By Blair Golson
The video below juxtaposes two clips of Bush speaking at debates--one during the 1994 Texas gubernatorial campaign, the other during the 2004 presidential campaign. You will probably be shocked to see how--there is no other word for it--articulate a public speaker our current president was a mere 12 years ago.
This video has been around since late 2004, but it’s new to Truthdig, which saw it for the first time at a Super Bowl party last night along with a group of other first-timers. Figuring that some of our readers may have missed it the first time around, too, we’re presenting it now.
The story behind this video is as follows:
In the fall of 2004, James Fallows, a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, wrote an article for The Atlantic Monthly about Bush and John Kerry’s debating style called “When George Meets John.” (It’s behind a registration wall at the Atlantic, but can be read in full here.) Fallows had seen the 1994 gubernatorial debate footage, and was himself shocked at the difference between Bush in 2004 and 1994. He wrote:
Recently I saw an amazing piece of political video. It was ten-year-old footage of George W. Bush, and it changed my mind about an important aspect of the upcoming campaign.
... The Bush on this tape was almost unrecognizable--and not just because he looked different from the figure we are accustomed to in the White House. He was younger, thinner, with much darker hair and a more eager yet less swaggering carriage than he has now. But the real difference was the way he sounded.
This Bush was eloquent. He spoke quickly and easily. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions. He mishandled a word or two ("million" when he clearly meant “billion”; “stole” when he meant “sold"), but fewer 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.
After the publication of the article, the Atlantic published a letter to the editor from Joseph Price, a doctor in Carsonville, Mich., who speculated that Bush’s “[s]lowly developing cognitive deficits, as demonstrated so clearly by the President, can represent only one diagnosis, and that is ‘presenile dementia’!”
The letter understandably caused some degree of controversy, and The Boston Globe ran an article looking into both the claim and the author of the letter, Dr. Price. According to the Globe:
This summer, Joseph Price, a self-described “country doctor” in Carsonville, Mich., was reading a long article in The Atlantic about Bush’s speaking style. Author James Fallows alluded to Bush’s malapropisms 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 articulate.”
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 politician Ann Richards in 1994, Price thought: “My God, the only way you can explain that is by being Alzheimer’s.”
What happened next is that Bruce Bendinger, a college textbook publisher from Chicago, saw Dr. Price’s letter in the Atlantic and decided to get hold of the footage of the 1994 gubernatorial debate for himself. He describes it on his website:
It’s my wife’s fault. She subscribed to Atlantic Magazine and I happened to read the September issue. There, a feature article by James Fallows noted that George Bush used to be a much better speaker and debater than the George Bush we’re used to. Hm. Interesting. Didn’t give it much thought.
Then the October issue arrived and, for whatever reason, I happened to read a Letter to the Editor (I hardly ever do that). And there was this letter from a Doctor that essentially said—hey, if George Bush had some problem like dyslexia it would have showed up ten years ago as well as recently.
So a friend of a friend of Bendinger’s got in touch with Fallows from the Atlantic, and then Bendinger and another friend put together the video that Truthdig is linking to below.
A screen capture of George W. Bush speaking in a 1994 Texas
gubernatorial campaign debate.