Wednesday, October 13, 2004

George W. Bush Hasn't Been a Slick Extemporaneous Speaker for a Long Time

by Tom Bozzo

Brad DeLong (among others) had been killing some time speculating as to the possible causes of what is reported by James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly as a striking deterioration of George W. Bush's speaking and debating skills. Could it be evidence of a real-life "West Wing"-style medical scandal?

That Bush mangled the Dred Scott bit so badly that even a conservative anti-abortion Catholic law professor like Stephen Bainbridge viewed it as a flub (I assume the Roe reference subsequently detected elsewhere was intended, as it's otherwise almost impossible to see how that case would come up spontaneously in response to the question asked), and couldn't properly deliver even the $87 billion canard from his stump speech, is suspicious.

That some "tinfoil hat" questions seem to lack satisfactory answers doesn't help matters. (I'm curious, too.)

And indeed, there's a video circulating of Bush from a debate in his 1994 run for governor of Texas that does, indeed, show a minute or two of clear and malapropism-free oration (if not exactly the Feynman lectures) that would now shock many of us liberal bloggers textless if he pulled it off tomorrow evening.

But one invaluable research tool, the "Bushisms" desk calendar, leads me to the simpler explanations. President Bush has been mangling his lines at this level since at least the start of his original run for the office, and he has lousy material to work with, as evidenced by the excoriation of his policies by security scholars and American Economic Review referees surveyed by the London Economist, among many others.

Fallows' argument is, in part, falsely premised on the contention that Bush had never lost a debate prior to his appearance in Coral Gables. I watched the 2000 debates, and while I may grant that Bush, with help from the hopeless mainstream media, won the post-debate spin battles, the actual debates were another matter. See the incomparable Sept. 28 Howler for details.
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