The Biden issue that won’t go away

By Byron York

Just last week, an edition of this newsletter was headlined, “Biden’s losing battle with the age issue.” Now, there’s more to discuss.

On Monday evening, the president attended a Juneteenth concert on the White House lawn. It wasn’t a complicated event, as presidential appearances go. All President Joe Biden had to do was walk out of the White House, join the crowd listening to the music, and make some brief remarks.

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It didn’t go well. As the music played, Biden took his place on a front row that included Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, actor Billy Porter (wearing a “rainbow sequined caftan … accessorized with bedazzled ankle boots,” according to Women’s Wear Daily), and, next to Biden, Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd.

Everyone was standing and swaying and clapping to singer Kirk Franklin’s performance. Everyone, that is, except Biden. As the scene unfolded around him, the president stood still and absolutely motionless, his hands hanging by his side. His face had a frozen expression, and his eyes seemed fixed, staring straight ahead. This went on for about a minute.

Look at your watch or phone and set it for a minute. It’s a long time. Biden was briefly engaged by Floyd, then resumed staring. Finally, he seemed to come out of it, ending the episode.

Biden had another bad moment in his remarks when he entirely garbled a sentence paying tribute to Opal Lee, the activist he referred to as the “grandmother of Juneteenth.” Beyond that, Biden’s remarks were intelligible but at the same time provided more evidence that his speaking ability has declined noticeably, not just from 20 years ago but also in the last three years, since he has been president.

It was all concerning – again. And it will not surprise you that when anyone pointed it out, Democrats and their media allies pushed back furiously, in two ways. One, they claimed that Republicans are distorting and cherry-picking videos of Biden’s problems. And two, they claimed former President Donald Trump is in worse condition than Biden.

At nearly the same time as Biden’s Juneteenth episode, the Washington Post published a story headlined, “How Republicans used ‘cheap fake’ videos to attack Biden over 24 hours.” The article said the GOP had used “deceptively edited videos – known as ‘cheap fakes’ because they misrepresent events simply by manipulating video or audio, or by leaving out context,” to portray the 81-year-old president as a doddering old man. The evidence, according to the Washington Post, was a series of videos of Biden looking a bit confused and out of it at D-Day commemoration ceremonies in France. The video, the Washington Post said, “quickly became the latest example of the fast spread of politically damaging manipulated videos, highlighting … the politics of misinformation and conspiracy theories.”

One problem with that argument is that at times Biden really did look confused and out of it at the D-Day event. And then, as the Washington Post article was published, came the Juneteenth concert. Try this: Look at this video of the entire Juneteenth event, from the Associated Press. It’s about an hour and a half long. The Biden moment discussed above happened about 18 minutes into the video. It’s not fake, it’s not manipulated, it’s not out of context. It just happened.

Then there is the Trump argument. On the same day as the White House Juneteenth event, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson published a piece headlined, “Is Donald Trump OK? His story about hypothetically being electrocuted is another glimpse into a mind that is unwell.” The article was about a semi-humorous Trump riff, from Trump’s June 9 speech in Las Vegas, about government efforts to promote electric engines for cars and boats. Electric-powered boats require big, heavy batteries, and Trump sometimes asks what happens if the boat sinks and the powerful electric battery is submerged in water. Then he asks what happens if sharks are around. What do you do: face electrocution or shark attack?

Even though there are serious dangers posed by powerful batteries exposed to water, it appears that electrocution is not tops among them. Trump’s story is told as part of his general criticism of government mandates for electric vehicles and other overregulation. Yes, it is exaggerated and sometimes fanciful, but it is an exaggerated and fanciful story with a point. And for many in the audience, it is – always important for Trump – entertaining. Nevertheless, some media commentators have taken this as proof that Trump is dangerously deranged, a man whose mental condition poses far more risk than Biden’s.

The Atlantic published not one but two stories discussing the battery-shark tale. One was headlined “Trump Rants About Sharks, and Everyone Just Pretends It’s Normal,” and the other was “Let’s Talk About Trump’s Gibberish.” In the Washington Post, Robinson wrote, “It is irresponsible to obsess over President Biden’s tendency to mangle a couple of words in a speech while Donald Trump is out there sounding detached from reality.” Trump’s condition, Robinson concluded, “is a much bigger problem than Biden fumbling a name or garbling a sentence.” (You can judge for yourself. This is the C-Span video of the entire Trump Las Vegas speech. He mentions electric power at around 32:45 and then around 35:30 and then, with the boat story, at 42:08.)

What is the electoral effect of all this? It seems pretty clear that Biden’s defenders are facing an uphill battle. There is just no doubt that the president, at 81, has slowed significantly, that he is increasingly enfeebled, and that his condition will not improve if he is elected to serve in the White House until he is 86 years old. Biden won’t get better. Life doesn’t work that way. Trump, on the other hand, while old – he turns 78 on Friday – is far, far more vigorous. (In Las Vegas, he spoke for more than an hour in temperatures above 100 degrees.) Voters have had many chances to watch each man in action and will have more as the campaign progresses. In November, they will draw their own conclusions.

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