“The latest gaffe from Joe Biden” seems to be a recurring meme, if not simply fodder for Trump-friendly websites and Twitter garbage fires. From bungling the Declaration of Independence, to forgetting where he is, to his anachronisms (both political and literal), to his undying devotion to the word “literal” including contexts where that word doesn’t mean what he thinks it means, Biden shows signs of…what should we call it?
Is it that he’s elderly? Biden will be 78 just after election day. At the end of his first term, should he be elected, he’ll be 82, by far the oldest man to ever hold the office of president. Old doesn’t necessarily mean mentally decrepit, however. Hillary Clinton is a comparatively youthful 72, and nobody would say she’s in better shape than Biden (or Sanders, or Bloomberg for that matter). Warren Buffett is 89 years old, and still sharp as a tack.
So in spite of the fact that old people are candidates for a wide range of medical ills (in my personal observation, among the retired those things tend to be the topic of conversation during barbecues, card games, and other get togethers of the over 70 crowd–at least in my parents’ generation), simply “elderly” doesn’t explain Biden’s stumbles.
Maybe it’s the stress of a campaign and road life? Could be, but I don’t see Bernie Sanders, who is exactly 42 days older than Biden, making the same verbal trip-ups despite being on the road at least as much as Biden (and also sitting in the Senate). And for comparison, Mick Jagger is 76, and still on tour. Despite recent heart surgery, Jagger comes across as lucid, serious, and relevant in 2020 as he was in 1968. Biden, on the other hand, seems to belong to 1968 as if he arrived here by the Rip Van Winkle method.
While there are videos of Biden taking a selfie with an admirer’s smartphone, he has also been seen struggling to use one on his own. As Scott Adams penned in a Dilbert cartoon, “the elderly like to fiddle.”
The issue remains, however, that Biden has a problem with coherence.
Stumbling over words, mixing up cities, forgetting unforgettable phrases: Are these signs of mental decline? In my own life, I worry about Alzheimers. My mother had it. In 2000, she had her first real episode. For a few days she decided she didn’t know my stepfather (they’d been married for decades). I passed it off as maybe some bad reaction to medicine, but my sister realized what that was.
Over the next eight years, my mother slowly, excruciatingly, declined. Drugs like Aricept kept the disease at bay, but when they cease to be effective, Alzheimers blitzes through like the Germans toward Paris. What would America do if we elected a president who needed Aricept to function?
Are we even allowed to ask the question?
Plenty of people who can’t stand Donald Trump have offered unsolicited psychological opinions of our president. Everything from narcissistic personality disorder, to full blown sociopathy, to dementia have been thrown at him. But as mean as Trump’s tweets, and stinging as his constant trolling, and unpleasant as his using people like discarded Kleenex is, Trump seems pretty mentally present. When he riffs, the 29 year-old Donald Trump who built his first Manhattan tower is about the same as today’s President Trump.
But the Joe Biden of 1972 is not today’s Joe Biden. He has suffered loss–unimaginable loss. He has run for president twice: in 1988 and 2008, before now. The Biden who ran against, then joined the ticket with Barack Obama is not the same Biden running today.
Are we allowed to ask what’s different?
I think we should ask. I think it’s important to ask, and to get the truth, now for a few reasons. First, the Democratic Party owes it to itself to offer the best candidate they can to the nation. The “anyone not Bernie” train is not sufficient reason for folks to unquestioningly support Biden. They need to ask the difficult questions.
Second, if you think for an instant that Donald Trump is not going to use Biden’s stumbles and bumbles, you are drinking too much Kool Aid. Dan Scavino’s deceptive edit of Biden saying “we can only re-elect Trump” made three trips around the Internet before the Biden campaign responded. For the record, that wasn’t even a gaffe.
Imagine what the Trump campaign will do with every gaffe, bumble, stumble and verbal fall Biden takes, if he’s the nominee. There will be no room to separate the truth from the accusations, lies, and campaign smears.
The best way for the Biden campaign to get out in front of the issue of Joe’s mental state is for it to come clean and be completely transparent. Better to broker a convention to find a consensus candidate than to continue marching behind someone who has this kind of problem.
And if Biden has no problem, it’s better to resolve the matter now, to better withstand the assault that’s coming.
Interestingly, the man who might be in the best position to help Biden in this is his old boss, Obama. And Obama is firmly on the sidelines. Perhaps the Democrats think they can finesse this at their convention. Perhaps they can. But I think the odds are it will backfire if they try.
Democrats need to ask the hard questions about Biden’s mental cognition. The sooner they ask, the better.