The other day, Joe Biden ended a big gun-control speech in Connecticut with the words, “God save the queen, man.” Why did the president express adoration for the departed Brit monarch? Was he confused about royal succession? Is he a Sex Pistols fan? Who knows.
When asked about the incident, White House aides offered nonsensical and conflicting answers — because they have absolutely no idea, and neither does the president. It’s likely that the octogenarian spontaneously used a cool-sounding phrase, much like when your elderly neighbor tells you to “keep on truckin,'” for no apparent reason. It happens.
Yet, Axios writer Alex Thompson points out that Biden “has an arsenal of wacky phrases.” And the president’s “quirky aphorisms,” he contends, “are sometimes weaponized by Republicans to insinuate the 80-year-old president is in mental decline.”
There is no need for insinuation. Biden’s mental acuity, never impressive, has considerably deteriorated. Sure, he also tends to botch “old-timey” sayings like, “lots of luck in your senior year,” which he says is a gibe from his Corn Pop days. But most reporters who pretend perceptions of Biden’s decline are due to his propensity for homespun maxims or previously unknown stuttering problems almost surely wouldn’t find him fit enough to babysit their kids.
Every week, the president of the United States says something completely bonkers, and everyone goes on with their day. We’re not talking about his propensity to lie about politics or his blustery lifelong fabulism (his “folksiness,” The New York Times recently explained, “can veer into a personal folklore” with “the factual edges shaved off to make them more powerful for audiences.”) We’re talking about his inability to articulate simple ideas without notes — and often with notes. There are rarely any fact-checks of these statements. How can there be? They don’t even make sense as lies. There is no handwringing about the role of competency in our democracy. There is no discussion about the 25th Amendment.
Just listen to any one of his speeches. “Put a pistol on a brace, it turns into a gun — makes it more — you can have a higher-caliber weapon, higher-caliber bullet coming out of that gun,” the president explained before wishing Her Majesty his best. This was also complete gibberish. There is so much gibberish.
Only a couple of days before his “God save the queen” comment, Biden informed a crowd gathered for a League of Conservation Voters endorsement that “we” have “plans to build a railroad from the Pacific all the way across the Indian Ocean,” which must have really impressed everyone in attendance. “We have plans to build in Angola one of the largest solar plants in the world,” Biden went on. “I can go on, but I’m not. I’m going off-script. I’m going to get in trouble.”
A few days before the railroad comment, Biden couldn’t remember Winston Churchill’s name when speaking to the prime minister of Britain. Listen, I’m not great with names myself, and I’m sure as an 80-year-old I’d have trouble recalling world leaders … but I’m confident I wouldn’t think myself competent enough to be the most powerful man in the world. Nor should Biden.
That same week, when asked why a Ukrainian FBI informant referred to Biden as the “Big Guy,” the president lashed out for being posed “dumb questions.” He does this often in frustration. When the president isn’t flubbing canned lines to the rare tough question, he yells things like “c’mon, man!” A few years ago, this kind of rhetoric was considered democracy-shattering. Now, it’s quirky and folksy.
The week before he couldn’t remember Churchill’s name, the president also tripped and fell on stage after a commencement speech at the Air Force Academy. Biden’s surrogates pointed out that there had been a sandbag right there, as if no one, whether young or old, could possibly be expected to walk over a small bag without falling to the floor.
You might recall that after the former president gingerly navigated a ramp after giving a speech at West Point in 2020, The New York Times’ headline the next day was: “Trump’s Halting Walk Down Ramp Raises New Health Questions.” The president, the Times went on, “also appeared to have trouble raising a glass of water to his mouth during a speech at West Point a day before he turned 74, the oldest a president has been in his first term.” The sitting president is now six years older than Trump was at the time — he would be a decade older should he finish a second term.
Of course, everyone ages differently — John Fetterman, only 53, can barely put together a thought while some septuagenarian is out there writing his literary opus right now. Nor is there anything wrong with or especially unique about being a scatterbrained and tired 80-year-old. In this case, maybe Americans who elected a scatterbrained and tired 80-year-old deserve to be governed by him — good and hard, as Menken might say. But please stop pretending Biden is OK. He’s not.