It’s not with pleasure, I hope, that we talk about Joe Biden’s patently obvious diminishing returns.
Some of his gaffes have been laugh-worthy, sure. The idea that the record player, if left on at night, could end institutional segregation. Mistaking his wife for his sister at the rostrum after his Super Tuesday victories. That sort of thing is worth a retweet and a grin.
And then there’s the more disturbing stuff. The phrase “lying dog-faced pony solider” — used by Biden several times on the campaign trail when met with a questioner he didn’t like — was never uttered in a John Wayne movie as Biden claimed, nor was it an expression appropriate to apply to a female student at a New Hampshire campaign event, as Biden did.
At other points on the campaign trail, the former vice president has appeared to have been unable to remember former President Barack Obama’s name or the most well-known part of the Declaration of Independence.
The most recent instance that could call Biden’s mental reserves into question came Tuesday during one of those glad-handing events at a Michigan auto plant that any candidate who wants to win the state must endure. When faced with a worker who confronted him on Second Amendment rights, Biden decided to curse the man out and threaten him, which was probably the least effective way to deal with things considering the panoply of cameras surrounding him.
Both the Trump and Sanders camps have been bringing this up in recent weeks, which is why Nancy LeTourneau of Washington Monthly took it upon herself to tell us all this is “disinformation.” She proves this, at the end of an article published last week, by linking to a report on Biden’s health … in which his cognitive functions weren’t tested.
LeTourneau begins with reporting by Steve Friess in Newsweek on a document circulating among Sanders supporters regarding post-Super Tuesday talking points, which says there will be “heightened scrutiny on Biden’s record and obvious cognitive decline.” The Sanders camp denies it came from any of their people.
However, LeTourneau says “[t]he message is obviously getting out there,” with proof from tweets by Sanders supporters and surrogates:
The steadfast, wilful refusal of Dem political & media elites to address what is increasingly visible to the naked eye — Biden’s serious cognitive decline — is frightening indeed, not only for what it portends for 2020 but what it says about the ease of snapping them into line: https://t.co/InZzCja99x
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 5, 2020
Democratic insiders know Biden has cognitive decline issues. They joke about it. They don’t care.
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) March 6, 2020
“All of this feels very familiar,” LeTourneau wrote. “During the 2016 election, both Trump and the Sanders camp attempted to paint Hillary Clinton as corrupt. Now, both sides have teamed up on an attack against Biden.”
I suspect more than a few people stopped reading at the thought that impugning Hillary Clinton — a public servant whose record is as pure as the driven snow, of course — with insinuations of corruption was fake news. LeTourneau then goes on to “define the terms” of cognitive impairment, which consists of block-quoting part of the Mayo Clinic’s webpage on it. (It’s here if you’re interested; I wouldn’t be.)
That counts as evidence this is all “disinformation.” The second piece of evidence is Biden’s three-page health report, in which “his doctor declared he is a ‘healthy, vigorous’ 77-year-old fully capable of taking on the role of president.”
This is from a Washington Post article published in December. LeTourneau then block-quotes a bit from Stuart Jay Olshansky, described by The Post as “a professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago who analyzes the longevity of presidents.”
“The only test that hasn’t been done is the cognitive functioning test,” Olshansky added. “But the fact that he’s on the campaign trail and meeting a rigorous travel and meeting schedule probably would suffice as a replacement for the formal test for cognitive functioning.”
At that point, everyone stopped reading.
I applaud LeTourneau for including that qualification, but why write the article at this point? Olshansky’s reasoning for overlooking the lack of a cognitive functioning test is because of Biden’s performance on the campaign trail. The reason the cognitive functioning test is so vital to LeTourneau’s article is because of Biden’s performance on the campaign trail. Surely even she saw the paradox.
Pointing readers toward an article that literally states Biden was tested on everything but his cognitive functions is a humiliating rhetorical mistake. (The fact that LeTourneau didn’t see fit to mention that President Donald Trump “aced” his own cognitive skills test could well have been deliberate deception.)
You’ve heard the rest of LeTourneau’s arguments before. Biden has a stutter, and stutters manifest themselves in multifarious ways, which include word replacement. Except Biden has, as he told The Atlantic, dealt with stuttering all his life.
Compare Biden’s gaffes in 2020 with Biden’s gaffes in the past. It’s not the magnifying glass of being a presidential contender that make them different, I don’t think.
In the past, Biden’s gaffes were mistakes of excess energy, an ebullience that sometimes led him down roads better left unexplored. His 2020 gaffes seem like they’re coming from a man who could use a nap.
LeTourneau also block-quotes anti-Trump Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee (although she misspells Lee’s given name), repeating Lee’s claim that, “I do not diagnose without examination and do not speak about public figures in general, unless there is evidence of such profound danger to public health and well-being because of serious signs of mental instability in a public servant, that it would be a public disservice not to share the knowledge and training that I have. Biden has not risen to this threshold…”
Considering the source, this is every bit as convincing as if Jill Biden had said it.
Lee has a well-established bias; she once suggested, in all seriousness, that not only should Nancy Pelosi call the authorities to have a mental health hold put on President Donald Trump but that she was derelict in her duty as a public servant to have not done so.
This, folks, is essentially LeTourneau’s evidence that talk about Biden’s fitness is “disinformation.”
There are many — especially in politics and journalism — who have an inveterate ability to summon the language necessary to discredit any information they may find unpleasant.
“Disinformation” is a word, I suspect, that’s going to be very popular among that set this election season. It’s the new “fake news,” now that “fake news” has been appropriated. “Disinformation” summons visions of dodgy Moldovan websites spreading wild-eyed conspiracy theories or a shirtless Alex Jones yelling something about Biden and reptilians. It allows you to wave away concerns like these as the invention of political hacks.
But in the case of Biden, the “disinformation” appellation doesn’t make the visual and auditory evidence any less compelling. It’s not just the eye test that serves as evidence, either. It’s no secret that Biden’s speeches have been getting shorter — even The Washington Post has pointed it out — and it’s not difficult to guess the reason why Biden’s people have made that change.
I can’t make Joe Biden take a cognitive functioning test, nor can I guess at the results. I can tell when I would want a politician asking for my vote to take one — and so, I think, can a lot of other Americans who are watching the gaffes accrue at the same pace Joe Biden’s delegate count does.
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