Former Vice President Joe Biden’s many gaffes don’t mean he’s mentally unfit to be president, but if they raise enough questions with voters they might prevent him from getting the Democratic presidential nomination, or from getting elected if he becomes the nominee.
Biden, his two leading competitors in the Democratic presidential primaries and President Trump are all in their 70s. The oldest is Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 78, followed by Biden at 76, Trump at 73, and Sen. Elizabeth of Warren of Massachusetts at 70.
Are all four too old for what is probably one of the most intellectually challenging jobs in the world, with enormous power over our lives and the future of the planet?
Biden, Sanders, Warren and Trump all keep demanding and high-pressure schedules, traveling frequently, often getting little sleep, and speaking on an almost daily basis in front of TV cameras to answer questions from reporters and to address audiences large and small. That takes stamina and a quick mind.
But because they speak in public so often and most of what they say is recorded, each of them sometimes generates news stories when saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Biden, however, seems to exceed the average for the number of these gaffes. And because the former vice president’s frequent gaffes have now become an issue raising questions about his fitness to serve as president, they are getting outsized attention in the media and from his opponents.
Still, at this early stage in the 2020 presidential race Biden remains the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. A Fox News poll that came out this week shows Biden has the support of 29 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, compared with 18 percent for Sanders and 16 percent for Warren. However, Biden’s solid lead was down by two points since August and six points since May.
Biden has almost universal name recognition among voters from his eight years as President Barack Obama’s vice president and 36 years in the Senate before that. A centrist who doesn’t embrace the more far-left policies of Sanders and Warren, Biden has strong appeal for many voters because of his more moderate positions and because they believe he can make Trump a one-term president.
But what about all the Biden gaffes? His critics are raising questions about his mental fitness and whether he could be suffering from the early stages of dementia that could grow markedly worse at the end of a potential two terms in the White House.
So far the Democratic presidential candidate going after Trump most directly on the mental fitness issue is former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who aggressively attacked Biden in the last presidential debate, accusing Biden of forgetting a comment he had made just minutes earlier.
But it turns out that Castro was the one who forgot what Biden said. Does the fact that Castro got mixed up mean he is suffering from dementia?
Look, dementia isn’t diagnosed by watching someone on a podium at a televised debate, where candidates are required to instantly respond to questions and sum up complex issues in a minute or less.
And once in office, presidents have advisers and briefings and time to learn and think about issues. No one is ever going to say to a president: Sir (or someday Madam), tell me in 60 seconds how to end terrorism, or end poverty, or improve our educational system, or balance the federal budget.
And when we look at Biden’s gaffes and question if he is possibly “losing it” or if he’s fit for office, we shouldn’t forget that President Trump certainly has made quite a few gaffes of his own.
More importantly, according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker database, as of Aug. 5 Trump “had made 12,019 false or misleading claims.”
“President Trump’s proclivity for spouting exaggerated numbers, unwarranted boasts and outright falsehoods has continued at a remarkable pace,” a Post article reported.
Of course, the president and his supporters strongly dispute the Post tally, and the president regularly denounces the newspaper as biased against him and as purveying “fake news.”
But if voters are concerned about instances where Biden gets a bit confused at times and inadvertently says the wrong thing, they should be even more concerned about Trump’s “false and misleading claims.”
We all accidentally say the wrong thing sometimes and forget things or remember past events incorrectly. Those are innocent mistakes.
And we all age differently. Some people are past their peak mental performance in their 60s and some even have dementia at that age. Others are just fine mentally in their 80s and even beyond.
Space doesn’t permit a listing of all Biden’s gaffes, simply because there are so many. But importantly, he’s been making these gaffes for decades, going back to when he was a young man and in middle age. That hasn’t prevented him from devoting a lifetime to public service and accomplishing a great deal for the American people.
But let’s look at just a few of Biden’s gaffes.
Recently Biden has urged parents to keep “record players” on to improve the vocabulary of their
children. He said he was in Vermont when he was really in New Hampshire.
Biden said in August that he was still vice president at the time of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb.14, 2018 – when he had been out of office for more than a year. An official with Biden’s campaign later said Biden had meant to refer to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which occurred in December 2012.
And one of Biden’s gaffes, which was a favorite for many and quite funny, came during CNN’s July 31 presidential debate, when he asked voters to “go to Joe 30330.” He said later he meant to say “text.” “I was so focused on making the case for Joe, I said ‘Joe’ and I gave the number,” he said.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association: “There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia based on a careful medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behavior associated with each type.”
I’m not a doctor and I certainly can’t diagnose Biden’s mental abilities. But you would think if he really was slipping mentally his own doctors, his wife, other family members and the people who work with him every day would notice something was seriously wrong.
And you would think Biden himself would notice and conclude for his own health and for the good of the country he deeply loves that he should withdraw from the presidential race – or resign from the presidency, should he become president and be stricken with dementia.
The bottom line is that opponents attack each other in campaigns. This has begun happening in the 2020 presidential race and is going to get a lot worse. As the Democratic front-runner, Biden is a magnet for attacks – as always happens with front-runners.
My best advice to Biden is to focus on trying to reduce the number of gaffes he makes, working with his top advisers. He has an outstanding record in government and shouldn’t be pushed out of the race for slips of the tongue, as long as they don’t indicate he has more serious problems that make him unfit to be our next president.