Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden very nearly survived his first press conference in three months without a single goof. Almost, but not quite.
At the very end of the question-and-answer session, asked by a reporter if he had been tested for “cognitive decline,” he answered, “I’ve been tested. I’ve been tested constantly.” Biden went on to say he could “hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against.”
Pretty snappy answer for a fellow thought by 38 percent of likely voters to be suffering a mental decline. Except, of course, that Biden’s response raised more questions than it answered.
Such as…where was he tested? Why, exactly, is he being “constantly tested”? Are his doctors worried about him? Most importantly, when will he release the results of those tests?
A columnist for The Washington Post ascribed concerns about Biden’s mental state to political gamesmanship, writing that “Fox News has been relentlessly pushing the line that Joe Biden might be suffering from dementia.” The columnist also categorized commentary about Biden’s near invisibility over the past few months as “the Trumpworld talking point that Biden is hiding in his basement.”
In other words, Biden’s disappearing act and his apparent mental challenges are figments of Fox News’ collective imagination.
Sorry, that doesn’t wash. I would like to remind WaPo readers that questions about Biden’s acuity have circulated for months, leading him to promise last September to publish his medical history. While he did indeed release some details of a physical check-up in December, that report did not include any appraisal of his cognitive capabilities.
At the time, The Washington Post quoted Stuart Jay Olshansky, a public health expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago who “analyzes the longevity of presidents,” as saying that Biden’s workout regimen was a good indicator that he was fit.
However, in that piece, Olshansky acknowledges that “the only test that hasn’t been done is the cognitive functioning test.”
The WaPo article further quotes the professor as saying, “Cognitive tests are typically not required unless problems are detected.”
Back again to Biden’s recent press event. It’s important for voters to know why Biden is being tested, by whom and why.
After all, it is not just Trump supporters who have questioned Joe Biden’s ability to navigate the rigors of the campaign trail, and the presidency. His competitors during the primary battle raised concerns, as have other Democrats and pundits on the Left.
It was Democratic contender Julian Castro who, during a testy and memorable debate moment, asked Biden whether he had already forgotten what he said two minutes earlier about health care. As one columnist wrote at the time about Castro’s insinuation that Biden’s memory was failing, “The elephant in the room has been addressed.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), also a rival, backed Castro up, saying “a lot of people” are concerned about Biden’s “fumbling.”
That was the debate in which Biden suggested parents should “have the record player on at night…”
In the poll in which nearly 4 in 10 likely voters thought Biden was experiencing some cognitive impairment, some 20 percent of Democratic likely voters and 30 percent of unaffiliated likely voters agreed with that assessment. Also, 61 percent of those polled think Biden needs to address the dementia issue publicly.
So, not just Fox News commentators and not just Trump supporters.
How else, after all, to explain Biden’s infrequent give-and-takes not only with reporters, but even with funders? Why else would a Democratic standard-bearer turn down an interview with the left-wing New York Times, as Biden did in April. Why is Jill Biden seemingly more likely to speak for the candidate than the candidate himself? Why are Democrats dumbing down their convention, so that it becomes a non-event? Why won’t they allow a fourth debate with President Trump?
A recent Zogby poll found that 55 percent of likely voters surveyed thought it was “much more” and “somewhat more likely” that Biden is in the early stages of dementia, while 45 percent thought it was less likely. That number included 56 percent of independents and 32 percent of Democrats.
More worrisome for Biden, perhaps, is that about 60 percent of young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 thought it likely that Biden is suffering early-onset dementia, along with 61 percent of Hispanics. The good news is that only 43 percent of blacks doubted Biden’s mental capacity.
These figures suggest that African American voters are solidly in Biden’s camp, while the attachment of other minority groups and young people — essential parts of the Obama coalition — is less secure.
Democratic strategists have repeatedly warned that Biden needs a huge turnout to win in November. It is nearly impossible to imagine he will achieve that if so many, even in his own party, doubt his ability to — quoting Cory Booker — “carry the ball across the finish line.”
Biden has a good deal going for him, including a largely sympathetic media, most of which is dedicated to his victory. He may be emboldened by the softball questions lobbed during his recent press event and decide to host more such encounters. That would be good for voters, and good for the country.
After all, Biden needs to flesh out his thinking on trade policies and an increasingly hostile China. He needs to explain why raising taxes will help our economy recover. And now, he absolutely needs to release the results of those “constant” tests of his mental acuity.
Last summer at the Iowa State Fair, Joe Biden said, “We choose truth over facts.” Actually, Mr. Biden, we the voters want both.
Published on The Hill