‘He ran twice for president and lost when he didn’t have dementia,’ a veteran Democratic party operative remarked to me earlier in the year apropos Joe Biden. ‘So why should we think he’d win now he does have dementia?’ It was a fair question, to which the answer could be: (a) maybe he does have dementia, but so what? Ronald Reagan had dementia for at least part of his presidency (how early this manifested is open to argument — first or second term?) and they name airports and ugly buildings after him; or (b) he doesn’t have dementia, having been prone to making mendacious and/or ludicrous remarks, politely termed ‘gaffes’ by a deferential press, for decades.
Under the second interpretation, utterances such as a stated preference for ‘truth over facts’ or the whopper about the Parkland shooting survivors coming to see him when he was vice president, are par for the Biden course, up there with yesterday’s hits such as appropriating the ancestral history of a British politician (himself a loser) and framing it in even more fatuous terms: ‘I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree.’
There are sound arguments for both points of view. He seems angrier these days, often a symptom of frustration attendant on advancing senility, but on balance, I think the (b) side has it. Someone who knows him well put it to me this way: ‘He’s lost considerable speed on his cognitive fastball but he’s not senile by a long shot. He’s a very prideful man so this claim makes him furious.’ Recalling time spent with Biden on the 2008 campaign trail, my friend recalled how ‘off the cuff, his shtick came out different every time, sometimes telling punchlines to stories he forgot to set up. It was only when Plouffe [Obama’s campaign manager] had him in a straitjacket and Axelrod had a gun to his head that he managed to remain somewhat disciplined and on a 15-minute campaign script.’ Even so, he bridled at such curbs on his ramblings. His staff, fearful that he would be dropped from the ticket, fretfully urged him to remember ‘three words: Air Force Two’.
Each time we’re exposed to the latest clanger, therefore, we are getting a clear view of the inside of our former vice president’s head, unclouded by medical issues, and it’s not a pretty sight. The mendacity, for example is on frequent, unshaded display. Wounded by Kamala Harris’s barbs on the topic of busing in the first debate, he pled in mitigation that he had never opposed busing per se, merely its deployment by the federal government where segregation was not being officially enforced.
This was a straightforward lie, since the record shows he fought busing in all instances, and even supported legislation to prevent the federal government promoting it (a trailer to his sincere alliance with Southern segregationists, notably the old Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, in efforts to lock up as many black people as possible) — initiatives he now strives to obscure. Similarly, he now claims to have opposed George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and that his potent vote as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in favor of war was merely a maneuver to pressure Saddam, though a click or two confirms he was an ardent and consistent hawk. ‘Let loose the dogs of war,’ he declared on the eve of the invasion. ‘I am confident we can win.’ Even more brazenly, this lifelong handmaiden of the usurious credit card industry has claimed ‘the most progressive record of anyone…running’.
This fractious relationship with the truth has certainly attracted comment, though never at the volume of the (well-deserved) abuse hurled at Donald Trump for similar infractions, but it serves to obscure Biden’s sheer ineptitude. Thus he serially touts his supposed skills in dealing with Republicans, to whom he never fails to refer in affectionate terms, even asserting that the consequent cordial relations lead to advantageous results for his position. In the current campaign he has boasted that he got Mitch McConnell to agree to $600 billion in new taxes in 2012.
At issue in those negotiations were the tax cuts passed under the younger Bush and opposed by Democrats, which were due to expire. But instead of letting them die a well-merited natural death, thereby accruing $3 trillion to the public purse, Biden was maneuvered by McConnell into agreeing to making the cuts permanent, save for the sweetener of $600 billion. Even so, he somehow retains a reputation for sagacity, especially in the field of foreign affairs, despite the unfortunate consequences for those parts of the world on which his ‘expertise’ has been inflicted. Isis prospered in Iraq thanks in part to Biden’s wholehearted support for the divisively sectarian prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, while the peoples of Central America, a region which like Iraq was entrusted to Biden’s care by Obama, have had to endure the effects of his ill-judged interventions, most especially the unfortunate Hondurans ruled by Biden’s friend, president and accused narco-trafficker Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Ukraine was similarly entrusted to his bungling oversight: who could forget his dismissal of the public prosecutor who was investigating son Hunter Biden’s questionable business dealings in that country?
Any of these examples, plucked from a surfeit of similar cases, should serve to eliminate him as a serious presidential contender. But if the Democratic establishment has its way, none of them will. Devotees of the entirely questionable notion that the 2018 victories were thanks to moderate, corporate-friendly platforms promoted by winning candidates in suburban districts (progressive candidates in similar races did just as well), the party powers-that-be quiver in terror at the prospect of a progressive ticket headed by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, and pin their hopes on Biden while striving to crush the prospects of any progressive congressional candidate.
In contemplating this sorry spectacle, we should reserve a shred of sympathy for he who serves as the central pillar of Biden’s platform. As someone noted of Biden’s stump speech (rarely delivered, it must be said, given his minders’ fear of the embellishments he may dream up on the spur of an addlepated moment): in essence it runs ‘subject, verb, Obama’.
As Obama himself realized, this inevitably makes his record as president fair game for Biden’s Democratic rivals, as was apparent in the second debate. Hence his reported efforts to talk his old team-mate out of running in the first place. The rest of us have good reason to wish he had succeeded.
This article is in The Spectator’s October 2019 US edition.