Whither Joe Biden?
I know some of you think yesterday's devastating report is part of a canny Democratic plot to make him step down before the 2024 election. I don't. I think he's in trouble. And so are the Democrats.
We’ve all seen it. Maybe with a parent. Or grandparent. Even a spouse, for the unluckiest of us.
The slips are minor at first. The name of a friend forgotten, a birthday missed. An unsteady step. Then the problems become bigger and harder to miss. Memory gaps turn into sinkholes, missed steps into falls.
Eventually, the painful reality must be faced: Alzheimer’s, dementia, senility. By whatever name, the affliction is the wastage of time, progressive and devastating.
But if we - the onlookers, the outsiders - can hardly accept the slow erasure of memory and self, freedom and personhood, how difficult must it be for the sufferer?
Especially if that sufferer has spent his life in a race to become the world’s most powerful person - and has finally reached his goal. Only to have a federal prosecutor label him, in words that will haunt him and the country for as long as he is president, a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”
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The harder Joe Biden and his allies deny Robert Hur’s words, the harder they stick.
I’m not a doctor (though I am sometimes accused to pretending to be one). I wouldn’t presume to diagnose Biden. But I know this. We all know this. He is not well. He is 81, and not a young 81, whatever that means. In 2022, he fell off a bike; do you remember more casual Biden bike rides since? I don’t. Try to imagine him skiing. Or golfing.
Try to imagine him walking more than a few hundred feet.
Biden wanders as often as he walks. He shakes hands with the air. His voice is reedy and slow. He has trouble finding words. On Sunday, he reminisced about a meeting he’d had recently with Francois Mitterrand, the French president. Mitterrand has been dead since 1996.
Yesterday, I posted a picture of Biden from the summer of 2010. He looms over Michael Bloomberg. Like him or not, he looks vigorous.
That man is gone.
I posted on X this morning that even when he’s mad, Biden now seems to be auditioning for one of those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” ads. Maybe it was an unnecessarily cruel joke.
Then again, his minions forced Twitter to ban me and made me the butt of worldwide scorn by claiming I discouraged people from taking safe and effective vaccines for my own profit.
A few days later, he tried to strip 100 million American adults of the right to choose whether to be dosed with mRNA, and warned the unjabbed, “Our patience is wearing thin.”
So maybe it wasn’t.
The oldest person I’ve known was Gisa Dollinger, who escaped Austria in December 1938, just before the Nazis closed the borders to Jews forever. She was born in 1902, and already over 100 when we met. She lived down the hall in my East Village apartment building. (Rent stabilization is occasionally charming.)
She was going deaf but had all her faculties. She held on to them until she died in 2014, at the ripe age of 111. I went over to her apartment a couple of times a year to say hello and give her my novels (which, I swear, she read using a magnifying glass).
And she always said the same thing about getting old: Age is no bargain. Better to be alive, for sure, but to lose a little bit more of yourself every day was no fun. Especially since she couldn’t knew each piece was gone for good, once it vanished.
But Gisa Dollinger held on to her mind; she could see what was happening to her, even if she didn’t like it. She knew the bargain she’d made.
Does Joe Biden? Much less that he is making it not only for himself but 330 million Americans.
(In case you forgot.)
Some of you believe the special counsel’s report is part of a Democratic plot to force Biden out before the election, so the Democrats can nominate a stronger candidate in his place.
I don’t think so. Maybe Biden will have to go. But the Democratic Party would rather he didn’t. Perhaps replacing him would have been viable a year ago. But the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, and the Democrats did much better than either side expected in the midterms. Whatever pressure Biden faced to make way evaporated.
As a result, the Democrats do not have an obvious heir lined up.
Kamala Harris has the strongest institutional claim to the job, but she is barely able to function as vice-president. Yet if the Democrats dump a black woman who should be next in line, they will face enormous howls from their base. (Especially if they replace her with Gavin Newsom, the whitest man alive.)
If Biden goes, the knife fight that follows will be vicious - both among the people looking to replace him and with between the party’s progressive and moderate wings.
His team presumably figured that they could hide him, just as they’d hidden him in 2020. And that the election would turn into a referendum on Donald Trump, just as the 2020 election had been.
But even before the special counsel’s report, the cracks in that strategy were showing. Biden could barely appear in public without making an obvious gaffe.
Now Hur’s report has torn that plan to shreds.
Diminished faculties in advancing age. Unable to remember when his son died, or when he served as vice-president.
Biden can’t hide anymore. If he wants a second term, he will have to prove to his country and the world that those devastating words are not true and that he is fit to serve.
If in fact he is.