Horrible thought of the night:
    What if George W. Bush ISN’T a liar?

The “organic brain damage” theory gets a big boost.

The Bush whopper about Osama creates a huge opportunity for the Kerry campaign, and puts a huge responsibility on the press, which has to decide between being “even-handed” in its fact-checking and pointing out the enormity of the President’s impudence.

But what does it tell us, as observers, about the man currently occupying the Oval Office?

It seems hard to believe that the President thought he could get away with this one. The earlier gaffe has been commented on before; I knew the minute he said what he said tonight that he was fibbing. So it was definitely going to get caught in the fact-checking.

Maybe GWB figured, based on Cheney’s success in lying about meeting Edwards (and about presiding over the Senate often) and on his own success with pretending to misunderstand the point about his timber holdings making him as “small business owner” by his own counting rules, that getting caught in a lie wasn’t going to hurt him either with his base or with the swing voters. As he indicated tonight, he’s prepared to say in public that anything said by the news media is to be disbelieved.

Call that the “cynical liar” theory. Is there an alternative?

Yes, there is, but it’s one I’ve been reluctant to comment on. I strongly disapprove of using clinical terms to make political criticisms, and in particular of people (such as Krauthammer) who try to use their expertise in one or another branch of disease to bully their political opponents.

However, given a subject with a long history of serious alcohol (and reportedly stimulant) abuse, organic brain damage is always a possibility. Even if the abuse itself has stopped, damage that was previously latent due to the redundancy of brain cells can become clinically evident due to the neuronal loss that is part of the normal aging process (starting about age 30).

Last week Brad DeLong quoted James Fallows on the decline of Bush’s speaking ability over the past ten years. Someone (I can’t remember who) posted a link to a very disturbing piece of videotape. The hesitations and stumbles most of us non-Texans think of as characterizing Bush’s speaking style were entirely absent in his debates with Ann Richards; so was the slight tendency to make his “s” sounds into “sh” sounds.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com