Just Above Sunset
March 14, 2004: Medical science is just catching up with George Bush?
I trade a lot of emails with friends – I have a list – and the group gets into odd discussions. These folks are known as the “listers.”
Last July, Ric Erickson in Paris, editor of MetropoleParis, asked a question -
During last week's Cafe Metropole Club meeting, one new member stated that Bush cannot read, on account of dyslexia. He has aides to read to him we were told. Does anybody know anything about this? Before being sworn in, isn't some minimal intelligence test necessary?
Well, such questions sometimes arise at his Metropole Club meetings. If you’re in Paris drop by and listen in.
I did look this stuff up regarding Bush and dyslexia. The rumors have been floating around for four years now. This all started in September 2000 with the election. After examining his academic history, Vanity Fair writer Gail Sheehy came to the conclusion that Bush suffers from dyslexia. While Bush and his team deny it, Sheehy laid out a persuasive case. If the president isn't officially dyslexic, his brain does seem to be wired in a way that he often says things he doesn't mean. The Sheehy item is no longer on the web. Bush denies – see CNN (12 September 2000) here.
The matter has not come much since. It is possible that folks do his reading for him and provide summaries, I suppose.
But the matter came up again last week. One of the “listers” – Phillip Raines – noted a Business Week item on it and we were off and running again.
"Analyzating" Bush's Grey Matter -
MARCH 12, 2004 Business Week
AFFAIRS OF STATE By Stan Crock
Crock sets the stage:
Ever wonder why President Bush says "nuculer" when he means "nuclear" or "subliminate" when he means "subliminal?" Or why he mixes up perseverance and preservation? Why does he mangle the English language often enough for Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg to produce three books of Bushisms such as "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."
Are you still puzzled that Bush:
Well, if Crock isn’t really a crock, he lays out four possible diagnoses.
This is the first:
To some learning-disability experts, the signs are clear: Bush might want to pay them a visit. These experts haven't tested
the President, so they caution that they can't be certain of the diagnosis. Yet, ample signs indicate that something unusual
is going on in the left side of his brain, where language and hearing are processed.
Got that? It’s a minor problem with the left side of the brain, and a HEARING PROBLEM. He’s not dumb. It’s just that he doesn’t get what is said to him very clearly, and thus doesn’t process that input well. And what comes out when you hear something wrong, and think about it badly? Bush-speak. But he’s not dumb. Otherwise he wouldn’t be president. I’m not sure I buy the idea here.
Then there is a second factor:
ALL IN THE FAMILY?
… Such disorders often are genetic, and the Bush family has a history of them -- Bush's brother, Neil, has been diagnosed
with dyslexia. Bush's other brother, Marvin, has a son in a Washington school
for children with learning disabilities. Perhaps as a result, the President's
mother and First Lady Laura Bush have both been big advocates of improving reading skills.
You see the idea here. It’s his genes. The family isn’t good with language, or Texans generally aren’t. Not his fault.
Well, insofar as we think in language, this isn’t very comforting.
The secondary suggestion - that his mind is very agile and fast, and his mouth is just slow – might be possible, I suppose. I see no evidence to support that idea, only an assertion.
Ric in Paris adds – “If Bush's brain works 'faster than his mouth,' then his brain probably isn't working as 'fast' as the most charitable observers assume. It could be working as fast as a turtle. Could a turtle handle a White House press conference?”
Well, Bush has set a record for the fewest press conferences of any modern president.
Then Crock raises another issue:
Okay, now we get Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). Fine. If the White House denies any problem, then find an odd syndrome. Not that finding a name for the language problem actually fixes the problems in diplomacy. It doesn’t seem good to me that foreign leaders and diplomats are appalled at what Bush says.
But this might go a long way toward explaining why how we now deal with the world is with war, or threat of war. We don’t do diplomacy. Think of our position on North Korea and its nuclear weapons – a year of saying no talking. We just want them to do what we want. Talking doesn’t work – or so we’re told. So the main tool of diplomacy, careful language, is a total puzzle to our leader. Words are his enemy. In lieu of words? Big stick. No talk.
Then Crock gets to his fourth point:
"OTHER KINDS OF INTELLIGENCE." That led me to do some Web research and talk to some experts on the subject to see what
they think. I'm no doctor. I'm a
journalist. But it turns out there's an intriguing consensus afoot, and I'm here
to report it.
Well, maybe so. Medical science is just catching up with George Bush? Perhaps.
Crock floats the idea that Bush's penchant for talking about good and evil and for saying countries are either with us or against us in the war on terrorism may also reflect a learning disorder. His professed “distaste for nuance” could stem from an inability to process the complex sides of an issue. "To analyze that, you have to analyze the language," says Bonnie Rattner, a speech and language pathologist in San Mateo, Calif.
Well… YIPES! He is pathologically incapable of dealing with complexity? And he leads the most power nation in the world? Damn.
Crock says there are solutions – for one, hire good people to fill the gaps. Crock suggests the example of a business executive with great vision and creativity who may not be organized, so the executive would have to employ someone with good executive functions. Dick Cheney? Karl Rove?
But crock will not suggest all of this brain anomaly stuff may be the whole story.
For example a lack of focus during a privileged upbringing could explain the President's grades in college. The nicknames could be an attempt to control relationships or be one of the guys. The infrequent press conferences could result from the Administration's penchant for secretiveness and general disdain for the media.
Oh. If there’s no organic brain damage then
he’s just lazy, spoiled and mean? That’s comforting.
Ah, he’s so religious he’s rigid in his views, or, well, the times are such that diplomacy is quite the wrong thing to be doing. Got it.
But Crock likes the language-disorder explanation best:
All these separate explanations are plausible -- but taken together, they present quite a coincidence. The language-disorder explanation would cover them all. And if it's right, it should give pause to late-night comedians Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart. The President's twisting of the English language may be a phenomenon that's far more complicated than comic.
Okay then, no jokes. But instead of jokes, why not let Bush return to the ranch in Texas where he might be happy to be away from all these words and complications?
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