There’s a reason we’re having a conversation about President Biden’s mental capacity right at this moment, and it’s not because we’re going to come to a national consensus on a diagnosis. Voters are worried about Biden’s fitness because it’s an election year and they know that after November they will be forever in the dark about whether Biden’s in the dark.
That’s why their nerves are not settled by the fact that Biden’s mind isn’t completely gone. If and when Biden crosses a specific line into infirmity, no one’s going to tell them. The idea that the public will be kept informed as to the president’s declining health is, frankly, hilarious—and they know it.
When presidents decline, they are managed. The New York Times reports that in 2022, Biden’s wife Jill was furious at staff for letting the president decide when to end a news conference: “She asked the group, which included the president, why nobody stepped in to stop it, according to a person who was in the room. Where was the person, she demanded, who was supposed to end the news conference?”
When you go to a bar with friends, you may have a designated driver. For the State of the Union address, someone in the administration keeps their distance to be the designated survivor. And when Biden gives a news conference, there is a designated interrupter.
This isn’t Watergate. And look, some public officials could use a taxpayer-funded designated interrupter no matter the time of day. And Biden’s not braindead, though his memory decline is obvious. It’s a reminder that the president’s team has simply worked hard to only let the public get an unfiltered view of Biden when they’re sure he’s had his Wheaties. All we’re seeing right now is voters piping up at their only chance to do so. And telling them to shut up isn’t going to mollify them.
The president’s defenders have to understand that this is the moment to have the conversation because this is the moment when something can be done about it. The overly defensive think-pieces are getting sillier by the day, because they don’t even gesture at addressing this one salient point.
Take today’s New York Times op-ed in which Charan Ranganath argues that he is a professor of neuroscience and you aren’t. Put aside for the moment the sudden shaming of anyone attempting to diagnose the president’s mental capacity after encouraging it gleefully for four years. Ranganath gives us a perfect example of the nonargument we’ve been hearing of late: “Mr. Biden is the same age as Harrison Ford, Paul McCartney and Martin Scorsese. He’s also a bit younger than Jane Fonda (86) and a lot younger than Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett (93). All these individuals are considered to be at the top of their professions, and yet I would not be surprised if they are more forgetful and absent-minded than when they were younger.”
He’s younger than some actors! Not only that, but Harrison Ford once played the president in a movie, right? So what are we worried about? Last week, Nellie Bowles remarked that she experienced a lot of absentmindedness when she was pregnant, but she “was not president. And I’m afraid Joe Biden is not pregnant.”
The indignance toward voters for asserting themselves during an election is wild, and absolutely has got to stop. There is almost no White House tradition more religiously observed than covering up a president’s health problems. Voters know that, and pretending otherwise is flirting with electoral suicide—not to mention obnoxious.