While a successful politician in many ways, Joe Biden’s attempts to become president are marked by quite a severe flaw — he cannot enter a town hall without saying something stupid. What would American democracy be without Joe Biden garlanding astonished voters with insults and imprecations of every kind? God bless that man. Biden has been making a fool of himself at these events for so long now that I’m fairly sure Alexis de Tocqueville observed this phenomenon in a celebrated passage from his Democracy in America (1835):
‘I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers — and it was not there…in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there…in her rich mines and her vast world commerce — and it was not there…in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution — and it was not there.’
Indeed, it was not until I went into the town halls of America and heard Joe Biden, aflame with righteousness, describe a young woman as a ‘lying, dog-faced pony soldier’ did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she allows crazy old men to talk nonsense without interruption, and if America ever ceases to allow this deluded old mariner to run for president, she will cease to be great.
Working out which of Biden’s town hall broadsides was most astonishing will keep teams of historians busy for decades to come. Who among us can say they didn’t watch slack-jawed when, last December, the unhinged septuagenarian unloaded on a voter in New Hampton, Iowa. In response to a question about his son’s ‘work’ in Ukraine, the former VP said, ‘You’re a damn liar man, that’s not true.’ He continued:
‘I’ve been around a long time and I know more than most people. And I can get things done. That’s why I’m running. And you want to check my shape? Let’s do pushups here together, man. Let’s run. Let’s do whatever you wanna do. Let’s take an IQ test.’
As far as we can tell, the voter did not ask to ‘check’ Biden’s shape. Biden then appeared to call his questioner ‘fat while giving off a heroic Michael Douglas in Falling Down vibe. This correspondent will not be shocked when Biden fires off a few RPGs at the next voter to say the word ‘Ukraine’ within a five-foot radius of his person.
In Iowa, Biden appeared to think he was still the vice president. He also believed that 40 students were shot dead at Kent State, not four. At another event he remembered the assassinations of RFK and MLK occurring a decade after they happened. In August, he was unable to name the prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Over the years, Biden’s racked up thousands of these micro-gaffes and mini-controversies, accumulating over deep time like the fossil record. He provided a memorable summa to his cake-soft campaign, when he said at another campaign stop over the summer, ‘we choose truth over facts’. Biden has chosen an agonizingly senile and very public deterioration over a relaxing retirement.
Retirement is the very last thing Biden ought to consider though. No, instead Biden should be craned out of a cryogenic chamber every four years, ritually defrosted with great pomp and ceremony, and wheeled out to Des Moines to bitch at voters, a half-alive testament to the Democrats’ cack-handed response to the Trumpian moment. They could call it the Joe Biden Experience. It would be awfully similar to what Martin Amis said about reading Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Amis compared it to ‘an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies.’
There is almost a temptation to read something more into the Joe Biden Experience. You could talk about the graying of America’s political elite. You could ask why so many Boomers still squat atop the pyramids of social, economic and cultural capital. Maybe you could throw around the word ‘gerontocracy’ and show everybody that you went to college.
Or you could take a kind of savage gratification in this last, loony Biden candidacy. Biden says what he thinks, even if he doesn’t appear to have working grey matter, and for that he deserves small salutations. We will miss having a national figure willing to humiliate himself so publicly for our entertainment.