- It is an article of faith with millions of Americans,
most of them on the left, that George W. Bush is stupid. Many reasonable
people think his policies are ill-advised, but millions more insist Bush
must be a moron because he sounds stupid.
- The president's tortured "Bushisms" are
daily and have been collected in books. Two of the more notorious are
know how hard it is for you to put food on your family" and
is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."
- But something doesn't compute. Fred Smith, the founder
of Federal Express and a Yale pal of both Bush and John Kerry, says Bush
is five times smarter than people think he is. Cynics deride what passes
for scholarship at the Harvard Business School, but the course work for
the two-year MBA isn't easy. A grading curve forces a small number of
to fail, and Bush didn't fail.
- So why does Bush sound stupid? One doctor thinks he shows
signs of "presenile dementia," or an early onset of Alzheimer's
- This summer, Joseph Price, a self-described "country
doctor" in Carsonville, Mich., was reading a long article in The
about Bush's speaking style. Author James Fallows alluded to Bush's
and to speculation that Bush had a learning disorder or dyslexia. But those
conditions generally manifest themselves in childhood. Furthermore, Fallows
wrote, "through his forties Bush was perfectly
- Dr. Price's children happened to have given him a daily
tear-off calendar of "Bushisms" for Christmas. "They are
horrible, but they are also diagnostic," Price says. When he read
that Bush had spoken clearly and performed well while debating Texas
Ann Richards in 1994, Price thought: "My God, the only way you can
explain that is by being Alzheimer's."
- In a letter to be published in The Atlantic's October
issue, Price calls presenile dementia "a fairly typical Alzheimer's
situation that develops significantly earlier in life. . . . President
Bush's `mangled' words are a demonstration of what physicians call
and are almost specific to the diagnosis of a true dementia." He adds
that Bush should be "started on drugs that offer the possibility of
retarding the slow but inexorable course of the disease."
- Yes, I asked for a second opinion. University of
neurology professor Dr. Daniel Pollen thinks it is bootless to speculate
about Bush's condition without a formal neuropsychological assessment.
"I think it's unfair to say somebody has or does not have a dementia
as an analysis based on his public utterances," says Pollen, who is
not a Bush supporter. Noting that Bush spoke well in his debates with both
Richards and Al Gore, Pollen adds that Bush's "peak performances are
not in the range I would consider for anybody to have Alzheimer's disease
in the near future."
- Suppose Price is right. What effect might his observation
have on the 2004 election? Absolutely none. The White House isn't going
to start speculating about an incipient medical condition that might make
the president look bad. When I forwarded Price's comments to the White
House, it sent me Bush's 2001 and 2003 physical exams, which show normal
neurological functions. "There is nothing to suggest that there has
been any change from those reports," says White House spokeswoman
- There is ample precedent for papering over presidents'
medical shortcomings. Stanford Medical School professor Herbert Abrams
and others have argued that Ronald Reagan was incapacitated from the day
he was shot in March of 1981 through the succeeding seven years of his
presidency. In their 1988 book, "Landslide," Jane Mayer and Doyle
McManus report that one White House staffer considered Reagan's condition
so bad in 1987 that he suggested invoking the transfer-of-power provisions
of the 25th Amendment. That idea went nowhere fast.
- As for the Democrats, they have no incentive to
a condition they so enjoy teeing off on: Bush's seemingly goofy stupidity.
Kerry suggests that Bush's bicycle has training wheels; Kerry's wife
that people who oppose her husband's health schemes are idiots. The
would rather feel superior to their opponents than beat them, and so far
they are doing a very good job.
- Alex Beam is a Globe columnist.
- His e-dress is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- © Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.