Dominic Green is deputy editor of The Spectator’s US edition.Joe Biden’s decline has become so painful to see and so embarrassing to watch that it feels cruel to mention it. But it’s even more cruel that Biden’s team act as if it’s not happening, and most of America’s media look the other way.
On Thursday night, Biden marked the first anniversary of the Covid-19 shutdowns and his fiftieth day in the White House by giving the first televised address of his presidency. He hadn’t been seen in public for three days, which is what he seems to require if he’s not to unravel before the cameras.
From the moment he wheezed up to the lectern and peered into the camera, you could tell Biden was on top form: croaky sentiment, sporadic belligerence, and only the occasional moment when he looked oddly distant and perplexed, as though he didn’t understand the words he was reading.
He got through twenty minutes, then tottered off without taking any questions or falling over his dog. This is how low the bar now is for Biden. And we can see how hard Biden has to fight, and what a long run-up he requires, if he is to clear it.
We can see it in his struggle to follow the simple lines on his autocue, and in his bungling of the simplest ad-libs. We see it in the clips of his increasingly desperate handlers trying to block him from questions at his rare and carefully managed appearances before the cameras. Most of all, we see it in his eyes.
Biden frequently looks afraid and lost. Anyone who has spent time with elderly people in the early stages of dementia knows that expression – and the sporadic and worsening loss of focus that causes it.
“What am I doing here?” Biden asked after fumbling his autocue lines in an address in Texas in late February. He reached for the cue cards that are now his constant companion. “I’m gonna lose track here.”
Biden’s supporters call him “gaffe-prone”. It’s true: he’s always thought with his mouth open. It’s also true that he bravely overcame a speech impediment in childhood, and that anxiety and age can cause a stutter to recur. But these aren’t gaffes or stutters.
Compare how he moves and sounds now to how he was a year ago, let alone five years ago. Biden looks and sounds frail. He seems visibly distressed at his inability to carry out the simplest requirements of office – and at a time when the requirements are simpler than usual.
When Biden dodged the press during last year’s election campaign, his aides called it Covid-19 precautions. As the pandemic ends, he will run out of excuses for not travelling. He doesn’t look capable of leading an international summit, let alone taking the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call.
Earlier this week, the Commander-in-Chief forgot the name of the largest department in the US government, the Department of Defense, as well as the name of the man he recently appointed as its leader, Lloyd Austin.
“Thank you to the Sec… the former general… I keep calling him general… my… my… the guy who runs that outfit over there,” he flailed.
Biden is the first President in decades to reach fifty days in office without giving a press conference. He missed giving the traditional speech to Congress in February. His handlers refuse to name when he might talk to the press, and only offer that it’s “something he will do in the future”.
There’s only one possible explanation. Biden’s team don’t trust him to manage one of the simplest requirements of modern political office. But they know they can’t defer the reckoning.
The longer Biden waits, the more newsworthy his delayed appearance will be, and the greater the scrutiny of his performance. And once Biden has surrendered to the rising expectation that he speak live and unscripted, he will be expected to do it again, and again, just like any other President.
This presidency is turning into a theatre of cruelty. It can only end one way. Sooner or later, Biden will be caught in the spotlight. The Democrats who promoted an unfit candidate to America’s highest office, and the media who covered for him, will be exposed as having betrayed their responsibilities to the American people. The people’s trust in democratic institutions will decline further. And we will all be party to Biden’s public humiliation.
But it’s even more cruel that Biden’s team act as if it’s not happening, and most of America’s media look the other way.
I have a subscription to the Washington Post.
No mention of it there.