Articles

Frail or Forceful, Biden Keeps Stumbling

April 20, 2023
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President Biden’s visit to Ireland was personal, given his Irish roots, and presidents are allowed such trips. The excursion marked the 25th anniversary of the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement to end sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. This provided the excuse for the president to go sightseeing in his family homeland. But the visit also poignantly highlighted Mr. Biden’s chief political vulnerability if he runs for a second term.

It was a nostalgic four days. Think “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” only in a rainy, emerald-green setting with Mr. Biden playing a much older Chevy Chase, traipsing with sister and son through pubs and castles, viewing Newry Harbor, where his forebears left famine for America, meeting with cousins close and distant, even chancing across the priest who administered last rites to his son Beau. 

He also offered one of the apparently infinite number of parental quotes Mr. Biden remembers. This time it came not from his dad but his mom, who he claimed “whenever we’d say something was unusual,” would reply “Joey, that’s the Irish of it.” Hmmm.

The visit was as long or longer than eight of Mr. Biden’s 12 international presidential trips so far. But instead of concerning real business, this one seemed to be mostly sightseeing and photo-ops. If there was any substantive purpose, it was likely bolstering Mr. Biden’s Irish-American credentials in battleground states. Notably, this trip lacked the customary news conference for an international presidential trip, in which the U.S. leader and that of his host country take questions from local and American reporters. I can’t remember—and neither can lots of journalists—the last presidential trip without such a televised press conference.

The likely reason for this omission points to Mr. Biden’s growing risk for 2024—his frailty. It was on full display in the president’s confusing remarks during a meeting with families of the U.S. Embassy staff in Dublin. The video is painful, better to read the transcript. Mr. Biden answered one student’s question about the keys to success, “making sure that we don’t all have Covid,” before asking, “What are we talking about here?” His son Hunter, serving as advance man, helpfully repeated the question. His father responded, “I’m not sure I’m the best guy to explain it.”

The president then launched into a lengthy story about how it’s OK to question people’s judgment when you disagree with them, “but it’s never okay to question their motive.” His tale involving Sen. Jesse Helms went long and limped to its conclusion, repeating his admonition not to question motives. Mr. Biden acknowledged he’d given “a long answer to a real quick question,” and after another back and forth, Hunter gently reminded him, “You’re supposed to do the rope line, dad.” This seemed to confuse the president still further.

White House aides almost surely decided not to risk a repeat performance in a formal setting or had previously planned to minimize appearances that would highlight Mr. Biden’s apparently diminishing capacity. But they can’t hide it forever.

In more-scripted settings, Mr. Biden can be forceful, his rhetoric stinging. But Mr. Biden does himself no good when his verbal attacks and stubborn actions are contrary to the civility he’s displayed elsewhere.

President Biden’s visit to Ireland was personal, given his Irish roots, and presidents are allowed such trips. The excursion marked the 25th anniversary of the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement to end sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. This provided the excuse for the president to go sightseeing in his family homeland. But the visit also poignantly highlighted Mr. Biden’s chief political vulnerability if he runs for a second term.

It was a nostalgic four days. Think “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” only in a rainy, emerald-green setting with Mr. Biden playing a much older Chevy Chase, traipsing with sister and son through pubs and castles, viewing Newry Harbor, where his forebears left famine for America, meeting with cousins close and distant, even chancing across the priest who administered last rites to his son Beau. 

He also offered one of the apparently infinite number of parental quotes Mr. Biden remembers. This time it came not from his dad but his mom, who he claimed “whenever we’d say something was unusual,” would reply “Joey, that’s the Irish of it.” Hmmm.

Read More at the WSJ

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