Joe Biden is the face of the United States. But Joe Biden no longer looks like Joe Biden. And he no longer sounds like Joe Biden — especially in the long and excruciating silences when he forgets what he’s saying or fumbles for his cue cards.
The United States no longer looks like itself either. The sorry theatrical display of Biden’s first press conference is an accurate image of what has happened to American democracy. A carefully limited number of carefully selected journalists asked carefully vetted questions. A carefully chosen president read carefully written answers off his cue cards, and carefully avoided taking any questions from Fox or Newsmax.
The White House is no longer the home of democracy. It’s a reality TV series in a care home. Biden mused about how the country has lost its way, about how it used to be so much better, but he seemed fatalistically feeble, as if it was all too much and all too late, and he has already given up. As if the nation is in its twilight years.
‘We’ve got so much more to do,’ he said, as he continually does. But he also ad-libbed, ‘I’ve never been able to plan three-and-a-half, four years ahead.’
How funny. How sadly reflective of the senility of American democracy that he thought that was a smart answer. How shamefully embarrassing for the compliant, complicit media that not one of his questioners bothered to ask whether an inability to plan for the future was what the American people need in their president — especially a 78-year-old who says he expects to run, if that is really the word, in 2024, when he will be 82.
It’s true, Biden managed not to fall off the dais, or go completely blank, or fall over his dog. It’s true, he matched the topics on his cue cards to the subjects of the questions. But this press conference was nerve-wracking and enervating to watch. It’s obvious that Biden’s mind often has no idea what his mouth is saying. This press conference was supposed to dampen concerns about his mental acuity. Instead it confirmed that Biden is too old and complacent for the scale of the task.
He was, as old people tend to be, lucid in recalling details from his past. He was, as people whose minds are running down tend to be, unable to say anything coherent and spontaneous beyond quavering sentimentality. And that is not enough.
Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins if the filibuster was ‘a relic of the Jim Crow era’, he said, ‘Yes.’ This invited the obvious follow-up: what was he going to do? Biden looked aghast, and eventually coughed out some nonsense about ‘successful electoral politics is the art of the possible’ — as if he hasn’t already won an election by campaigning against ‘systematic racism’. Mr Unity then changed the subject by shouting about how the Republicans were ‘sick, sick’.
Asked whether he would keep Trump’s tariffs on China, ban the import of forced-labor products from China and limit Chinese investment and access to the international finance system on human rights’ grounds, Biden fiddled with his notes and delivered a scripted answer that didn’t touch on any of these questions, with a deviation into a rambling and irrelevant reminiscence about how long he’s known Xi Jinping.
Asked about whether he’d get around to honoring his campaign promise to bring in gun control legislation on his first day in office, Biden talked about infrastructure, reeling off pointless statistics from his cards about the number of broken bridges in America and how ‘six to 10 million’ American homes get their water through lead pipes. As if that proved Mr Memory’s mastery of the facts.
When it came to the border fiasco, Biden became angry at the young, darker-skinned women who had the temerity to ask him questions. When Univision’s Janet Rodriguez asked about the thousands of children which Biden’s administration are holding in what Democrats used to call ‘concentration camps’, he went off on a tangent about people in Guatemala ‘sitting at a hand-hewn table’, thinking it would be fun to emigrate to the US, then bungled whether it was 1,000 or 100,000 migrants he was talking about. Imagine the outcry if Donald Trump had said that.
After this obnoxious outburst, Biden wandered off, literally, to tell an aide he’d had enough, before returning to the mic to give an angry diatribe about his Irish great-grandfather. ‘This is a…’ he concluded, as the seconds went by, ‘but I’m really working.’
And he is. This was Biden at his peak. But it won’t work, because he’s not up to it. The idea that he wants a second series is laughable. Unfortunately, the joke is on us. Which is why no one will be laughing harder than Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.