Wednesday, September 13, 2023


Dave Weigel has a piece at Semafor titled "In Books, Biden Is an Energetic Leader. Too Bad Nobody Reads Them." Weigel cites The Last Politician, Franklin Foer's new book on the Biden White House:
Foer’s book, the most far-reaching study of the Biden White House so far, presents an aging president who’s nonetheless fully engaged in the job....

... Biden, [Foer] found, “buries himself in details” and “takes technocratic charge” of issues. “The Last Politician” acknowledges that Biden “would occasionally admit that he felt tired,” and that his “advanced age was a hindrance” when he blanked on a name or kept a light schedule. But it’s a bit part in the overall story — and his staff is worried more about his life-long tendency to wander off script than how age has affected his faculties.
The Bulwark's Mona Charen believes that Biden's team needs to stop hiding him:
OUR OCTOGENARIAN PRESIDENT TRAVELED 8,000 miles to meet with India’s premier, Narendra Modi, and to attend the G20 summit in New Delhi. He then flew another 2,000 miles to visit America’s new pal, Vietnam—all over the course of just five days. That’s a demanding trip even for a younger person. After meeting for several hours with the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyễn Phú Trọng, Biden held a formal press conference. And he did fine....

There is just no way to watch Biden’s Hanoi press conference and not recognize that his brain is working fine. He responds to questions in appropriate fashion. His words are diplomatically chosen, and his thoughts follow in logical order. He remembers what he just said a few minutes ago and doesn’t repeat himself (or not more than the average politician).
Actually, there is a way to watch Biden's Hanoi press conference and come away thinking Biden has dementia, and it's the way a large number of Americans watched it: in the form of brief clips cherry-picked by partisan Republicans. But overall, Biden does seem sharp and engaged in the press conference. Here's it is in its entiretty. I've cued up a solid (if unexciting) answer to one question:

Charen writes:
Biden’s physical presentation—the slow and careful walk, the slightly pitched posture—suggests age more than his words. He is perfectly capable of thinking on his feet. Whoever has been deciding to keep him under wraps for fear of gaffes is hurting his cause. People have come to believe that he is in sharp mental decline. When you see him in a Q&A, it’s clear that he isn’t, and people need to know that.
Maybe the public needs to see the Biden that his aides see, someone who masters the details and “takes technocratic charge” of them, sometimes even displaying anger when aides aren't as well informed as he is, a tendency we learned about over the summer:
He'll grill aides on topics until it's clear they don’t know the answer to a question — a routine that some see as meticulous and others call "stump the chump" or "stump the dummy."

... Ted Kaufman, Biden's longtime chief of staff when the future president represented Delaware in the Senate, told Axios that Biden's process is policy-driven, and has made him a strong executive.

"If there is something that's not in the brief, he's going to find it," he said. "It's not to embarrass people, it's because he wants to get to the right decision. Most people who have worked for him like the fact that he challenges them and gets them to a better decision."
To me, the meaning of that story wasn't "old man yells at cloud" but, rather, "old man has a real command of the issues." But most of the country never sees Biden's mastery of the facts.

How can that be changed? Can we see clips of Biden in meetings, clips chosen to highlight his acuity? Should Biden welcome a videographer into his meetings, so we can see that he knows what he's doing?

Jonathan Chait writes,
If Biden wanted to dispel concern about his mental acuity, he could submit to challenging interviews. The fact that he hasn’t done so suggests that he or his aides are uncertain he could pass muster.
I don't think he needs to face the toughest interviewers -- he needs a forum in which he can demonstrate competence.

Biden gaffes will happen, so none of this should be live. But if the right cherry-picks bad Biden clips, why shouldn't he and his allies cherry-pick good ones? This seems like the best way to dispel the notion that he can't do the job.

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