Last night's debate brought to prominence a little-noticed facet of Bush's health that deserves at least as much scrutiny this coming week as Gore's big sighs did last week.
Unlike Gore's heavy-handed sighs and yawns - which were obviously consciously uttered and had the air of petulance - Bush's problem is almost certainly unconscious and reflexive. And it's that that should spark some serious attention. The noises we heard last night and last week are NOT caused by a cold or allergies. As a long-time Bush watcher I can attest that he has been making these noises in his public and TV appearances throughout this campaign. The only surprise is that it has not attracted serious comment before.
First of all let's get the terminology right. Bush does not sniff or sniffle. He snorts. Big time. He simply hocks it up without thought or awareness of what he's doing. And this inelegant reflex produces a loud noise as the person attempts to clear the nasal passages.
Secondly, this reflexive action manifests itself in his face and shoulders. The exertion of such a deep suction in the nose and throat area invariably results in his shoulders heaving slightly and his face scrunching up. It's not a pretty sight. And it's certainly not acceptable in polite society.
I consulted a physician this morning and asked what is going on when people snort. The reply was interesting. It is apparently usually a reflexive attempt by the individual to prevent liquid which gathers naturally in the nasal passages from dripping down.
When we have a cold or allergies - the membranes in the nose that normally absorb such fluids - are overloaded. Which is why we snort to prevent unsightly drippage. But people who snort involuntarily when they do NOT have a cold or allergies - usually do so because their membranes are desensitized or damaged.
I asked what could cause such permanent damage to the nasal membranes and was told that sustained ingestion of material into the nose - nasal decongestants come immediately to mind - is the usual culprit. Such sustained ingestion could have occurred a long time ago - but sadly the longterm side effects of doing "Dristan" (for example) is with one for life.
The unfortunate aspect of such snorting is that it becomes reflexive. Or as the doctor described it - "a bad habit."
America certainly got a taste of the Governor's habit last night. He snorted audibly no less than seven times during the debate. And quite a few times in last week's encounter.
One wonders if the ever-diligent press corps will investigate further the health of this Man Who Would Be President. Restoring dignity to the Oval Office is a noble ambition. But it's a lot harder to do when you have a bad habit of snorting in public.