Tuesday, April 16, 2024
HomeStatesideShould a senile old man be the leader of the free world?

Should a senile old man be the leader of the free world?


NO ONE outside the White House and a handful of top Democratic and Republican leaders knows the full extent of Joe Biden’s control of his own presidency.

Ordinary mortals (aka voters) must rely for evidence of his senility on what they see on television during Biden’s unavoidable public appearances. Even then, the loyal media cover him with excuses that sometimes unblushingly stretch credulity. 

There’s been a strong suspicion from the start that Biden has been the puppet of his praetorian guard led by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and perhaps, behind the scenes, Barack Obama. Biden has been an executive president in name only. 

It’s been like this throughout his presidency but it became an inescapable issue when special counsel Robert Hur declined to prosecute him for illegally retaining classified documents because he was ‘a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory’ whom a jury would decline to convict. Hur is a Trump appointee but the killer phrase was left in his report by Biden’s own Department of Justice despite White House pleas for its removal.

Senility is irreversible and progressive whether it goes rapidly or slowly. Biden is not going to improve during the election campaign or in the next four years if he is returned to office.

The US has been in this plight once before. In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke that left him unable to function. His wife and doctor hid the extent of his disablement and in effect ran the country privately for the remaining 18 months of his term. They weren’t alone in the concealment and no one suggested that Wilson might seek re-election.

In 1984, Americans ridiculed the Soviet Union for making Konstantin Tchernenko head of the ruling Politburo when it was obvious to everyone that his brain had reverted to neutral.

The question is: to what extent does Biden’s incapacity matter? Can a president who is the de facto leader of the free world be merely a figurehead? Has the buck which President Truman said stopped at his desk credibly transitioned into collective responsibility where blame for mishaps gets conveniently lost?

A majority of Democrat voters, speaking through opinion polls, say they already doubt Biden’s fitness for power although this will not stop them voting for him in November. Controlling the White House is more important to them than the lack of accountability of appointed officials. 

There’s a big difference between an incompetent president and an incapacitated president. The former gets things wrong and the mistakes he makes can have international repercussions. How do you hold accountable someone you elected knowing that he suffered from disqualifying issues such as advanced age and a crumbling mind?

Because he’d been a mediocrity throughout a half-century career in Washington, the only expectation of Biden was that he wouldn’t be Bad Orange Man. But that didn’t mean people were willing to settle for less than good government.

The only decision that Biden has personally taken responsibility for was the sudden abandonment of Afghanistan in 2021, and he boasted that was a success although even many Democrats thought it was a humiliating blunder that recalled the flight from Saigon. His popularity has declined since to historic lows amidst a steady stream of embarrassing gaffes that contradicted his own foreign policy. No country, ally or foe, takes a Biden pronouncement at face value.

The United States continued to function during President Wilson’s long illness and we will never know what might have occurred for good or ill if he had remained healthy and continued to fight for US ratification of the League of Nations.

But the fact remains that the US presidency was designed as a leadership office and is ill-suited to a passive regime where no one on the outside is sure of the locus of responsibility. JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, the Bushes and Trump were all recent executive presidents who left an enduring legacy if not always a positive one. 

Whoever took Biden’s decisions for him, the impression has been one of weakness and ideological rigidity in the style of President Carter. 

It shouldn’t be forgotten that the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces as well as the custodian of the nuclear codes.

You’d need a PhD in casuistry to justify putting a senile man in sole charge of all that. And there’s the nub. The Biden presidency is a team effort but he has the final word. However far gone his dementia, he has it in his power to overrule anyone else in the government – and he shouldn’t.

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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