It’s becoming increasingly probable that former Vice President Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party nominee for president. At the same time, among Republicans anyway, speculation continues that, as for about 10 percent of Americans within his age range, Biden is impaired with dementia.
Biden’s Mental State a Subject of Broad Speculation
Here’s Roger Kimball writing at The Spectator’s U.S. edition:
Some people dismiss evidence of Biden’s incapacity as just a matter of ‘gaffes,’ little mental hiccups of no consequence. They aren’t ‘gaffes,’ i.e., simple mistakes. They are tokens of serious mental incapacity. Judge for yourself. Here’s Biden from a couple of weeks ago announcing that he is running for the US Senate (ah, the good old days).
Or how about his claim that ‘150 million’ Americans have been killed by guns since 2007? Or here he is trying to get his mind (and his mouth) around the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men and women are created, by the, you know the, you know the thing.’
Donald Trump Jr. went further:
From the Alzheimers association webpage ‘Aggressive or angry behaviors may occur in people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias,’ the president’s eldest son said Tuesday on Twitter in response to a video of Biden berating a Michigan man. ‘A 50 year career politician doesn’t snap back this way to a blue collar guy asking him a reasonable question given his parties stance on the issue.’
And Victor David Hansen, writing at National Review, observes:
The problem is that we have never before witnessed a major party’s likely candidate who so early in the race seems unable to meet the grueling demands of the spring, summer, and fall campaign trail, much less the anticipated duties of president — especially from the party who insisted so loudly that Trump was non compos mentis that it apparently prompted the president to take the Montreal Cognitive Assessment screening test, which he aced, but which a current Joe Biden might well not be able to ace if similarly accused of being mentally unfit and removable via the 25th Amendment.
Now, I don’t claim the expertise to assess to what degree Biden’s “gaffes” are a concern. What did raise concerns for me, however, was an incident back last summer: On June 5, 2019, NBC News reported that Biden continued to oppose federal funding for abortion. A day later, the word was out that, no, he did not believe this any longer.
Later that month, Vox provided the campaign’s explanation: With the proposed wide expansion of government provision of medical care, so many more women would be affected by the funding restriction that it was no longer acceptable (Vox wasn’t buying it). But The New York Times reported that Biden’s shift was due to pressure from allies and campaign staff, raising the question of the degree to which Biden is actually making his own decisions.
An Easy Way to Stop the Speculation
To take a step back, Trump did indeed “ace” the Montreal Cognitive Assessment screening test back in 2018. At the time, this produced triumphant reactions from some. Others declared this test would not pick up on nuances of mental decline or the bigger picture of whether Trump is fit to serve as president. The Montreal screening is hardly the sort of test that identifies how clever one is or how much wisdom one has, of the sort that might be handy in managing just about anything a president has to manage.
But the test (which is no longer easily available online for copyright reasons but is described in detail at VeryWellHealth and a partial image at The Guardian) is meant for a specific objective: screening people for dementia or mild cognitive impairment. It consists of tasks such as drawing a clock face, naming animals based on line drawings, reciting a set of numbers forward and backward, listing as many words as you can think of that start with the letter “f,” and similar questions, for a total of 30 points, with 26 points required to “pass” the screening, and a lower cutoff differentiating between mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
I have watched someone take this test. To a cognitively unimpaired person, the questions seem trivial. But the individual I watched take this screening could not answer questions that to an unimpaired person would seem obvious. These are not “trick questions.” It’s not an IQ test, nor is it designed to ferret out nuances. But if a person really is impaired, the test will identify it.
Tthis means that, yes, if Biden’s gaffes and his outbursts are just “Biden being Biden,” there should be an easy enough answer: Biden could take the screening test just as easily as Trump did, and just as easily pass it. Then everyone can just shut up about the issue — unless, that is, the claims of Republicans that he has been pushed into this election against his own best interest and that he’d be better off having stayed in retirement are well-founded.
But I’m not sure it matters to voters. Many of them, near as I can tell, simply see Biden as a placeholder for a generic moderate Democrat and are willing to cast their vote, even knowing his age alone creates a fair probability he won’t finish out his term, on the expectation that his vice president would be of roughly the same ideology.
Why did Biden defeat the ideologically similar Amy Klobuchar? Surely the voters (and poll-respondents) didn’t carefully evaluate their policy proposals; Biden had the name recognition the others lacked.