George W. Bush: Medical Observations in 2004 Debates

debate medicine
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 SEE BELOW. The significance of these observations is currently unknown, but they are recorded here should something develop later (even decades later).
jaw mannerism
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 campaign debates SEE BELOW.

Most of the proposed causes are ill-informed zebra hunting. 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. 1a
Comment: It thus appears that Bush develops a certain jaw mannerism when stressed. Furthermore, like all humans, his body language changes when stressed 2 1b.
  • 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 underneath Bush's 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 3 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 4. (More generally, eye blinking has been described as a useful clinical sign of central dopaminergic activity 3.)

    Eye blinking can also increase when a person is lying or when in uncomfortable or unpleasant situations 5. (For further examples, see Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush.) Eye blink "storms," which Bush certainly had, have been described as "the mind's way of shutting out unpleasant stimuli" 5.

  • 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.
Cited Sources
  1. Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
    a  p.251  b  p.270
  2. Milbank, Dana. For President Under Duress, Body Language Speaks Volumes. Washington Post. October 12, 2005; page A07.

    Comment: Accessed from

  3. Karson CN. Spontaneous eye-blink rates and dopaminergic systems. Brain. 1983; 106: 643-653. Pubmed: 6640274.

    Comment: Karson discusses autism in Bull Soc Belge Ophtalmol. 1989; 237: 443-457. Pubmed 2486118.

  4. 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. Pubmed: 8887987.
  5. Jaret, Peter. Blinking and thinking. In Health. July/August 1990; 4(4): 36-37.

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