Sunday, November 12, 2023


Responding to the recent Ross Douthat column about Joe Manchin's possible (likely?) presidential bid, Paul Campos of Lawyers, Guns & Money writes:
The “manifestly too old” thing about Biden is at this point just completely weird. Biden is barely older than Trump, and Trump seems vastly less coherent, even by his incredibly degraded standards.
I should be used to this perspective by now -- it's shared by most liberal commentators, and probably by most of you -- but it baffles me.

Of course Trump is only a few years younger than Biden. But voters aren't telling pollsters that Biden is too old and Trump isn't because they're misreading actuarial tables. They're saying it because the clips of Biden that they're seeing on the news and on social media frequently look like the ones collected here:

Do you really find it baffling that many Americans look at this and conclude that Biden lacks the energy and mental capacity to be president? Rightly or worngly, this is what their judging him on. (And I agree that it's the wrong way to assess him -- he's never been a good speaker, he's spent a lifetime fighting a stammer, and his strength as a president derives from a lifetime of experience dealing with issues similar to the ones he's facing now. I've said that his team should bring a film crew into the White House and generate some footage of that Biden, the one who, we're told, thoroughly and sometimes rudely interrogates aides so he can be fully informed on every issue he has to deal with. But until that happens -- and it probably won't -- clips like the ones above define Biden's public image.

There's a near-universal belief among liberals that Biden's mental fitness to be president is self-evident, as is Trump mental unfitness. But it's strange to be told this by Campos, who elsewhere in the post alludes to a post he wrote in 2020 in which he described his "Ariana Grande theory of politics."
I just reviewed all the songs that hit #1 on Billboard Hot 100 chart in the years I was in high school. (1973-77). There were 150 such songs, and I found I was able to immediately sing (or “sing”) 147 of them without hesitation....

I then did the same exercise for the years 2015-19. This group featured only 55 songs — apparently the supply of #1 hits has declined dangerously — and I recognized in some way a total of five of them....

The Ariana Grande Theory of Politics is this: The large majority — maybe the vast majority — of people in this country know things about politics like I know things about Ariana Grande. I know Ariana Grande is a pop music singer. Can I sing any of her songs? No. Could I pick her out of a lineup of young women pop singers? No. But I do know she’s a singer....

And here’s my happy thought: While there’s no denying there are millions of fanatical supporters of Donald Trump’s ethno-nationalist griftomatic Fascism for Dummies (redundant obviously), there are many, many more Trump voters who are like me and Ariana Grande. They don’t ... really know anything about politics. They don’t really pay attention. They’ve heard a few things here and there, but that’s ... pretty much it.
Right. And that why it's absurd to say that people can obviously tell Trump is mentally unfit to serve and Biden is fit. Most people don't understand the careful work Biden and his team have done managing the international alliance against Vladimir Putin. They don't understand how nimbly Biden outmaneuvered Kevin McCarthy in order to avoid a debt-ceiling crisis. They don't see the work Biden is doing on a hundred different issues. They just see that stammering, shuffling old man.

And they don't recognize Trump's profound ignorance because they don't know much more than Trump does. They don't know that windmills don't cause cancer. They don't know that dozens of courts gave Trump the opportunity to present his case for a rigged election, and he failed every time. (I think one reason we can't put the question of the 2020 election to rest is that legal decisions are perhaps the worst possible medium of communication in a TikTok/Instagram era -- they're not easily excerpted in video clips, they're written in dull and incomprehensibly jargon-y language, and the authors of the rulings genarrally go out of their way not to be public figures.)

I've said before that Trump still has the ability to do insult comedy. People who don't know much about politics watch that and conclude that his mind is sharp. They also watch the calculated way he goads people -- judges, prosecutors, opposing politicians, media figures -- and they see that it usually works. When he attacks someone, it's news. If he can push people's buttons this effectively at age 77, you can't blame people for thinking he still has all or most of his marbles.

Well-educated people see Biden doing things that will pay off in the future -- on infrastructure, green energy, drug prices, and, we hope, overseas conflicts. Low-information voters see war and economic insecurity, the latter caused by prices that have risen recently and haven't dropped. And then they recall good economic times in Trump's first three years and assume he was the reason, and not just the beneficiary of a presidency that begin at the ideal point in the long recovery after the 2008 crash.

And now here's a headline that just popped up:
Trump Compares Political Foes To ‘Vermin’ On Veterans Day—Echoing Nazi Propaganda
This is reprehensible, obviously. But notice what's happening: Trump used a word (which clearly was dropped in his speech by a speechwriter or aide, probably Stephen Miller), and that word is now stirring up exactly the kind of media firestorm Trumps always wants to stir up. Whether you like it or not, his words have power. Biden's words don't. And that's why voters make a distinction between these two old men.

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