By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Last week’s column titled “Criticizing Buhari Over ‘President Michelle of West Germany’ Gaffe is Ignorant” elicited three strands of responses. The majority of responses (about 90 percent, by my estimation) said they were educated by it and are now informationally equipped to understand President Buhari’s memory lapses and slips.
But another set of responses said I was merely making excuses for the president since President Ronald Reagan with whom I compared him was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease (an irreversible, age-related disease that gradually destroys people’s memory, mental capabilities, and eventually leads to their death), and suggested that Reagan’s memory lapses were the result of his disease rather than “senior moments.” Someone even cynically suggested that I was wishing that Buhari got Alzheimer’s disease! Another said I implied that Buhari might be suffering from the early onset of the disease. As I will show shortly, these are wildly inaccurate extrapolations.
The second set of responses said a more valid comparison would be with President Obama since Obama, unlike Reagan, has no Alzheimer’s disease. So here is my response.
First, Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, that is, 5 years after leaving the White House. Doctors said at the time he made his notorious memory-induced gaffes as president, he didn’t have a trace of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the New York Times of October 5, 1997, “But while the line between mere forgetfulness and the beginning of Alzheimer's can be fuzzy, a matter of gradation, Mr. Reagan's four main White House doctors say they saw no evidence that he had crossed it as President. They saw and spoke with him daily in the White House, they said, and beyond the natural failings of age never found his memory, reasoning or judgment to be significantly impaired.”
Dr. John E. Hutton Jr., Reagan’s personal physician from 1984 to 1989, also told the New York Times in 1997 that Reagan ''absolutely'' did not ''show any signs of dementia or Alzheimer's,'' even after “extensive mental-status tests.” So what Reagan suffered during his presidency was mere age-related memory disablement.
Nothing in my article even remotely suggested that Reagan’s slips were a consequence of Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote: “Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist Eric Kandel and his colleagues published a well-received study in 2013 in the Journal of Science Translational Medicine where they, among other things, reveal that a ‘memory gene’ in us appears to get weaker as our brain ages, causing us to forget easily, mix things up, and unable to easily recall information stored in our memory banks.” It’s an illogical, groundless interpretive leap to suggest that I wished that Buhari had Alzheimer’s disease—or that I implied he had one.
Now, for people who think Obama is a perfect president who never has memory lapses, here is a sample of his notorious memory-induced gaffes:
1. In 2008, during a presidential campaign event in the city of Beaverton in the northwestern US state of Oregon, Obama infamously said, "I've now been in 57 states -- I think one left to go. Alaska and Hawaii I was not allowed to go to, even though I really wanted to visit but my staff would not justify it." Problem is, America has only 50 states. Every elementary school student in America knows this. But Obama, in this ill-famed gaffe, implied that the country he sought to govern had 58 states (57 + “one left to go”= 58) or, perhaps, 60 states (57 + “one left to go” + “Alaska and Hawaii” = 60).
Similarly, when he lost a presidential primary election to Hillary Clinton in the state of Kentucky in 2008, he said, “Senator Clinton, I think, is much better known, coming from a nearby state of Arkansas.” Well, actually, Illinois, Obama’s adopted state, is closer to Kentucky than Arkansas is.
2. On August 25, 2008, Obama spoke to the Democratic National Convention from Kansas City in the State of Missouri. But he had a lapse of memory and said, "I'm here with the Girardo family here in St. Louis."
3. On April 4, 2009, Obama traveled to Strasbourg in France. While there, he addressed a news conference during which he said the following: "It was also interesting to see that political interaction in Europe is not that different from the United States Senate. There's a lot of—I don't know what the term is in Austrian—wheeling and dealing…." Unfortunately, there is no language called “Austrian.” An Austrian is a citizen of Austria, and Austrians speak German.
4. At a town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida, on January 28, 2010, Obama entertained questions from students. In response to a student’s question on why America supports Israel with billions of tax payers’ dollars in spite of Israel’s poor human rights records, he said, "The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries." Huh? If you know what means, please let me know.
5. On November 16, 2011, while addressing a news conference in the city of Honolulu in the US state of Hawaii, Obama said, "When I meet with world leaders, what's striking—whether it's in Europe or here in Asia—the kinds of fundamental reforms…" Americans justifiably mocked Obama for saying Hawaii was in Asia. Remember that Obama was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, yet he called it “Asia.”
6. On at least two occasions, Obama has confused “Memorial Day” (the day set aside to remember military people who died in battle) with “Veteran’s Day” (a day dedicated to honoring ex-military people who are living). In 2008, he infamously said, "On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes—and I see many of them in the audience here today—our sense of patriotism is particularly strong." As a conservative commentator asked, “Does Obama see dead people?”
In 2012, Obama repeated the same mistake. He said, “And a lot of those men and women who we celebrate on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day come back and find that, when it comes to finding a job or getting the kind of care that they need, we are not always there the way we need to.” Do dead people find jobs and desire care?
There are countless more embarrassing slips Obama has committed (such as not knowing the age of one of his daughters, saying an entire town was wiped out by a tornado when only 12 people died, etc.), but no one doubts that Obama is an exceedingly intelligent and educated person. He also has aides who prepare him meticulously before news conferences and other kinds of public appearances, yet he fumbles occasionally, not because he is clueless, but because he is human and is liable to “senior moments” which, to quote my article, “can start as early as late 30s and get worse as we get older.”
Always remember this when Buhari makes his next gaffe.