They’ve finally found a way to make Joe Biden look young and vigorous: put him next to a Jimmy Carter doll. It’s elder abuse, though I’m not sure who’s being abused here.

I had thought that the most alarming image of this year would be the one of the QAnon shaman at the Speaker’s desk in the Capitol Building. But the photo of Joe and Dr Jill with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter really is a riot. The Bidens look like ventriloquists, dropping by a seniors’ center to cheer up the inmates. The Carters look like dolls, awaiting the insertion of their owners’ hands so that they can jump into jerky life.

This is the official photo, selected by the Carter Center. We have to wonder what obscenities are contained in the outtakes. Did Joe and Dr Jill lever Jimmy and Rosalynn onto their knees and go into a Punch-and-Judy routine? Did Jimmy and Rosalynn go rogue like Fats, the foul-mouthed dummy in the movie Magic, who turns on his creator, Corky, played by Anthony Hopkins? Will the shade of Shari Lewis be taking over the press office at the State Department and issuing threats to China via Lamb Chop?

The official explanation is that the Bidens dropped by because the Carters could not attend the President’s inauguration. The political explanation is that Biden wants to firm up the Democrats’ grip on Georgia. He also wants to keep the Democratic left happy for as long as he can, before he makes the inevitable turn to the center before the midterms. This is the usual harmless puppeteering.

What’s unusual is Biden’s faith that he can promote a presidency by association with Carter. The public and the experts agree on very little in America these days, but they’re unanimous about the pontificating peanut farmer. Everybody agrees that Jimmy Carter was a one-term disaster.

The clown in a cardigan was America’s worst postwar president: total ineptitude at home and total ineptitude abroad. Perhaps it took a perverse talent to achieve so comprehensive a failure in such a short time. It certainly takes limitless self-regard to follow a failed presidency with an endless world tour of lecturing lesser peoples on their failures, as Carter has done with the risibly-named Elders group, the Traveling Wilburys of politics.

Who wants to repeat the Carter disaster and don the cardigan of shame? What kind of idiot would think the country would be better off by adopting Carter policies such as reckless spending and tax raises at home, reckless accommodation of Iran abroad, and cosmic doom about energy and the environment?

No one, apart from the Muppets of the editorial board of the New York Times, greedy corporatists and sinecured bureaucrats across the nation, the devious loonies who run Iran, the Seventies-retro left of the Democratic party, and Barack Obama and his cultists. Biden gave all of these lovers of the American way everything they wanted in his first hundred days – despite winning the narrowest of victories last November.

So who is the puppet here and who the puppeteer? Biden campaigned on ‘unity’ and restoring normality after the procedural depravities of the Trump years, but he has governed southpaw-style. He leads with his left at every opportunity. Or is it that the left are leading him?

Biden is physically feeble and mentally erratic. His entire career has been an exercise in the amoral pursuit of power and wealth; normal for DC, perhaps. It’s an insult to the public’s intelligence for Biden to talk as if he has sincerely undergone a late-life conversion, and that the candidate who boasted of facing down Corn Pop now thinks like Ibram X. Kendi.

The left are pulling Biden’s strings. His administration is an Obama restoration. As Obama’s sought to undo the triangulating accommodations of the Clinton years and pick up where Jimmy Carter left off, so Obama’s people are now picking up where they and Obama left off after being so rudely interrupted by Donald Trump.

This is Biden’s administration in name only. His lips are moving, but he neither thinks nor understands the words he says, and his delivery is wooden. This seems to suit him just fine. The voters, though, are as likely to put up with high taxation, low growth, international humiliation and all-round malaise as Jimmy Carter is to take up tap-dancing.

The Democratic left aren’t going to like it when Biden turns to the center next year in an effort to save the thin Democratic majority in the House. They won’t like it either if Biden doesn’t see electoral sense, because the result will be a wipe-out that cripples his presidency. As Anthony Hopkins discovers in Magic, the puppet can turn murderous if it doesn’t get what it wants.