Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Mental Handicap: Kevin Drum has been spreading rumors for some time that Bush may be suffering from a debilitating mental condition that causes him to mispronounce nuclear and make other verbal gaffes. His evidence? Nuggets of Bush speaking during the debate against Ann Richards for the gubernatorial race. Bush seems comfortable speaking in public, not hesitating before he gets to a big word or complicated thought. Not like the reputation he has now. Mr. Drum even links to a site that purports to quote a doctor who concludes that Bush is suffering from "pre-senile dementia". All that's missing is John Kerry popping up and saying that he approved the message.

Nevermind the fact that Bush's answers in the gubernatorial debate sound like typical canned campaign slogans. The truth is, I'll bet you could find a couple instances of Bush stumbling in the 1994 debate and compare it to a strong statement in the 2004 debate and say he's improved.

But to answer the accusation, yes, Bush has become less comfortable speaking after he ran for president. Before, he could mispronounce words and nobody would think anything of it -- because we all do that from time to time. Now he knows any misstep will be replayed ad nauseam on CNN. I'm sure he has been warned time and time again by his staff not to make any flubs, because that will overshadow anything else he says. John Kerry can make verbal gaffes without being crucified, and he does (his cross to bear is he can't even seem like he has changed his mind on an issue, ever, without getting slammed by the media -- something Bush does not have to worry about).

The truth is, we hold politicians to impossible standards. Bush mispronounces words, and he's considered a moron. Gore never mispronounces anything -- from years of political experience -- and he's called robotic. Kerry tries to appear presidential, and people say he's elitist. Clinton comes across as suave and clear, and he gets the nickname "Slick Willy".

If you want to know why it's hard to find quality candidates for office, it's because all the good ones are smart enough to stay out of that mess. Otherwise political opponents might start bringing up mistakes you made when you were 18 years old.

Case in point, Texas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions joined a group of hundreds of college kids in 1974 in a streaking stunt. Yes, a future conservative Republican got naked -- when he was 18. His Democratic rival, Martin Frost, is trying to make the stunt a campaign issue. That's what happens when people like Frost are losing in the polls 50 percent to 44 percent.


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