It’s said that if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t really there. I, uh, don’t think that’s Joe Biden’s issue.
In the latest gaffe from the Democratic front-runner, Biden told an audience in Iowa he remembered when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic Party presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy were killed — except he got the decade wrong.
According to The Daily Caller, the latest blunder happened while Biden was speaking in Urbandale, Iowa.
“Just like in my generation when I got out of school, when Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King had been assassinated, in the ’70s, late ’70 when I got engaged,” Biden said.
“Um, you know, up to that time remember – none of you women will know this but a couple men may remember – that was a time in the early, late ’60s, early ’60s and ’60s where it was drop out, go to Haight-Asbury [sic], don’t get engaged, don’t trust anybody over 30,” he continued.
So, maybe the hippies weren’t so wrong on trusting people over a certain age? Maybe it’s not 30, but this is getting painful. And that’s not even touching that inscrutable “none of you women will know this” line.
Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were killed roughly two months apart in 1968, of course, with King being killed by a sniper as he stood on the balcony of his Memphis hotel room in April and Kennedy being killed shortly after giving his victory speech upon winning the California primary in June.
The Daily Caller noted that Biden was later able to correctly identify the 1960s as the decade during which he attended college and law school, so at least he got that one.
Part of why this is news is the mere schadenfreude of watching Biden commit gaffes, something that’s long been a fun bit of sport for conservatives and even the odd liberal with a sense of humor about these things. (Rare, I know.)
However, it’s difficult to tell whether these gaffes are becoming more frequent and more problematic now that Biden is older, or that they just seem that way because he’s running a high-profile presidential candidacy in the social media age and those gaffes are being magnified.
It’s also difficult to tell whether there’s actually a substantive difference in terms of how it affects public perceptions of Biden.
Yes, Uncle Joe’s said and done stupid and creepy stuff before. The infamous 7-Eleven quote is probably his lowest verbal moment and his description of Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” probably would have kept him off the ticket in 2008 if Obama didn’t need to prove to the Democratic Party’s establishment types that he was a safe bet.
There are also his non-verbal gaffes, like, oh, any number of his interactions with women. Those seem to have ceased roughly about the time numerous women came forward to make it clear his “affectionate” nature wasn’t appreciated.
The verbal gaffes, meanwhile, have kept right on coming.
Biden told an audience at an Asian and Latino Coalition town hall on education that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
He mixed up the names of British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May — twice. The United Kingdom now has a prime minister with a Y chromosome, so there are any number of potential men who’ve held the office he can confuse Albion’s current head of state with, from Winston Churchill to Benjamin Disraeli. Odds are he just calls him “Boris Natasha,” though.
He mixed up the cities in which two major mass shootings happened, saying they took place in Houston and Michigan as opposed to El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
He mixed up the address for his campaign website and his campaign’s text message number, telling those watching the last debate to go to “Joe 30330.”
And, in my personal favorite Bidenism, he told a confused audience “we choose truth over facts.”
Oops: Biden says “we choose truth over facts” pic.twitter.com/bkohPsOmJC
— Natasha Korecki (@natashakorecki) August 8, 2019
That would be a stunning assemblage of faux pas if it happened over the course of a campaign. Therein lies the problem, though: Almost everything I’ve said here has happened within the past month. (Biden’s first Thatcher/May mix-up happened in May, but the second instance came in August.)
Biden is 76 years old and has been in electoral politics in some shape or form since 1972, a year in which Richard Nixon won a landslide victory and seemed on track to go down as one of the most effective and best-remembered presidents of the 20th century.
That length of time is an uncomfortable fact to bring up, particularly since Biden has always been an industrial-strength gaffe machine. But here’s the thing — it could be that the former vice president is every bit as sharp as he was when he was a freshman senator from Delaware. Much like Brian Wilson, Uncle Joe may just not be made for these times.
In politics in the social media era, you either have to be exceptionally polished or you have to have the kind of personality that can overcome a lack of polish. Preferably, you’re possessed of both. Biden has neither.
Biden isn’t a politician like Kamala Harris who — when the first round of Democrat debates degenerated into a crosstalk squabble — can pull out a well-rehearsed line like “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on the table.” Nor is he a Donald Trump, someone who relies on personality and energy to overcome his gaffes.
In an age where every mistake is tweeted in seconds and amplified exponentially within minutes, Biden is the wrong kind of old-style politician. He can’t save himself from himself, either through caution or through vigor.
Of course, the other possibility is still very much in play: That the former vice president is a high-mileage Beltway specimen and that the frequency of these strange verbal breakdowns isn’t just a matter of our imagination or social media.
If that’s the case, the Democrats are — at least they hope they are — co-signing their nominee for an eight-year stay in the White House. If this is what diminishing returns looks like for Joe Biden in 2019, what will happen during the 2024 campaign? Or (perish the thought) if he’s in the White House in 2028?
To steal an old campaign line from Hubert Humphrey — you know, the guy who ran for the Democrats in 1968 — this would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
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