Warning – this is long. I won’t take offense if you skip to the bottom, for the bottom line, if you want.
As seems to be necessary, let me preface my comments by saying that I don’t like Trump. But Biden can’t simply build a case based on being “not Trump.” He has to be better than Trump. So far, he has taken his primary campaign of “I’m the safe moderate” and upended that into “I’ll be the most transformative president since FDR,” so the case for supporting him for his policies is weak. If his pitch to independents or wavering Republicans is, “I am morally better, more human, more competent than Trump,” then, likewise, he has to be so, and if the pitch is, “Trump is so immoral and that you need to suck it up an accept policies you don’t like (or even strongly disagree with) by voting me into office rather than him,” then, well, I’m sorry, but Biden has to be a lot better than Trump on these “moral” grounds, rather than simply being able to say nicer things.
Let me also remind readers that this is a blog, not a newspaper. I am no one’s source of news. I try to persuade, when I think I have some ideas that others are worth reading. Other times, I try to engage in discussion (though admittedly, since my focus is writing at Forbes about the retirement topics which I have some genuine expertise in, I don’t try to promote this as heavily as I used to). And sometimes I just want to vent, especially when it’s something that I think too many people are getting wrong. I do this as a hobby, not as a money-maker. Sometimes I get accused, in the comments or on twitter, of being secretly not anti-anti-Trump but genuinely pro-Trump, a closet MAGA-hatter, as if I have some sort of moral obligation to criticize Trump’s every word. Sorry, plenty of other people do that and the world does not need another Trump critic.
So that being said, I have written about Biden and dementia at The Federalist — and that was meant to be my contribution to the discussion, since what I said was mostly just that I’d like to see the entire discussion shut down by means of Biden taking the same screening test that Trump did, a screening test which, I added, I have seen someone take, and knowing the particulars of the test as well as that experience made it clear to me that it is by no means an IQ test, a high score on which indicating that you’re particularly “smart,” but that it does indeed diagnose dementia. Remember 5 words, yes. Draw a clock face. Identify a picture. These seem like trivial tasks but for someone with dementia, they aren’t.
And in the meantime, I do find it concerning that Biden has refused to take the screening test (or refuses to reveal the results of it). First he said, “I am tested all the time,” which some fools took as a claim that he has taken the Montreal cognitive screening test, but, reading the whole statement, it is clear that he meant, “look at me campaigning for president. I couldn’t do this if I had dementia.” The second time, he said to the interviewer, paraphrased, “how dare you suggest that! It’s as insulting as if I were to ask you to take a drug test” (because the interviewer was black, I think).
Here are some prevalence statistics: a person in the age group 75 – 79 has a 7% probability of having dementia. In the 80 – 84 age group, that increases to 12%. The rate for Mild Cognitive Impairment, for the 75 – 84 age group, is 22.6%. (When I dug into this at Forbes, I wasn’t able to find a finer breakdown for this piece.) Both Trump and Biden have a significant risk of these impairments simply because of their age — and, yes, in both cases, I would prefer we had younger candidates. (With Trump, there was so much Trumpiness that his age didn’t even factor into the discussion; with Biden, I disliked, as it was occurring, the consensus by Democrats, other Democratic candidates, and the media, that Biden’s age was not to be discussed and in any case was not disqualifying.)
And I’ll also add that the early stages of dementia, or more narrowly mild cognitive impairment, does not mean a blabbering fool who doesn’t know where he is or who anyone is around him. In the early stages, an individual can present as perfectly normal in many respects; it’s only when they’re challenged in one way or another that it’s clear things are not right. Ask a question and you’ll get a reasonable-sounding answer — unless you know that it’s wrong.
That being said, let’s parse the most recent Biden speech, on Friday, in which he talked about the economy and the pandemic, and took questions. The speech first made the rounds on twitter in the form of a tweet observing that many of the questions were fawning invitations to criticize Trump and some seemed pre-planned; plus, there was an odd excerpt from the planned remarks that was also shared.
But let’s look at the full speech, both the recording and the transcript.
Biden starts by energetically criticizing the statements Trump is accused of making about American troops, calling them “suckers.” (This is with reference to an article in The Atlantic, with anonymous sources, where, at least with respect to one incident, sources who are not particularly known as Trump sycophants, rebutted the claims.) He continues with the same stump-speech claims that Trump mismanaged the pandemic and the economy. We’ve heard this before, in the same way as, well, any candidate has a stump speech — it’s just usually delivered to cheering crowds than an echoing empty room. He seems to mumble or slur his words sometimes, but I’m going to hazard a guess that a Biden supporter won’t notice this at all, or will attribute it to his otherwise-conquered stutter.
Then we come to the first bit in the remarks that is a bit of a head-scratcher (25 minute mark):
In the meantime, Trump and his friends have strong views about what the rest of America should do. Quote, “Cut unemployment benefits to force people to go back to their jobs,” end of quote. “Defund social security and eliminate Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic,” end of quote. Reopen public schools without resources or guidance. Reopen main street business without protection for workers so corporations can continue to soar. This is their plan?
Now, this is a transcript of the remarks as delivered. I assume that the teleprompter text he was reading off of had quotation marks, which is a bit odd in the first place, but I guess the idea was to read it in a snarky tone of voice to indicate it’s what Republicans want. (The speechwriter didn’t do a good job here, to be sure; in that situation, I would have written/said something like, “the Republicans are saying, ‘Let’s cut unemployment benefits to force people to go back to work.'”) Biden didn’t do that He literally said “quote” and “end of quote” but didn’t change his tone of delivery.
Biden supporters will, I’m sure, not perceive this as anything unusual at all, and I wouldn’t myself claim it’s a “gotcha” proof of dementia. But in assessing, “how probable is it,” that Biden has dementia, cognitive impairment, or just “he’s tired, and 80 year olds shouldn’t run for president”, these sorts of things add up.
And then we get to the questions. He starts in a way that raised questions: “Thank you all, and I now take your questions. I guess… Are you calling on people or how am I… I don’t have a list, so you go ahead and call.” — which sounded to people like certain people had been identified in advance to ask questions. We don’t know who was in the room, nor how the questioners were identified, and, to be honest, I don’t know what the usual practice is in this respect. (The transcript also doesn’t identify who the speakers were.)
Question 1: The speaker asks about the Atlantic article (and we later learn that this individual was from The Atlantic)
You’ve talked about this as a different view of how you see the job as the president, but when you hear these remarks, suckers, losers, recoiling from amputees, what does it tell you about President Trump’s soul and the life he leads?
This question is certainly the one that most suggests a pre-planned response. His rhetoric: “How would you feel if you had a kid in Afghanistan right now? How would you feel if you lost a son, daughter, husband, wife? How would you feel, for real?” doesn’t sound like something off-the-cuff. Oddly, he is very careful in his prepared remarks (or at least his speechwriters are) to say, “if these remarks are true” repeatedly — but now he says “I believe the article is true.”
As a follow up, that same questioner invites Biden to bask Trump for “not rejecting that conspiracy and the people who believe in it,” and Biden is willing to take that opportunity to say “it’s embarrassing, and it’s dangerous.” He then references endorsements from Republicans.
Again, an invitation to bash Trump, complaining that Trump isn’t wearing masks and “mocked” Biden for wearing a mask.
Biden responds briefly, that
There’s some reports that say another 100,000 dead, as many as a 100,000 dead, more by the end of the year. I mean, I don’t get it. I mean, I just… Anyway, it’s hard to respond to something so idiotic.
Same questioner, asking Biden if he’s been tested for covid. Honestly, this is a dumb question. Can’t we just assume he’s being tested routinely rather than spending time asking about this?
Asks about whether he agrees with Attorney General Barr’s statement that China is a greater threat than Russia.
No, it’s not consistent with the briefings I’ve received. And he’s a lousy enough attorney general, but he’s a really bad intelligence officer. . . . There are a lot of countries around the world, I think, would be happy to see our elections destabilized, but the one who’s working the hardest, most consistently, and never has led up is Russia.
I honestly don’t know what’s up here as I haven’t followed this, but it just seems very ironic to me that the Democrats are now so anti-Russia that they don’t seem to give credence to a threat from China, where, yes, in 2012, Romney was mocked for being concerned about Russia.
Where is Kamala?
Sir, it’s been a couple of weeks now since you announced Senator Harris as your running mate and we haven’t seen her out very much including yesterday in Kenosha, why is that? And what role do you see her playing in the final [crosstalk 00:13:33]?
Biden takes this question as “why aren’t you campaigning together?” and responds that she is campaigning, but not together, and that “it’s about being able to cover more territory.”
Did Biden misunderstand the question? It seems to me that the questioner wanted to know why, in general, she hasn’t been actively campaigning, and Biden took it as asking why they aren’t campaigning together. But the question was poorly phrased by asking about Kenosha, as if they both should have come, so it’s hard to make too much of that.
When’s your next COVID test?
Yes, asking about this a second time is foolish. I don’t know that this feeds into any claim that the questions are pre-planned (“let’s have two of the questions be easy to answer”) or not but it’s a waste of time, especially if there was a limit to the questions or the time allotted.
The president said “his supporters . . . should consider voting twice, if they’re in one of those states that can allow you to request an absentee ballot.” What do you think of that?
The president did not say “vote twice.” He said, paraphrased, “vote by mail, then see if your vote was received, and if it hasn’t, by election day, vote in person.” Now I don’t see what the point of that would be — maybe he imagines that you can call ahead, or stand in a shorter line, but I guess I assume it would be a lot of hassle for a poll worker to figure out whether your ballot had been received and you’d stand in just as long a line to figure this out as to vote. Maybe it’s simple — maybe their voter lists are printed that morning and record this already; I don’t know. But he doesn’t say, “vote twice.” In any case, Biden took full advantage of the opportunity to criticize Trump, but there’s no reason to think it’s a planted question rather than a fawning press.
Why aren’t you angrier?
Again, probably fawning journalist rather than planted question.
Are you concerned at all that this messaging [about mail-in voting security] may be working, that your supporters may give up on voting by mail because they’re concerned that it may be rigged?
His answer is odd: “every time I speak about it, I feel like I’m playing into his game.”
There’s two things he wants us to talk about, is the election legitimate? And the whole country is up in flames. Everything’s burning, law and order because he doesn’t want to talk about anything, anything at all about the job he hasn’t done.
Given that at the same time as Trump is talking about mail-in ballot security, Democrats are talking about Russian interference, and spreading fear that Trump is causing the post office to fall to pieces in order to be unable to deliver ballots, this seems a bit fishy. Not dementia-fishy, but no different than other politicians ignoring the games their side is playing and only criticizing the other side’s similar games.
What do you think the 1.4 million added back in August says about just the general direction of the economy?
I think any job added back is positive. I think it matters to the people who got that job back.
And then he rambles, pulling in people worried about Obamacare being wiped out, and talks about anxiety, and he says the press are — well, I think what he’s trying to say is that because reporters are, by definition, employed, they don’t understand how worried people are.
There’s a lot of talking in the background, not being picked up by mikes. The transcript says “one more on the economy” — but it’s not clear if that’s a Biden staffer saying that or a reporter trying to get called on. They we have:
Mr. Vice President, if I may ask. President Trump has just announced Kosovo and Serbia deal. President Trump has just announced an economic normalization deal between Serbia and Kosovo. And part of that deal is Kosovo and Israel having diplomatic normalization. You have stated that you support a two state solution in the Middle East. Would you support more Muslim majority countries normalizing relations with Israel, even though it may mean that the Palestinians will lose leverage in their fight towards a two state solution?
And he answers:
Well, first of all, I don’t know what the deal is you’re referring to. Okay. What I have argued relative to Serbia and Kosovo, is that Kosovo should be an independent country, not a part of Serbia. I’ve spent a lot of time there. And so I don’t know how … I assume that would reinforce that independence, but I don’t know, based on what’s being said. I think normalization of relations among countries is a by and large an almost every instance, a good thing to have a Muslim majority country normalizing relations with Israel. And in a generic sense seems positive to me, but I have to know the detail of what’s happening, what’s going on. And I don’t know that and it may, you may be right, that, that would cause the Palestinians to lose leverage in a decision on a two state solution. I’d have to look — [interrupted]
And finally we get to what’s most interesting to me.
The deal was announced just earlier that day, so there’s no reason to be concerned that Biden didn’t know about it. It’s also clear that this question was not pre-planned, though, as the last question, and with the bit of uncertainty preceding it, it may have been that they had gone through “the list” of reporters pre-chosen already, if such a list had existed, rather than simply a list of who’s present. The reporter also clearly had an accent, but I can’t tell what sort of accent it was, whether her perspective was the Serbian/Kosovo one, or the Palestinian one.
But for Biden to say, “Kosovo should be an independent country, not a part of Serbia,” when that is a long-established fact, is a concern. The United States has recognized Kosovo as an independent country since 2008; it is officially a candidate for accession to the European Union. While Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state, as Wikipedia reports,
In April 2013, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement to normalise relations, and thereby allow both nations to eventually join the European Union. Under the terms of the agreement, “Belgrade acknowledged that the government in Pristina exercises administrative authority over the territory of Kosovo – and that it is prepared to deal with Pristina as a legitimate governing authority.”
It’s a small, small comment. And Biden supporters will say it means nothing, and Biden opponents will say it means everything.
Me? I say merely that, to me, it means concerns about Biden’s cognition are legitimately-raised.