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Accommodating Biden’s Decline

July 6, 2024  |  887 words  |  Politics  

President Biden did an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that was broadcast last night, one week after his disastrous debate performance.  He again sounded tired, looked weak, and gave less-than-cogent answers.  So instead of quelling concerns, it prompted a fresh round of calls for him to suspend his campaign for re-election.

Maybe the most charitable thing one can say about Mr. Biden at this point is that he is teetering dangerously close to his expiration date as an effective public official.

So just to be clear, I agree with everyone who is pleading for President Biden to reconsider his decision to run again, for the good of the country and the future of democracy.  And if in the eleventh hour he does finally change his mind I will be pulling for the Democrats to figure this thing out with a different nominee at the top of the ticket.  Because you can mark me down as being firmly in the “anybody but Trump” camp.

But I guess I am a bit impatient about all this and do not want to spend any more time talking about how things should never have gotten to this point, that Mr. Biden’s decline has been apparent for the better part of two years, and in recognition of that decline he should have been more circumspect when deciding to seek a second term.  

I agree with all that.  And I agree the president’s current condition puts Democrats between a rock and a hard place:  Risk handing the election to Trump by sticking with an obviously diminished Joe Biden.  Or risk the same result by convincing Mr. Biden to step aside in a last-minute attempt to unearth a brand-new candidate at what could end up being a chaotic nominating convention in August.

But given that Biden continues to state unequivocally he has no plans to step aside, maybe we should be focusing on just what will be required to accommodate his physical and cognitive decline, should he manage to get himself re-elected.  Doing so does not amount to denying that decline.  Nor does it equate to defending that decline.  

For me this is only an exercise in dealing with the reality of President Biden’s refusal to stop.  Since he has already won the delegates he needs to secure the nomination, it’s his call.

So then, should he win re-election he will need to surround himself with a cracker-jack inner circle who can bring out his best while shielding him from public encounters he can no longer navigate as deftly as he once did.  

This “shielding” has already started, of course, and has lately been reported on in dire tones, as if his staff has been surreptitiously keeping something from the American people.  But isn’t this what all staffs do?  Don’t all politicians have certain strengths and certain weaknesses?

To have a successful second term an obviously over-the-hill President Biden will need to appoint top-flight people through his administration.  But can’t the same be said of any leader of a large organization?

It has recently come to light that Mr. Biden is only sharp between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.  The wonderful Peggy Noonan quipped in this morning’s Wall Street Journal that world leaders like Xi Jinping and Putin will no doubt limit any future aggression to 12:00 noon eastern standard time, to accommodate our faltering President’s limited schedule. 

While this is a funny and clever remark, let us all remember Ms. Noonan cut her teeth as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, a highly-regarded former president famous for his afternoon naps and knocking off work at 5:30 pm every day.

Let us also keep in mind the same world leaders we are being told have noticed Mr. Biden’s obvious slippage since just last summer will be the first to comment on how our next president does not know his/her way around foreign affairs half as well as the last guy did.  Even though that last guy was an old geezer operating at less-than-full capacity.

I agree with Ms. Noonan that the very things his advisors are telling Biden to do to dispel the doubts – lots of interactive appearances, town halls, tons of interviews – are things he is no longer capable of doing as crisply as he once did.  But I do not view such appearances as prerequisites for winning my support in the context of the upcoming election: Trump versus Biden.  

And just as a side note, these older people we keep electing to high public office are not bionic.  There is only so much energy a person in their 60s and 70s – let alone 80s – can muster, no matter how well they tend to their health or how inspired they may be by their job.

To sum up, I wish Joe Biden was not at the top of the ticket this time around.  But as it has been pointed out many times before, the presidency is not a one-man show.  

I am prepared to vote for Mr. Biden again, because I will be voting for the totality of the Biden administration, which I think has had a largely successful first term and is headed in the right direction on many fronts.  And, because I have seen quite enough of Donald J. Trump, thank you very much.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

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