There are few ironclad rules in American politics. But here is one: if you are a Republican, no tactic is too disreputable to be deployed against you. I think for example, of the disgusting campaign waged to keep Judge Robert Bork from the Supreme Court in the 1980s. ‘Lion of the Senate’ Ted Kennedy led that charge (‘in Robert Bork’s America…’), though he was aided by a young senator named Joe Biden. Journalists went through Bork’s trash and reviewed the movies he rented for incriminating evidence.
Other campaigns of vilification against Republican Supreme Court nominees include the one conducted against Clarence Thomas and, most recently, the extraordinary full-court press against Brett Kavanaugh.
But the calumny is directed not just against judicial nominees. Every Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan has been compared to Hitler (‘literally Hitler‘) by the left. Even the Grecian Formula candidate, Mitt Romney, was made an honorary Nazi during his campaign for president in 2012. (Joe Biden got in on the action then by warning blacks that he would put ‘y’all back in chains’.
One of the few efforts to elevate the tenor of partisan debate — or at least to install a floor below which rhetoric would not trespass — is the Goldwater Rule, so-called because it was instituted after some of the disgusting treatment accorded to Barry Goldwater in his 1964 presidential campaign.
Today, what most people remember about that campaign was the extraordinary ‘Daisy‘ attack ad implying that a vote for Barry Goldwater was a vote for nuclear holocaust.
But perhaps even more repulsive was the weaponization of the psychiatric fraternity against Goldwater. In 1964, Fact magazine, a short-lived quarterly, published an anti-Goldwater screed entitled ‘The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater’ (deliberately echoing Goldwater’s manifesto The Conscience of a Conservative). The magazine broadcast under the rubric ‘fact’ the contention that ‘1,189 psychiatrists say Goldwater is psychologically unfit to be president!’
It did the trick, or at least helped, for Goldwater lost in a landslide. But you know how psychiatrists are. They felt guilty for stooping to such a repellent ploy and subsequently formulated ‘the Goldwater Rule’. ‘It is unethical,’ the rule states, ‘for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.’
Ha, you are probably thinking, Ha, ha, ha. What about the 350 ‘health professionals’ who signed a petition that President Trump’s mental health was deteriorating during the impeachment hearings? What about The Dangerous Case Of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President?
The truth is, the Goldwater Rule really only applies to Democrats. Therefore it should be scrapped.
The real impetus for doing so, by the way, is not the skeins of slander and cascade of calumny that greet Republicans, even soggy milquetoast Republicans like Mitt ‘Mr Character’ Romney. No, the real impulse for doing so is the obvious and increasingly alarming mental incapacity of the presumptive Democratic front-runner, Joe Biden.
Some people dismiss evidence of Biden’s incapacity as just a matter of ‘gaffes’, little mental hiccups of no consequence. They aren’t ‘gaffes’, i.e., simple mistakes. They are tokens of serious mental incapacity. Judge for yourself. Here’s Biden from a couple of weeks ago announcing that he is running for the US Senate (ah, the good old days).
Or how about his claim that ‘150 million‘ Americans have been killed by guns since 2007? Or here he is trying to get his mind (and his mouth) around the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men and women are created, by the, you know the, you know the thing.’ And here he is trying to ask for support but actually saying that ‘we can only reelect Donald Trump’.
James Piereson has pointed out that Joe Biden bears a strong resemblance to the bumbling, out-of-it character portrayed by Tommy Smothers. That’s true enough, and it is hard not to laugh when you watch Smoothers’s impersonation of a simpleton.
But then you remember that Joe Biden is running to be the president of the United States. Perhaps an even closer parallel than the dunce-like character Tommy Smothers portrays is the character of ‘Chance the gardener’ — understood by the influential people who rescued him to be ‘Chauncey Gardener’, adviser to the president and then, as the movie ends, the establishment’s choice to be be president.
It’s funny in a movie. Not so funny when you think of what Biden would be like as the first magistrate of America. I have often wondered whether there any limits to the cynicism of the Democrats in their insatiable thirst for power. Their willingness to put up a sad old man in an obvious state of mental collapse provides us with a test case. We’ll see what happens as the primary season goes forward. In the meantime, it is time to scrap the Goldwater Rule.
Biden’s supporters insist that the alarm at their candidate’s mental state is misplaced and that he is in fact ‘functioning at 100 percent’. The really alarming contingency is that they might be right.
This article is in The Spectator’s April 2020 US edition.