.

Posted by: Knut Wicksell at October 3, 2004 06:30 PM

He sold out to the slave interest.

Say it again!

Posted by: sm at October 3, 2004 06:51 PM

And then there's theory number seven: IdiotBoy was trying to cheat by wearing a secret earpiece and had somebody (Rove?) telling him what to say... just like in the Kevin Kline movie "The Emperor's Club". See the link below:

http://publish.nyc.indymedia.org/newswire/rate/125456/%3C?php%20echo

Posted by: glenstonecottage at October 3, 2004 06:57 PM

READ THIS!
Thank you:)
I think there is a very strong argument for (4).
I read that the White House is postponing Bush's annual physical. Normally it would be in October, but they will not do it until after the election.
I'm surprised more people are not up in arms about this. Whatever you think of Bush, it's extremely important that he have a recent physical to show that he is still able to perform as President.

If i'm wrong about him not taking the physical, then this is garbage; if I'm right, we need some reporters to get out there and ask some hard questions of the White House.

For my money, something is quite wrong with Bush.


Posted by: marky at October 3, 2004 07:04 PM

Explanations 1-5 are not mutually exclusive. No. 4 is entirely possible. Bush is in the middle of his sixth decade. Dementia at that age is uncommon but not rare, and substantial decline in mental powers, as with physical strength and stammina, is not uncommon at all.

Posted by: B. Hunnicut at October 3, 2004 07:07 PM

Go to Amazon and read the reviews of "Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President" by Justin A. Frank. Maybe number four is plausible. Remember Reagan's signs of Alzheimer's that we all missed?

Posted by: yellowdogdem at October 3, 2004 07:09 PM

While I have been tempted by the arguments of the psychiatrist about dementia, Lakoff on intentional style variations, and the AA counselor on dry drunk behavior, I propose another possibility, with two interpretations:

It's very difficult to remember what to say and say it clearly when you have woven an intricate web of lies. Even worse when you're part of an organization which has woven a web of lies, some of which you created, some created by others, but now you all have to communicate without contradicting the fictions.

A generous view of this might be that the lies are mostly matters of national security (no, really, I mean it), and that it's really difficult to make speeches and debate people who don't know all the secrets... can you imagine how knotted up and pissed off you'd be if you knew all these tricky spie things and you had to be really careful not to let any of them slip, especially being goaded into it by a skillful debater or someone you respect but who really disagrees with you, and calls you on something in public?

Like I said, that's being generous.

Anyway, whether for good or bad reasons, keeping secrets and maintaining intricate fictions is very taxing.

-SII

Posted by: StymiedInHeartland at October 3, 2004 07:17 PM

Maybe the viewer perception is very different.

The first BushKerry debate reminded me exactly of the first Bush debate against Al Gore. Gore too was very aggressive and Bush did a poor job defending himself. In 2000, Bush was the same confused about his own policies and unable to defend them from Gore attacks As I recall, Gore sighed because Gore knew more about the Bush tax cuts than Bush did. After Gore got beat up by the press for being Mr Smarty Pants, Gore backed off and gave Bush a pass in the next 2 debates. What is different is how much of a pass viewers are willing to give Mr Bush.

At the Frat House, everyone wants to be around the good time party man until the night before the big exam. Then The Brothers seek the wonk. 2000 was a big party with a budget surplus, the economy good but a bit shaky and the US at peace. Now in 2004, the economy sucks, Iraq sucks even worse, Osama is still out there and it is Bush's fault for letting him hang around for 3 years too long. The party is over. We are in exam week. The good time party boy is a past luxury that cannot get a pass right now. The wonk holds court.

Posted by: bakho at October 3, 2004 07:35 PM

Oh, surely, Lakoff cannot be right that it is a deliberate style of speaking, unless Bush is amazingly bad at it. You'd think the goal would be to sound folksie but wise, not like the village idiot.

Posted by: rea at October 3, 2004 07:37 PM

I'm going with (6), which is sort of a spinoff of (2).

Bush's primary media function over the past four years has been to deliver soundbites for the evening news, and to make stump speeches to crowds of already committed supporters. As I think many have observed, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole; Bush's speeches are almost "better" when reduced to a series of bites than when seen all at once. Given the strict message discipline of the Bush White House, it's quite possible he has been routinely coached on which pieces of the message to emphasize.

I noticed this starting with the Winter MTP appearance, and the spring press conference, and especially in an interview he did over the summer; I believe between the RNC and DNC, that discussed stem cell research. He seemed to lurch from talking point to talking point.

http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0408/12/lkl.00.html

"G. BUSH: I do think it's important for us to promote a culture of life in America. I think it's very important. I think a society which promotes a culture of life is a compassionate society and a decent society.

And it makes it easy to -- easier if you have a culture of life to wrestle with these very difficult decisions. I mean, there's -- should there be suicide -- allow people assisted suicides? I mean, there's a lot of issues that are very important."

Bush's response was painfully slow, as if he was flipping through a set of mental index cards to find the phrases he needed to use next.

Given an adversarial debate, and being out of practice, Bush went back to what he's been best at; staying on message. I mean, really, it seems as if his argument boiled down to "the best way to win the war on terror is to have good message discipline".

So I think it is 6; that George Bush has been coached to speak in 7 second increments, and to have enough material to do at most one topic in any given week, and speak only with people who already agree with him. Given a situation where none of this occured, he had no training to fall back on.

I suspect a modest bounceback, but it's quite possible that he will "go with what he knows", and conclude that his fantastic message discipline over the last 3 years was what got the GOP control of congress and a tremendous amount of pseudo-conservative policy interaction.

Posted by: niq at October 3, 2004 07:49 PM

"Remember Reagan's signs of Alzheimer's that we all missed?"

Actually, I remember it being a pretty popular theory at the time. Of course many people also regarded it as a low, unconscionable smear, and consequently it didn't get a lot of mainstream media play.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin at October 3, 2004 07:51 PM

Perhaps he was still on cocaine at the Richards debate and NOW he's off of everything....

Posted by: Sixtieslibber at October 3, 2004 07:52 PM

I just think he knows he is telling lies to an entire country, and that must be hard. In Texas there was no need to tell any big whoppers, just the normal politics stuff, and he knew everything he needed to know just by having been around. But now he knows he is lying everytime he talks to America, and has been doing it for almost 4 years. Sooner or later that is going to come home to him.

Posted by: fringy at October 3, 2004 07:59 PM

"George W. Bush's speaking ability" will greatly improve in the second debate. Why, pray tell?

From Media Matters:
"Bob Schieffer, the moderator of the second debate, and the man who will be screening questions, has a conflict of interest. He is from a well known conservative activist family in Fort Worth. His brother Tom Schieffer was a conservative state legislator and later served as president of the Texas Rangers baseball club under George W. Bush. Bob is hardly fair and impartial. This conflict of interest should, at the very least, be publicly disclosed before the debate begins."
Call me crazy but I think Bush will be playing "T ball" while Kerry is ducking beanballs next go round.
Did Kerry agree to this? WTF!

Posted by: freejack at October 3, 2004 08:10 PM

I did a post (http://bazzfazz.blogspot.com/2004/09/is-bush-ill.html) on this a while back. The letter referred to above actually appeared in The Atlantic (online, anyway) in response to Fallows' original article. It's "pre-senile dementia", by the way, and it's a very real possibility if the deterioration of Bush's linguistic skills has been as severe as Fallows suggests. Like Reagan, except younger, and this time someone has noticed. A potenially ill person may get elected president.

Posted by: wufnik at October 3, 2004 08:12 PM

Ahem.. the PHYSICAL,guys.
Is he going to skip the physical he would normall take in October? If so, it is very strong prima facie evidence that something is wrong with him.

Posted by: marky at October 3, 2004 08:18 PM

Stymied, 'just confused' was the impression I got of Bush when Kerry caught him conflating Osama with Saddam. Bush's almost indignant reply "that of course he knew that" sort of cemented it for me that it was not a simple 'misspeak' ( as in 'I meant Osamma atlthough I said Saddam'). So I sorta see it your way ( interpretation #1) overall. But there is #2 too:
What of the preparation this man has had with all those critical audiences he's had to face in the campaign? Sorta like training on nothing but ice cream for 2 months in preparation for a boxing match, no?

Posted by: calmo at October 3, 2004 08:19 PM

A version of #5 is my vote.

The administration has weaved a tangled web. For the sake of political expediency, The Administration has led itself into positions that are indefensible: that Saddam is the "enemy" who attacked us on 9/11.

This argument can only succeed when there is no opponent available to point out Saddam did not attack us, and the press is willing to mindlessly repeat your talking points.

Posted by: mrkmyr at October 3, 2004 08:28 PM

All of the above with #4 becoming increasingly central to Bush's problem.

Posted by: dennisS at October 3, 2004 08:37 PM

Well, I don't like multiple-choice exams very much. Especially when the choices aren't mutually exclusive and don't exhaust the complete set of causes. So here's a different (but overlapping) set of 5 explanations.

1) There doesn't actually seem to be very much evidence that George W. Bush was ever *that* articulate. One especially well-prepared debate back in 1994 should probably not be taken as being representative. So rumors of his precipitous decline should be very carefully considered.

2) Articulate or not, Bush has a direct family history of verbal bungling. Bush's dad G. H. W. Bush may have had the better mind, but "silver-tongued" he was not. Now, Bush 41 is also left-handed, and a familial history of left-handedness is indeed something that is correlated with dysfluency. A condition like this could pretty easily change with age, level of stress, state of inebriation (or the history of same) and many other things.

3) The debate with Kerry *should* have been stressful for Bush, and was unlikely to lead to a good performance by him. Kerry was a debate team member at the same school Bush shrugged through, and Bush knows that. Kerry is also much taller than Bush, and genuinely well-poised. Kerry is also much better without a script. This was not a recipe for success for Bush, and he would have had to have been a real fool not to know it.

4) I think there is ample evidence that the Bush people noticed for a long time that being "John Wayne-like" polled well, so that there was no particular reason to work on Bush's diction or phrasing or anything else, if that were taking time away from other things. (And maybe it did; eloquence may have required an extra effort on Bush's part.) Presumably the only thing they knew they had to fear was Bush getting completely flustered and sounding either mean or peevish.

5) If you're facing a debate situation, it certainly does help to have had lots of recent practice in this kind of verbal sparring, and there is no question that Bush's distaste for talking to the press or his opponents has deprived him of this just as it has enabled him to avoid embarassment due to verbal screw-ups. I think a more interesting question is whether this distaste has more to do with Bush's dislike of even being in the same room with people who challenge him or his ideas.

Now, if I were Bush's handlers right now, I'd be freaking out in a serious way if the "challenge" part of the equation were a serious component. The next debate is town meeting style, and while it's one thing to get irked by your opponent, it would be horrific to look like you were pissed off or baffled by an audience member's question.

I'm pretty sure Bill Clinton locked up the 1992 election during the town meeting debate when a fairly incoherent audience question came in about how the national debt has affected them personally. Perot leaps in and does his bantam rooster imitation. Bush didn't know what to do with it, and didn't do anything well. Clinton took a step forward and asked the audience member "Tell me how it's affected you again". It hardly mattered what he said after that, since, in a way we all now *instantly* recognize as Clintonesque, he'd connected with this audience member through some charismatic mind meld and he could now give an answer to whatever question he chose.

Now, Bush *should* do better than Kerry at this kind of thing, you'd hope, since that's been the buzz about him; what a personable guy he is. What I think will be most interesting is how he responds to the first vaguely threatening audience question. If he drops the ball on this one and gets pissed off or peevish, I really do think he could lose the election over it. Contrariwise, all Kerry has to do is exceed the very warped caricature of him that many people have, and his "I'd have a beer with him" quotient will sky rocket. Now, do I think Bush will react negatively in this self-destructive way? To be honest, I can't really be sure, precisely because Bush has done such a stellar job of insulating himself from criticism. (When he came to Columbia, MO, he made sure he had the same kind of tailor-made and fawning audience he has demanded elsewhere.)

So I wouldn't waste my time on vast conspiracy theories of Bush's inability to present himself well when speaking off the cuff in response to a direct challenge. There isn't much evidience he was ever very good at this (one debate in 1994?), and lots of recent evidence suggesting that he isn't good at all at this.

Posted by: Jonathan King at October 3, 2004 08:42 PM

How about (8): he had the wrong food for dinner, with a resulting stomach-ache. Explains the faces.
(9) tired and stressed. Lack of sleep makes me less coherent, why not Bush? (In contrast, Kerry only has to run for office, not also run the country).
(10) bad knees. Had to give up running, his body's not working as well, crashed his mountain bike a couple of times (concussion?). Hard to stand up for 90 minutes on sore knees (explains leaning on the podium).

Posted by: Ned at October 3, 2004 08:47 PM

Bard missed at least one
5. The wire up Bush's back with the answer feed had technical glitches. (Check out the one quick shot from the rear)

Posted by: Martin at October 3, 2004 08:56 PM

At least one more possibility

5. The wire that ran up the back of Bush's suit with answer prompts had technical problems. (Check out the one quick shot from the rear.)

Posted by: Martin at October 3, 2004 08:58 PM

I think Bush's problems are his records. Imagine if someone asks you why the deficits are out of control when your tax cuts contributed to it.

Imagine if someone asks Bush why he did not allow the medicare negotiator to testify in front of Congress when we found out that the costs are actually 150 billions more than original Bush's estimate.

Sure, Bush will behave and look better in next 2 debates but he will have the same problems he had in last debate. Defend his miserable records. Can't be done. How do you dress up a pig? can't be done.

My guess is that Bush will attempt to attack Kerry's positions in next 2 debates. Shift attention away fron his records which is what RoveCo has been doing since March. Focus attention on Kerry. Drag Kerry's fav numbers down.


Posted by: jess at October 3, 2004 08:59 PM

Semi-sympathetic theory, sure to be laughed out of court:

In the debate, Bush actually seemed to get out of his rut a bit when they discussed Iran, North Korea ... pretty much anything BUT Iraq. The thing is, I think he really believes his own rhetoric about what the commander in chief is supposed to do, think, say.

And so he can't really forthrightly address the problems in Iraq, because he firmly believes it's his job as a leader to keep his game face on. And well, yeah, he's not subtle enough to acknowledge mistakes while focusing on the good that could come from the mission if it succeeds. Tony Blair's tried that -- "Sorry about the bad intel, not sorry about getting rid of Saddam." Anyway, it leaves him tongue-tied since he can't in fact be honest, while wearing his president mask.

There was a scene in "Saving Private Ryan" when Tom Hanks character said that he, as a captain, couldn't complain to his men, but if he wanted to complain, he'd find a major. Bush is all about that mentality, and in addition sees admitting mistakes as a morale-buster.

Posted by: trostky at October 3, 2004 09:34 PM

Interesting thought Trotshky. Lessons learned as a cheerleader?

Posted by: bakho at October 3, 2004 09:43 PM

I think Lakofff's theory is plausible. His handlers have done the math--they have wall street and pro-business anti-tax voters in the bag, they have the christians in the bag (his phony conversion narrative, his references to God in speeches). That leaves NASCAR blue collar types; so he affects the folksy tough-talking, no-bullshit southern thing with photo ops of ranch work in Crawford. The Rove machine has calculated all of this and Bush's latest incarnation is the one that sells in the red states.

Posted by: delecti at October 3, 2004 10:12 PM

It's nothing a little cocaine can't fix. At least for the next couple debates. Kerry better be prepared.

Posted by: as at October 3, 2004 11:02 PM

"I read that the White House is postponing Bush's annual physical. Normally it would be in October, but they will not do it until after the election."

Marky, got any links for this?

Posted by: ogmb at October 3, 2004 11:14 PM

Seems to me it's more important to know who's cheating at the debates than at the Olympics - urine samples and drug tests should be part of the ritual trappings. Imagine the media coverage...

Posted by: Anna at October 3, 2004 11:54 PM

Does anybody actually believe Bush can cram tons of economic and social policy factoid to win next debate?

he has been on campaign trials for almost half a year, and not a single day he utteres government policy in detail.

Posted by: not likely at October 3, 2004 11:59 PM

you forgot wanking

Posted by: Hans Suter at October 4, 2004 12:07 AM

I've quite enjoyed this discussion.

3/5 is it, I think. Bush is in over his head. And his advisors got so out of control long ago, that I don't think almost anyone in his position wouldn't be in over their head. There's no way even for a highly intelligent, on the ball person to make sense, much less defend, this administration's policies.

Really, I've never thought Bush himself was an evil or bad man. (I do think Cheney is.) It'd probably all be much easier for him if he wasn't groping around somehow trying to make sense of all this and really believe that he's made the right choices. He can't and he doesn't. As long as other people lie for him, or he passes along specific lies that he's been told that he either believes or disconnects his brain from questioning, or rationalizes, he's okay. Actually standing there and in any sense being a person of good-faith explaining his policies and their results? He's totally screwed.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis at October 4, 2004 01:50 AM

An other explanation for Bush's debate behavior is that he performs better as a swaggering underdog. As President of the United States, it is hard to pose as The Little Guy.

Recollect Alexandra Pelosi's documentary of Bush on the 2000 campaign trail Journeys with Geroge. After he won the Republican Party's nomination, his demeanor changed noticeably.

Posted by: Nestor Malakunin at October 4, 2004 02:02 AM

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we practise to deceive". It may be that Bush has told so many lies, and intends to tell so many more, that he can't keep his story straight any more.

So when people ask him questions he's trying to remember how to be consistent with all the lies, and the effort of concentration takes his mind off the subject. It isn't easy to lie on this magnitude. Imagine for example prisoners being interrogated and trying to keep their story straight.

Posted by: dispassionate at October 4, 2004 04:28 AM

For me, Bush has always been a fairly easy read. Whenever he stumbles on a phrase or manufactures a false bon-hommie in trying to get across his point, I figure he is uncomfortable with what he is saying and that consequently what he is saying is a whopper. Not that I agree with much of what he is saying at other times, but when he evidences discomfort, I get the impression that even he doesn't agree with what he is saying. As for the pregnant pauses with a blank stare, that I attribute to substance abuse, with the most likely culprit being Ambien.

Posted by: Ian at October 4, 2004 07:04 AM

I saw a product of arrogance, contempt for the opponent & his audience, & the result of long hrs of campaigning. He appeared to me to be in his rolled-up shirt sleeves mode, earnestly delivering his boiler plate, following a pattern he has been developing all along. I did think he looked bleak, 'jeez, the headlights seem to be getting closer' & not the image of someone up to the task of leading the most powerful nation on the planet.

Posted by: Allen Thomas at October 4, 2004 07:13 AM

for explanation, see james thurber, "If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox"

Posted by: rod at October 4, 2004 07:28 AM

I think the thesis of this whole inquiry is wrong. Bush clearly lost, on both style and substance, but he wasn't doing anything that different from what he has done in the previous Presidential debates. In fact, his performance is looking much worse in retrospect than it appeared at the time (shades of the first Gore-Bush debate in 2000), and now when we rewatch it we rewatch it through the filter of "you forgot Poland" and "hard work."

So, what was different? One oft-mentioned factor, which I think was important, is the fact that Bush had to fill up two minutes. He had to explain himself in ways he hasn't generally had to. Another is that he was nervous and frustrated, plain and simple. As a form debater, debate coach, and now a lecturer, I can testify to how much nervousness can destroy a performance.

But I think -- or at least I hope -- the major difference is that Bush's way of handling himself in debates just won't fly the way it used to. He has a record to defend. That record is, at best, a poor one. Both the press and the American people aren't willing to cut him the same slack they used to *in a debate* (it still isn't clear whether they will still cut him the same slack come election day). His clipped, disjointed answers simply look hollow.

Posted by: dn at October 4, 2004 07:55 AM

"Perhaps he was still on cocaine at the Richards debate and NOW he's off of everything...."

Hm. Cocaine is the sort of thing a person with undiagnosed ADHD would use to self-medicate. Ritalin, used to treat ADHD, has similar effects (both are dopamine agonists), only with a far slower onset which makes it far less prone to addiction.

There may be something to this...

Posted by: Jon H at October 4, 2004 08:15 AM

"So, what was different? One oft-mentioned factor, which I think was important, is the fact that Bush had to fill up two minutes. He had to explain himself in ways he hasn't generally had to. Another is that he was nervous and frustrated, plain and simple."

Possibly because of Bush looked anxious and frustrated, people may have listened more closely and heard more clearly what has been spoken before but with more covering ease.

Posted by: anne at October 4, 2004 08:15 AM

A linguist analysis on NPR of George Bush's speech pattern was marked at a 9th-grade level of coherent speech.
The previous post listed that level at 5th grade. That is very cruel to put him at that low level. He at least has 13-year-old mentality. Remember, he said the Taliban has been defeated in recent debate. Most 9th graders do not read the newspaper or watch CNN late -nite. The 9th garders are off playing video war games. Only cool games, you know!

Posted by: Dave S at October 4, 2004 08:48 AM

For me, the great dichotomy is not 1994 versus 2000, it's the afternoon of Sept 11 versus the evening of Sept 11.

I remember quite clearly--after sealing the windows to keep the ash and dust from the towers out of my apartment--watching Bush's first address to the nation from an air field in Louisiana. He looked and sounded positively freaked; someone quite aptly compared it to a hostage video. Here was a man totally overmatched by the gravity of the job before him.

By the evening broadcast, Bush had a calmer, steadier mien. I figured then that some kind doctor slipped Bush some powerful anti-anxiety medication so that he could make it through the day without having a public breakdown.

I have zero knowledge of pharmacology, so I have no idea what three years of industrial strength drugs would do to a brain that a) suffered through decades of substance abuse, b) is dealing with complex and contradictory information for the first time ever, and c) was never especially adept at analyzing data to begin with. I wouldn't expect that you'd get the sort of cranky irritability thatwe saw on Thursday--quite the opposite, in fact.

On the other hand, Bush is known as an early-to-bed sort, and if he takes his meds before bedtime, maybe the 9:00 PM start meant that he was both missing a fix and yearning for the pillow on national television. That kinda fits the facts of a man who was on the verge of a meltdown.

If so, expect a slightly stoned Bush to show up Friday night.

Posted by: jlw at October 4, 2004 08:52 AM

> That is very cruel to put him at that
> low level. He at least has 13-year-old
> mentality. Remember, he said the Taliban
> has been defeated in recent debate.
> Most 9th graders do not read the newspaper
> or watch CNN late -nite.

My kids are admittedly nerds but any one of the regular members of my son's 8th grade (13-14) lunch table could have done better than Bush in that debate.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer at October 4, 2004 08:53 AM

The difference in performance between Bush and Kerry is easily explained: Kerry had his cheat cards, Bush didn't.

Posted by: Observer at October 4, 2004 09:15 AM

Note that in the October Atlantic an MD writes to the Editor his opinion that Bush is showing signs of ¨presenile dementia¨, a pre-Alzheimers condition. I take no pleasure in this if true, but you hardly want a president afflicted with such a condition. We are entitled to know more about Bush´s physical condition, surely.

Posted by: Bob H at October 4, 2004 10:39 AM

I prefer the "in over his head" theory. As President, unlike when he was a mere Texas governor, Bush is forced to deal with very complex matters of global concern and potentially earth-shattering consequence. He is not really equipped intellectually for the job he has taken on, and the result is confusion and aphasia.

Also, since 9/11 Bush may not get the amount of sleep to which he was formerly accustomed.

Posted by: Dan Kervick at October 4, 2004 12:07 PM

It is indeed plausible that Bush has suffered "organic brain damage" as a result of years of heavy drinking. He purportedly stopped drinking in his forties, and when did he start? Teens? If so, thirty years of heavy drinking could very well create permanent brain damage, the effects of which we are only seeing now. Since the biographical details are so sketchy, we don't really have much of a case yet - but it certainly is plausible.

Given the profound consequences 30 years of heavy drinking would have on the mental capabilities, you would think the press would be more interested in these biographical details, no?

Posted by: blah at October 4, 2004 12:08 PM

What about the earpiece theory. If Bush had somoeone secretly wispering in his ear, that could screw up his speech.
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_10/004835.php

Posted by: mark at October 4, 2004 12:27 PM

Observer sez: "The difference in performance between Bush and Kerry is easily explained: Kerry had his cheat cards, Bush didn't."

Now who was using "cheat cards"?

http://us.news2.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/fwd/20041001/capt.fwd101b20041001jpg.jpg

Ha! Ha! You trolls are such idiots.

Posted by: Kosh at October 4, 2004 02:52 PM

There is another theory that no one speaketh. It is #5, The Relapse Theory.

I don't say this to put the man down, but if he had a serious problem with alcoholism until he was 40, we can safely say that is probably alcoholic. I am of the opinion that alcoholism is a disease from which there really is no cure. W has one of the most personally demanding jobs in the country and quite frankly there is a lot of pressure on him at every moment. For a man who loves his down time, there is no down time as President. Just think how many times the man said that his job was "hard"? I think clearly the pressures of the job are getting to him. In addition, the man spent the last 14 years on the best roll of his life. Everything just started working out for him, you can debate the reasons why, but from his perspective he had the Rangers deal, followed by two terms as Gov., followed by becoming Pres. He never had a problem and although he made a lot of mistakes during that time, none have yet come back to bite him. Now the stakes are different and he has made a lot of mistakes that he just cannot escape from.

I don't think it is too much to think that all the time he spent away from his support network, i.e. his wife, plus his general reclusiveness in his "bubble" the last few years in addition to a lot of his failures in the Presidency has led him into a relapse and his poor speaking performance is not because his is drunk, but because he is not all there right now. As W would say, he is not "focussed".

Posted by: bubb rubb at October 4, 2004 03:01 PM

Faces of frustration:

http://www.democrats.org/faces/index.html

Posted by: Kosh at October 4, 2004 04:07 PM

Its telling that he refuses to have a physical.
I think he knows he isn't well. Ever since he choked on that pretzel several years ago and blacked out he has appeared to be less than rational. If he wasn't so dangerous I would feel sorry for him.

Posted by: puzzled at October 4, 2004 05:03 PM

"A linguist analysis on NPR of George Bush's speech pattern was marked at a 9th-grade level of coherent speech."

That would be astounding. Here is an anlysis of the speaking level of all televised debates:

http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/presart1.html

During Bush-Gore, Bush was somewhere between 6th grade and 7th grade. Since 1988 we haven't had anyone speak over a 9th grade reading level.

Ahh, here we go. Kerry spoke at a grade level of 7.3, and Bush at a 6.8 (subscription required). This is the lowest level any Dem candidate has spoken at every.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20041001.wpolspe2/BNStory/Front

Posted by: niq at October 4, 2004 05:06 PM

I would favor organic cognitive decline as a strong possibility (#4). Juan Cole at Informed Comment discussed Bush's seeming cognitive impairment in a post on August 23rd comparing what Kerry & Bush did as young men -- its foreshadowing of the debate performance is eerie...

"What was Bush doing with his youth? He was drinking. He was drinking like a fish, every night, into the wee hours. For decades. He gave no service to anyone, risked nothing, and did not even slack off efficiently.

The history of alcoholism and possibly other drug use is a key issue because it not only speaks to Bush's character as an addictive personality, but may tell us something about his erratic and alarming actions as president. His explosive temper probably provoked the disastrous siege of Fallujah last spring, killing 600 Iraqis, most of them women and children, in revenge for the deaths of 4 civilian mercenaries, one of them a South African. (Newsweek reported that Bush commanded his cabinet, "Let heads roll!")

That temper is only one problem. Bush has a sadistic streak. He clearly enjoyed, as governor, watching executions. His delight in killing people became a campaign issue in 2000 when he seemed, in one debate, to enjoy the prospect of executing wrong-doers a little too much. He has clearly gone on enjoying killing people on a large scale in Iraq. Drug abuse can affect the ability of the person to feel deep emotions like empathy. Two decades of pickling his nervous system in various highly toxic substances have left Bush damaged goods. Even for those who later abstain, "visual-spatial abilities, abstraction, problem solving, and short-term memory, are the slowest to recover." That he managed to get on the wagon (though with that pretzel incident, you wonder how firmly) is laudable. But he suffers the severe effects of the aftermath, and we are all suffering along with him now, since he is the most powerful man in the world."

Indeed, we are all suffering TERRIBLY as a result of this administration. Should a repeat performance occur in the next debate, pressure for an answer as to the reason for the delay in his physical needs to become a priority...

Posted by: JB at October 4, 2004 06:52 PM

I vote for organic brain syndrome. Note that fluctuations in cognitive ability actually are common is such cases, although this seems counterintuitive. You might think that the deficits caused by brain damage would be failry constant, but that is not always the case. Such patients may do fairly well on some days, badly on others. Some patients will present themselves coherently if they are in the presence of someone familiar, such as a spouse of a vice-president; yet they may be completely disoriented at other times. Thus, Mr. Bush might very well put in a good performance during the next debate.

If the organic brain syndrome hypothesis is correct, it points to a possible strategy for Mr. Kerry. If Mr. Bush has frontal lobe deficits, in particular, it will be difficult for the president to think clearly in the face of strong emotions. Narcissistic insults, even mild ones, would be expected to create enough anger that the president would loose the capacity for higher functions. Such deficits would include difficulty with abstract thought, impaired short-term memory, and limitations of working vocabulary.

Come to think of it, that is exactly what happened in the first debate.

Posted by: Joseph j7uy5 at October 4, 2004 09:13 PM

About the physical: apparently Bush did not take on this year. In 2001-2003 he had his annual physical in August, and there were many news stories about it. This year, nothing.

I really would like to see the DC press push the White house on this. The voters deserve current knowledge that Bush is healthy. A physical from last year is not good enough.

Posted by: marky at October 4, 2004 09:54 PM

mortgage leads

Posted by: mortgage leads at October 4, 2004 11:29 PM

Look at the position of his hands when he walks, palms facing back instead of the normal facing into the body. I am told by a nurse friend that this indicates cranial nerve damage. Can anyone corroborate ?

Posted by: texas observer at October 4, 2004 11:31 PM

"Peance and freeance" is cute until you watch your own super-literate father trying to remember the word for garden. Having watched dementia progress, I have to go with #4. It's sad, not funny. It goes without saying that the Republicans should have showed a bit of responsibility and took him off the ticket five months ago.

Posted by: Kostya at October 5, 2004 12:49 AM

How about this as a reason: Cognitive Dissonance (which may be a way to sum up all of the above)? After years of agreeing with whoever spoke to him last, all of the problems and contradictions have come home to roost and now he is trying to pull all of them together, onstage, live, but is unable to do so (because of brain damabe caused by years of substance abuse, or just beacuse it is impossible). His well known loyalty (and pride) forbid him from blaming his inner circle of advisers so he has to do his own javalin catching or blame outside forces.

Posted by: Andy M at October 5, 2004 03:47 AM

The reason James Fallows is puzzled is because he is full of shit.

I've had to deal with neurological problems all of my life. I've suffered with grand-mal seizures since the age of 15 and have had various wierd side effects both of suffering from idiosyncratic epilepsy (i.e. epilepsy which does not have a particularly well understood origin) and from medication I have taken to control these seizures.

The bottom line here is that when you spend some serious time with neurologists you get a healthy respect for the infancy of the field and how little is understood about the dynamics of the brain. So even if you are a senior editor of the Atlantic Monthly or a professor of economics, it would serve you well to step back and exhibit some
degree of humility and not shoot from the hip about stuff you are clearly clueless about.

Speculating why one person or another has a stuttered speach pattern, or transposes words, or has lapses of articulation is a crap shoot. Fun stuff for those who have never had to struggle with such complexities.

The more pertinent question is why someone so inarticulate (a problem which is as common as plaque on teeth) can manage to win a Presidential campaign.


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