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The Biden Question

One week from today, September 29, President Donald Trump will square off against former Vice-President Joe Biden in front of the entire nation as they debate the best path forward for our nation.  The event will take place on the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and will be moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News.

The stakes couldn’t be higher as the polarization between left and right is greater than its been in more years than the oldest living American can remember.  The nation is experiencing a number of crises including an ongoing pandemic, out of control wildfires, civil unrest, and a national debt that is ever increasing.   Exacerbating all of this is a contentious Supreme Court nomination battle that has been unexpectedly thrust upon us all.  How our nation responds to these could be vastly different depending on who sits in the oval office. 

All of this aside, though, there is one more point of tension for this debate and the ones to follow.  This is the lingering question; will this be Joe Biden’s Waterloo?

The answer, at this point, is maybe.

Let’s be realistic, since launching his campaign for President, Biden’s performance on the campaign trail has been … let’s say lackluster.  Now, he’s never been an all-star politician like the President he served under just four short years ago (Barack Obama) or the Democrat who occupied the White House before that (Bill Clinton).  But he was always adequate.  Still, though, something has changed in him recently.

Despite the fact that he’s always had verbal gaffs, the time once was that Biden could make it through a sentence.  He was energetic and robust when he spoke.  He could remember facts and figures.  He could sit in long form interviews or debates or press conferences and hold his own till the very end without getting confused or appearing dazed.

But that is not the case today. 

Anyone watching the Biden campaign over the last few months couldn’t have failed to notice he is distinctly different from the politician he used to be.  The current Joe Biden stumbles to get through sentences.  He sounds frail and weak when he speaks.  He often verbally wanders off in some weird, unexpected direction.  Just a few short days ago, he sounded winded and struggled for air as he read a short statement about the passing of Ruth Bader-Ginsberg. 

How does this new Biden do in sitting for long interviews?  We don’t know.  He rarely does them.  And in the few instances we have, he gets soft ball questions. 

And what about press conferences?  Again, he rarely does them.  When he does, he only takes questions from hand-picked reporters whose questions (theoretically) have been screened by campaign staff. 

Perhaps the best description comes from Biden’s former stenographer who, on Fox News, described Joe Biden as a shell of his former self.  He described a Joe Biden who would disregard any notes or teleprompters in front of him and instead speak from his gut.  He said that is not the Joe Biden we see today.  The Joe Biden we see today would be incapable of such a thing.

All of this has led many to question Biden’s mental capacity, including his opponent.   Shortly after the Democratic cyber convention in August, Trump released a television ad juxtaposing the verbally stumbling Joe Biden of this year’s campaign trail with the sharper, more on point Joe Biden of the past.  The ad is titled, “What Happened to Joe Biden.”

And then there’s the kicker.  The complication that throws this all into question.  Occasionally, the Joe Biden of old does show up.  At the DNC, Biden gave a speech that was clear and strong.  Sure, it still wasn’t what he used to do, but it was orders of magnitude better than what was expected of him.  He made it from beginning to end with no major complications.  There was even a moment where he was strong, assertive, and commanding.  All in stark contrast to the Joe Biden we came to expect based on his performance over the last few months.  Additionally, he will occasionally sit down with a reporter and while the questions are soft balls his answers will be clear and complete with no awkward moments where the audience is wondering what he’s trying to say. 

So, the question is, which Joe Biden is going to show up in Cleveland one week from today?  Will we get the Biden who can both start a sentence and finish it?  Or will we get the Biden who starts out with the best of intentions but soon finds himself making a wrong turn and stuck on a verbal highway where the next exit is twenty miles down the road?  Will we get the Biden who can speak strong and clear, or the Biden who sounds tired and old and out of breath? 

Whatever the case may be, the nation deserves to see both of these candidates go toe-to-toe, exchange ideas, field criticism, and answer hardball questions from a no non-sense journalist. 

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