George W. Bush: Medical Observations in 2004 Debates
Bush's Presidential debates with John Kerry in 2004 provided an unexpected and rich set of
potential medical observations of Bush, including eye blinking, jaw thrusting, mouth spittle,
and jacket bulging
The significance of these observations is currently unknown, but they are recorded here should
something develop later (even decades later).
As Bush's presidency entered difficult times in September-October 2005, commentators noticed
the reappearance of a sterotyped jaw movement previously evident during the 2004 Presidential
Most of the proposed causes are ill-informed
Instead, consider this simple recollection Bush had about the final weeks of 2002, when the
decision to invade Iraq was looming ever larger:
There was a lot of stress. Yeah,
I felt stressed. My jaw muscles got so tight. And it was not because I was smiling and shaking
so many hands. There was a lot of tension during that last holiday season.
- In the third debate a bit of spittle was lodged in the right corner of
Bush's mouth for several minutes. There are potential medical causes for this,
but there is no other reason to believe Bush is so afflicted.
- Video frames extracted from the first debate unimstakably show something
jacket in his upper back. Dr. Zebra has seen second-hand reports of official
denials that it was a bullet-proof vest. Other possibilities include a medical
device (such as an orthopedic
brace [note history of back surgery in past] or defibrillator pad), a non-medical
device, or a bad shirt day.
The "Bush bulge" has been found in other pictures taken at other times.
;; Dr. Zebra concludes that it must be a deliberate placement,
;; because surely someone would have noticed and corrected so obvious
;; an accidental bunching of clothes before appearing in front of the cameras.
- In the second debate Bush was blinking his eyes at a furious rate.
Rapid eye blinking has been associated in the medical literature
with mental tasks such as memory use and speech, as well as with
clinical states such as dry eyes, tardive dyskinesia, Tourette syndrome, schizophrenia,
autism, and combined depression and sleep deprivation
(More generally, eye blinking has been described as a useful clinical sign
of central dopaminergic activity
Eye blinking can also increase when a person is lying or when in
uncomfortable or unpleasant situations
(For further examples, see
George H. W. Bush.)
Eye blink "storms," which Bush certainly had, have been described as
"the mind's way of shutting out unpleasant stimuli"
- Bush made repeated lateral to-and-fro movements of his jaw during the debate. Such movements
are also noticeable in video made on the campaign trail (e.g. 29 October 2004).
It is unclear whether this is just a [new?] habit or whether it results from an
underlying physiological condition.
At the time of the debates, Bush had decided to defer his 2004 annual
physical until after the election. Thus, these observations evoked a
level of concern and discussion larger than one would have expected.
- Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
a p.251 b p.270
- Milbank, Dana. For President Under Duress, Body Language Speaks Volumes. Washington Post. October 12, 2005; page A07.
- Karson CN. Spontaneous eye-blink rates and dopaminergic systems. Brain. 1983; 106: 643-653.
- Ebert D, Albert R, Hammon G, Strasser B, May A, Merz A. Eye-blink rates and depression. Is the antidepressant effect of sleep deprivation mediated by the dopamine system?. Neuropsychopharmacology. 1996; 15: 332-339.
- Jaret, Peter. Blinking and thinking. In Health. July/August 1990; 4(4): 36-37.