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A Declining Joe Biden?
The Rep. Walorski incident suggests as much.
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“Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f–k things up,” Barack Obama reportedly once said. Well, Obama was surely right, at least in the eyes of staffers who’ve had to deal with a seemingly endless series of headaches caused by Biden’s occult talent for malapropisms and gaffes. Less than two years into his time in office, I think it’s safe to say that, were you to collate all the examples, it would require the pagination of a phone book.
Some of the more memorable ones include:
Biden has tried more than once to shake hands with no one in particular.
A July speech about climate change led Biden to make a startling health admission: “You had to put on your windshield wipers to get, literally, the oil slick off the window,” Biden said, recalling nearby refineries while growing up in Delaware. “That’s why I and so damn many other people I grew up [sic] have cancer,” he declared. According to White House spokesman Andrew Bates, the comment concerned “non-melanoma skin cancers” that Biden had treated years ago, but that doesn’t explain why the president used the present tense.
Biden explicitly demanded the overthrow of Vladimir Putin during a speech denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” he averred outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland. Within minutes, the White House was engaging in damage control. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” an unnamed aide reportedly said.
There was the time he keeled over on a bicycle that wasn’t moving.
In his first State of the Union speech, Biden accidentally praised Iran instead of Ukraine. “Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks,” the president declared. “But he will never gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people.” Kamala Harris, seated behind Biden, appeared to grit her teeth and murmur “Ukrainian.”
Biden has, on multiple occasions, referred to Kamala Harris as President.
Four days into 2022, Biden told Americans they should be optimistic about “2020,” which everyone knows was not a great year. “There’s a lot of reason to be hopeful in 2020,” Biden said, as he urged listeners to get covid shots and boosters. “But for God’s sake, please take advantage of what is available.”
Biden ruined his roll-out of a new defense pact with Britain and Australia when he couldn’t remember Aussie leader Scott Morrison’s name. “Thank you, Boris,” Biden said, gesturing toward the video feed of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “And I want to thank, er … that fella Down Under … Thank you very much, pal. Appreciate it, Mr. Prime Minister.” (Worse, the deal itself blindsided France and sparked a diplomatic uproar.)
In last Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview, Biden committed the US to defending Taiwan against a hypothetical invasion, contrary to longstanding policy, and claimed that “the pandemic is over,” even as his administration was seeking more covid response funding and trying to use the pandemic as the “emergency” pretext for cancelling student debt.
Then there was this snafu:
There’ve been many more. The problem is that the Left has declared that so much as suggesting these episodes are concerning is taboo. It’s always dismissed as a “right-wing” talking point, a “caricature” that Republicans have long been painting of Biden. “The smear that he’s lost it — that he’s cognitively impaired” is a “frequent explicit refrain within Republican-aligned media,” wrote Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein. “Including Trump.” As Noah Rothman noted, “Implicit in this brushback pitch is that those in elite circles who make note of the obvious jeopardize their status and, it logically follows, their livelihoods.”1
The Rep. Jackie Walorski Incident
It would appear, however, that Biden’s “protectors” in the media might have reached a breaking point of some sort. That’s what we must conclude after a rare moment on Wednesday in which the press put political allegiance aside and actually asked some tough questions.
During his remarks at a conference on food insecurity, Biden called on Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski to make herself known to the room. “Representative Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” Biden asked. “I think she wasn’t going to be here.” Congresswoman Walorski died last month in a terrible car accident that also claimed two of her staffers. As usual, though, the media isn’t including all the information about this particular gaffe. It’s even worse than it seems, because it occurred immediately following a video they played memorializing Walorski’s life and career. Indeed, Biden was in Indiana specifically because she died.
Normally, this incident would’ve been brushed aside like all the other times the president and his courtiers were given cover, but the White House press corps was not having it, as exemplified by the series of pointed, concerned questions asked of White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who has proven even more skilled in dissembling and prevaricating than her predecessor.2
“What happened in the hunger event today?” one incredulous reporter asked. “The President appeared to look around the room for an audience member, a member of Congress who passed away last month. He seemed to indicate she might be in the room. What happened there?”
Jean-Pierre replied that Biden had merely been “acknowledging her incredible work” and that Rep. Walorski “was on his mind—she was top of mind.” Needless to say, that answer proved unsatisfying.
“If the late congresswoman was top of mind for the president, and her family was expected to be here, and that’s what the president was thinking about, why was he looking for her?” another reporter asked.
When Jean-Pierre repeated her excuse for Biden’s misstatement and insisted that she didn’t find the episode “all that unusual,” everyone in the room was practically suffocating in bullshit.
“Frankly, I think the memory of the congresswoman and history requires some clarity here,” a third reporter demanded. “Was the president confused? Was something written in the teleprompter that he didn’t recognize? Help us explain what happened here.”
“I think the confusing part is why if she and the family is top of mind does the president think she’s living, and, in the room,” yet another journalist remarked.
Jean-Pierre continued to do that thing where she shuffles around the papers and notes in front of her (the woman cannot be still, it’s fascinating), and she forced a smile. “When you have someone top of mind, they are top of mind,” she chuckled.
“I have John Lennon top of mind just about every day,” one peeved reporter retorted, “but I’m not looking around for the man.”
Surprisingly, it wasn’t just the White House press corps that refused to accept the administration’s unconvincing extenuations. Journalistic outlets that would normally contextualize the hell out of the president’s comments let folks see the unvarnished truth and decide for themselves this time. Biden “asks if deceased congresswoman is present,” observed CNN. “Biden mistakenly asks if deceased congresswoman is in audience,” read the Washington Post’s headline. “President Biden apparently forgot,” the New York Times conceded, “that Representative Jackie Walorski had died in August.”3
Let me say that I take no pleasure in harping on Biden’s serial missteps and gibberish—the latter of which, at least partially, can be attributed to his lifelong battle with a stutter.4 Anyone who spends that much time in the public light is under a constant microscope. Moreover, yours truly is incredibly flawed himself and would probably butcher every occasion in front of the national media. Indeed, I would probably throw a microphone at the first New York Times reporter to ask a question.
But the aggregated weight of the president’s bloopers is such that there’s more than a little cause for concern. The cumulative effect suggests that it’s not so much a knack for foot-in-mouth incidents as an overall decline in mental acuity. The best that can be said for Biden’s oratory at this point is that it gives you the sensation of a coma without the worry and inconvenience. It’s not ageist to say as much. Biden is the oldest president in US history, and his is a job that’s incredibly difficult and taxing.
I’m definitely not alone in my concerns. According to an Issues & Insights/TIPP poll released in August, most Americans are worried about President Biden’s capacities, leaving many to wonder if he should run for reelection two years from now. Nearly 60% of respondents said they were “concerned” about the president’s mental health, with 36% saying they were “very concerned” and 23% “somewhat concerned.”
Mike McCormick, who worked 15 years as a White House stenographer and with Biden from 2011 to 2017, has said, “He’s lost a step and he doesn’t seem to have the mental acuity he had four years ago. He doesn’t have the energy, he doesn’t have the pace of his speaking. He’s a different guy. He read that Democratic National Committee speech verbatim — it’s not Joe Biden anymore.”
Here’s what bothers me most. We’re as close to nuclear war breaking out as we’ve been since the Cuban Missile Crisis—on top of all kinds of other serious issues that are plaguing the country right now. This is not a good time to have the president picking daisies and counting butterflies (no time is, really), tottering around like a man on the verge of losing sphincter-control. And whether off the cuff or not, the president’s words are always significant. What he says matters. A lot. Intended or not, it has the power to set off international incidents. The 1993 movie Dave did a good job illustrating this. In the film, a presidential lookalike actually substitutes for the president and realizes that, while he’s essentially powerless behind closed doors, anything he says in public has the power of a presidential statement.
It’s not just a matter of our Septuagenarian-in-Chief’s capacity to lead and make wise decisions, though; we’ve seen time and again how people within his administration, behind the scenes, are able to poke and prod Biden into doing things that are far from centrist. The student loan cancellation is a perfect example. By all accounts, that was not a decision he made on his own; he was more or less cajoled into it by his ultra progressive aides. We don’t want a president who’s merely a marionette.
A problem is only made worse when some taboo discourages people from talking about it. Perhaps a conversation is necessary. Bringing up the obvious shouldn’t be denounced as the “gross, lowest-common-denominator politics that drive people away from public life.”
Julian Castro seemed to become persona non grata in Democratic circles after he raised the issue of Biden’s age during a debate.
Recall when Jean-Pierre claimed she had a hard time keeping up with Biden’s boundless energy level and stamina.
Don’t worry, though, The View’s Sunny Hostin stuck to her guns: “I think what it really shows is this country is so ageist,” she complained. “I think they need to stop weaponizing his age. I hate that about this country!” Settle down, Sunny. You people lost your minds when Trump appeared to carefully walk down a stage ramp at West Point.
I’m not exactly a fan of the man, but you must admit that it takes serious balls to devote your life to being a politician despite having a speech impediment.