This past week I have watched an elderly man make a fool of himself repeatedly. He has confused text messaging for websites. He has declared truth should be chosen over facts. He has accidentally revealed himself to harbour racist thoughts from a bygone era. He has repeatedly stumbled over his words and seemed addled and confused, lashing out at people when he becomes agitated. I am not currently caring for a relative nor do I work with senior citizens. I have simply been watching the tragicomedy that is Joe Biden.
Of late American politics has become absolutely determined to render every satirization and parody of it obsolete. This is why we have a reality TV star in the White House who spends his time creating unflattering nicknames for people on social media. He ran against a candidate whose campaign was so stupefyingly contemptuous the slogan may as well have been “vote for me or fuck you.” Along the way we realized the media is completely and unabashedly corrupt, we declared drawing cartoon frogs a hate crime, turned political debate into wrestling promos and divided the country into communists and nazis just like it was the good old days. There isn’t a writer, satirist or comedian that could have done it better than reality. As we hurtle towards 2020 things continue to get increasingly ridiculous, none more so than the assembly line of dunces that the two party system throws our way.
Democrats offer up two flavours of candidate. The wealthy establishment Democrat who preach socialist values for the populace while accruing vast sums of money that should be impossible for public servants. It’s that or the new wave of thoroughly unlikeable Justice Democrats, gold medalists in the oppression olympics who are barely able to mask their contempt for America. By contrast the Republicans are serving up their traditional banquet… Politicians that tell you its immigrants and not corporations that are fucking you out of every last nickel and dime, telling you climate change isn’t real even as you watch the planet become increasingly inhospitable for anyone who can’t afford a ticket to one of the secret post apocalypse shelters reserved for only humanity’s finest bastards.
Because of this when one of the parties accidentally throws up an inexplicably popular candidate there’s a tendency to ride it as far as they can. It doesn’t matter if they lurch from one embarrassment to another so long as it doesn’t alter the polling data. It doesn’t matter if all the signs suggest they would be functionally incompetent so long as they can fool people long enough to be put in charge. In this regard modern American politics has become like the vatican. Elect a frail mouthpiece to subdue and distract the public with pre-written speeches while the invisible powerbrokers manipulate them from behind the scenes.
Whoops. We’re not here to indict the whole broken system. We’re here to point and laugh at an old man making a fool of himself mostly because no one around him will stop him from doing it. And, credit to him, Biden is good at it. He always has been especially talented at making himself come across like someone who has just emerged from the cryogenic stasis he was placed into during the 50s. Remember when he said that Indians were running all the 7-11s in America? Remember when he said Obama was the first African American in politics who was articulate and clean? Biden has always been oblivious to his own bigotry while following the Democratic line of calling it out in others.
But that was common or garden hypocrisy, which is par for the course in politics. What is happening now is something far more concerning and grave. His appalling debate performances where he could barely hold on to a train of thought were bad enough but the polls didn’t waver. Criticism was mild and muted. When he told people to “go to Joe 30330” people were so perplexed as to what he was actually trying to say people thought he might have had a stroke, not without reason. “He thinks he is running in the year 3030” they concluded. It turned out he just didn’t realise an SMS number isn’t the same as a website, which is the kind of tech savvy world leader we need for the digital age.
The campaign trail has been even worse. Watching a doddering old man declare that his party is the one that chooses “truth over facts” while a bunch of slack-jawed morons cheer would be the footage I would commit to a time capsule if I ever had to explain just how bad politics was at this point in human history. It would be funny if it was a one time error, a moment of unintentional accuracy to describe the times in which we suffer through. Then he blurts out that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids” and the laughter stops. We all know why he did it. We all know that in his mind when he thinks of poverty and bad neighbourhoods he sees black faces. Why are we pretending that there’s any other explanation than his own prejudices? These are prejudices that we know exist because of his comments about Obama and Indian store clerks. Democratic privilege is never having to explain away the racist things you just said… The media will line up to do it for you while simultaneously stretching semantics to near breaking point to find hidden racist semiology in every Republican sentence. You know it’s true. Close your eyes. Imagine the headlines if this was one of Trump’s gaffes.
That he can’t keep it together long enough to hide this biases is a sign of someone in decline. It has to be viewed as especially concerning when you also learn that Biden has referred to former UK Prime Minister Theresa May as Margaret Thatcher on two occasions now… A political figure who not only hasn’t been Prime Minister since 1990 but has been dead for six years. The fact that a leading candidate is out there giving speeches while he sees force ghosts of long dead political figures is both sad and terrifying in ways I still can’t truly comprehend. Even as I am typing this he has slipped again, claiming he met children who survived a school shooting when he was vice-president, a completely fabricated occurrence that couldn’t have happened by a time period of six years.
These blunders have put the press in a terrible spot. On the one hand none of them really want Biden to win the nomination, that much is clear. But on the other he is the favourite and therefore probably the best equipped to beat Trump in 2020. Rather than slam him for his repeated gaffes their policy is one of mitigation and explanation, with just enough criticism included so they can say they were impartial and fair. Of course they’re not in a terrible spot at all because they have no interest in things such as objectivity, neutrality or even consistency any more.
When Hillary Clinton collapsed at a commemoration for the victims of the September 11th attacks and was, in the words of one attending police officer, thrown into her vehicle “like a side of beef” we were told that debating a presidential candidate’s health was disgraceful. The collapse didn’t come in isolation… footage of strange reactions to balloons and people, strange wires and packs underneath her clothing, multiple instances of falls and dealing with long term effects from a concussion. Despite all of this CNN dedicated rolling coverage to saying how it was a “conspiracy theory” and that it was the new birtherism. MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow focused on clearly forged medical documents no one was citing to shut down the dreaded right wing talking points.
Once Trump was elected of course everything he did was a sign of mental illness. Journalists who clearly don’t even understand the parameters of their own job were suddenly psychiatric experts. CNN anchor and resident comfort eater Brian Stelter wanted to know why more people weren’t asking “uncomfortable questions” about Trump’s health. You know, the kind of questions that were the new birtherism in 2016. Questions such as “Is he suffering from some kind of illness? Is he fit for office? And if he’s unfit, then what?” Don Lemon declared Trump to be “unhinged” without much concern. MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough went one better and said that Trump was in the “early stages of dementia.” The Daily Beast had 27 psychiatrists violate the Goldwater Rule about diagnosis at a distance and declare Trump to be clinically insane. So brave. It begs the question, given Biden’s alarming public behaviour where are the media now?
Issuing very mild rebukes and concerns. Some are even going so far as to say we shouldn’t mention them at all which shows that we’re about ready for the pendulum to swing back to attacking anyone raising health concerns over candidates, maybe with a side of “ageism” thrown in for good measure. all of these publications have lined up to give his campaign a platform to explain it all away as harmless because he’s just too far ahead in the polls for it to play out any other way. What the press would really like to do is savage him for all these errors and push a more progressive candidate but no one is close. And so we all have to pretend none of this is happening, that what we’re watching isn’t grotesque and wrong, someone in a medical crisis being pushed out in front of cameras with all the sympathy and tact of a Victorian freak show.
Biden has become a walking advertisement for the horrors of infirmity, only stopping short of soiling himself in public and the grim reality is there is plenty of time left for that. Just know that right now somewhere in a sterile white room a strategist has prepared a plan of action for such an occurrence right down to the press release blaming it on some viciously spicy Mexican food. And know that uncle Joe will flub even this carefully crafted opportunity to look human and relatable when he makes a joke about how with burritos like that he can “now see why Trump wants to build a wall.” Years from now his advisors will lament over drinks how “The Biden Brownout” was the turning point that cost him everything.
This is of course a metaphor for how Biden has lost control. It is not his fault in many ways. As our mind and body break down it seems the last thing to go is ego. He refuses to accept he has lost even half a step at the age of 76, which anyone with elderly relatives will tell you is entirely typical. His own staff are leaking it to the press that he constantly goes off message and doesn’t stick to the prepared scripts designed to earn him the nomination he is a clear favourite for. Like all politicians all he has to do is read the words and tell the lies prepared by smarter people. Biden most likely thinks Cyrano de Bergerac is a gay waiter from Seattle.
And whether you like Joe or not Americans instinctively know one thing; that when you vote for someone that old to be president, you are also endorsing the vice president that will take over when the combination of high-powered drugs that keep them going wear off. Like McCain choosing clinical moron Sarah Palin to be his veep, you are now forcing the voter to weigh up the suitability of two candidates and consider a future where someone they would never have voted for is now in the Oval Office pressing all the buttons amid the chaos of a dead president.
Even if America were utterly sick with Trump to a huge degree these concerns are the margin by which people will choose not to elect Biden. In the absence of anyone responsible stepping in and putting a stop to this awful spectacle, Biden’s blunders will see him eat into his point lead until he just about limps across the nomination finish line. By then it will be too late for the Dems and we have to buckle up for four more years of madness and tantrums. And when we get there, as rotten a time as it will be, it’ll still be better than the alternative of having someone infirm at the controls of the country.