Monday, October 11, 2004

Nixed Message

If it turns out that the mystery bulge in the back of George W. Bush’s jacket seen during the first debate was really a radio receiver and he was getting audio cues from backstage, it will be a rather startling revelation; not that he’s a cheater, but that he’s covering up something else: he’s dyslexic.

I’m not qualified to judge from afar whether or not the president really does have a learning disability, but I’ve seen it enough in my teaching career to know it when I see it; the mangling of phrases, the struggle to put a coherent thought into words, and the short attention span that comes from the frustration when the subroutine just won’t work. What I’ve seen in the last four years from Mr. Bush tells me that there is a man who has trouble with the written word and turning it into language. I have family members who have dealt with it all their lives, and the shame and agony it causes them is horrible – you’re immediately branded as “slow” or “retarded,” and the simple task of reading a comic book or writing down a phone message becomes a nightmare. Their solution has been to get through life by relying on shortcuts, acting out to shift the focus off the problem, or just giving up and denying that they have a problem. After all, no one wants to openly admit that they can’t do something as simple as read or write like everybody else. The strongest emotion they feel is abject shame.

If George W. Bush is dyslexic, he has done everything he can to avoid dealing with the problem, including relying on other people to do the heavy lifting for him in his business career and taking out his frustrations by abusing drugs and alcohol. If he was using a receiver during the debate in Coral Gables, it was probably because he was incapable of jotting down his talking points once he got to the podium. By covering it up, all he’s done is reinforce the stereotype that people with dyslexia are worthy of scorn, and he has missed a golden opportunity to educate the public about it. If at some point he were to have said, “I’m George W. Bush, and I have dyslexia,” he would have gone further in making the country aware of the problem and served as a role model for the millions of people, regardless of their politics, to show that you can make something of yourself. (Granted, his term in office and his career may not be the best example you can think of as a successful person with dyslexia, but you go with what you’ve got.) It is too bad that his pride and prejudice have gotten in the way of sending a powerful message and giving hope to some people that their adversity can be overcome or at the least managed. All he’s done, however, is make it more unintelligible.