The question posed in the headline of this story is an important one for obvious and sundry reasons — the president of the United States has control over the world’s most powerful military, to take one of the more obvious — and it’s one being debated by many in Washington and across the country.
This same question was also debated when Donald Trump held the White House, with the Resistance grifters, i.e. Rachel Maddow, Scott Dworkin, Eric Garland, Amy Siskind, James Comey, and other Democrats furiously promoting the idea that Trump was crazy or mentally incapacitated, and as a result should be removed from office. But while Trump clearly had a personality disorder, was a textbook narcissist and spoke recklessly, all which posed multiple problems, he was not senile and his brain, if not his ideas, was relatively sharp.
That’s not as clear with Biden, who, as everyone knows, frequently sounds as if he should be immediately dispatched to the nearest retirement home where he can be spoon fed apple sauce and be placed in a corner to babble away. “Um, you know there’s a, uh, during World War II, uh, you know, where Roosevelt came up with a thing, that uh, you know, was totally different, than a, than the, he called it the, you know, the WWII, he had the War Production Board,” he said in a CNN interview, which may not even be in the Top Ten of his most bizarre public riffs.
Naturally, many of the people promoting the idea that Biden is senile are disreputable conservatives and pathological liars who can’t be trusted on anything. That includes loathsome Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who said, when Biden addressed Congress, that the president was “a 78-year-old man losing his grip.” Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins Jr., who’s conservative but not a bottom feeder like Carlson, has described Biden as “a man of diminished capacities” who is “making himself a prop for an agenda that he may not quite grasp.”
Alana Goodman (disclosure: a friend) writes for the conservative Washington Free Beacon, but she’s a terrific reporter, not an ideologue. She raised the issue of Biden’s cognitive decline in an article published last September, “‘Not The Same Joe Biden’: White House Stenographer Says Former VP’s ‘Mental Acuity’ Has Deteriorated.”
Goodman spoke with Mike McCormick, who “worked as a White House stenographer for 15 years and with Biden from 2011 to 2017.” He told Goodman, “He’s lost a step and he doesn’t seem to have the same mental acuity as he did four years ago.” The story continued:
McCormick—who often traveled with Biden and transcribed his speeches, public conversations with foreign leaders, and off-the-record media briefings for the official White House record—said the vice president had a talent for connecting with audiences when he was in office and almost always veered off script from his pre-written speeches. Biden’s physical stamina and cognitive health have come under scrutiny during the 2020 election, due to a series of speaking appearances in which the 77-year-old has appeared to lose his train of thought, struggled to finish a sentence, or forgotten where he is.
Naturally, all this will be written off by many Democrats, liberals and Biden’s army of media admirers as partisan reporting and pure bullshit. “An allegedly senile Joe Biden keeps succeeding,” was the headline for a fawning Chicago Tribune column by Steve Chapman yesterday. “If the 2020 campaign proved anything, it’s that underestimating Biden is hazardous,” Chapman wrote. “But Republicans persist in depicting him as a decrepit specimen who is wholly inadequate to his presidential responsibilities.”
But it’s obvious to any honest observer that Biden, like most people his age but more — I’d trust my 92-year-old father more with control of the nuclear launch codes than I do the current occupant of the Oval Office — is in, at minimum, an advanced state of cognitive decline. Is he a babbling idiot, have Alzheimer’s, or utterly senile?
No, he’s not. But I’ve spoken with Democrats, Republicans and independents about this issue and many agree with McCormick that Biden is, to put it politely, not all there.
This is not surprising given Biden’s age and the physical and mental toll he’s endured over the years. “Senator Joe Biden sits in his office with a ‘Welcome Back’ sign following surgery for two brain aneurysms in 1988,” read the caption for a picture from an ABC item at the time. “He also suffered a pulmonary embolism while recuperating and did not return to the Senate for several months.”
Back in 1972, Biden’s first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, and his one-year-old daughter, Naomi, died in a car crash. The couple’s two young sons, Beau and Hunter, “were critically injured but survived the wreck.” In 2015, Beau Biden tragically died of brain cancer.
The travails of Hunter Biden, a former crackhead — and it must be said here that if he was Black and poor, he’d have been in prison long ago thanks to the 1994 Crime Bill that Biden championed — and pussy hound, have surely created serious stress for Biden. That’s not only due to the fear that his son could die of an overdose, but also the political risk Hunter’s antics posed to his father. All of this would have created severe anxiety and pressure for Biden, and taken a serious mental toll.
It’s also obvious, when contrasting Biden’s mental acuity now with when he was a young politician, that the man’s brainpower has dropped spectacularly. Of course, you’d expect that to some extent over such a long period of time, but in his case it’s dramatic and clearly a cause for concern. Back during that earlier period of time, Biden, whatever you thought of his politics, was intelligent, vigorous and quick on his feet, as can be seen in reviewing his old public appearances. Skip to about the 1:30 minute mark of this 1974 video of Biden speaking about campaign finance reform and you’ll see what I mean.
Yeah, I know, he was only 32, but he remained sharp and incisive long after that. During the Democratic debates in 2007 — just 14 years ago — he offered up one of the best and most brutal political takedowns ever. “Rudy Giuliani, probably the most under qualified person since George Bush to seek the presidency, is here,” he said. “I mean think about it, Rudy Giuliani, there’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun and a verb and 9/11 and I mean, there’s nothing else. There’s nothing else.”
Today, he has no energy as a speaker and can barely string two sentences together, which is why his media handlers have him on strict lockdown and tightly control his public appearances. “In his 30’s and 40’s, Biden couldn’t stay on script,” one journalist who has closely observed him told me. “Now the risk is that he goes off script.”
So how serious is Biden’s cognitive decline and what sort of risks does it pose? Well, first it must be said that Biden is mentally frail and at the age of 78 he’s clearly in the latter years of his life. That said, he could live another 20 years and, physically, he might be able to run for reelection in 2024, assuming he’s still alive.
Whether he’d be mentally vigorous enough at that point is very much an open question. Biden’s no Senator Dianne Feinstein, who’s 87 and closing in on 88, and clearly brain-addled. She has her good days, but on the bad ones, which are plenty, she’s totally out to lunch.
I’ve spoken to a number of people about Biden and the consensus is that Biden is not senile or mentally incapacitated, but even the most positive believe there are very troubling signs, and that matters will worsen during the rest of his term. The positive types acknowledge his decline but say he can be very sharp in private, and that his dimming candlepower is largely to be expected given his age.
Still, that’s perturbing given that he’s already mentally wobbly and he’d be 82 at the end of his first term. It’s unlikely he’d be able to run for reelection, which sets up the ghastly scenario of the cipher Kamala Harris being the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Biden’s bad enough. (Harris is such an awful candidate, as seen in her 2020 flameout campaign run, that she’s no shoo-in for the nomination and could easily lose to a Republican candidate in the general election. That’s partly because of her terrible campaign skills and obvious phoniness, but also because, let’s face it, there is a segment of the US male population, and not just the far-right loony tunes, who will not vote for a woman, and certainly not a woman of color.)
There’s a less charitable view of Biden, which I share in part. One person I spoke to noted that his shuffling gait and the entirely strange manner in which he walks — he doesn’t move his arms while in motion but keeps them pressed to his side — is odd. The shuffling gait in particular could be a sign of neurological issues or a brain disorder like Parkinson’s.
I’ll emphasize “could” because diagnosing him in this way, just like people who diagnosed Trump as being near death after returning to the White House following his bout with Covid, is not a reliable form of making a medical determination. I’d also discount the right-wing frenzy when he tripped three times getting onto a plane. That can happen to the best of us, including a healthy, fit 20-year-old. (Like me, for example.)
So, to answer the question posed in the headline: No, President Biden is not senile or mentally incapacitated, nor does he have Alzheimer’s.
But that doesn’t mean he is of sound body or (especially) mind. He is mentally frail, dodges the media by necessity, and, if I had to bet, he will not run for reelection because of these issues. If Biden is too far gone in 2024 to know this, his family will gently tell him it’s time to go home.