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Because last week’s natterings unerringly become this week’s news, we are now trapped in a mind-numbing collective freakout about special counsel Robert Hur’s purposefully deceptive and broadly misunderstood takedown of President Joe Biden’s possible criminal conduct, a “report” replete with wholly gratuitous potshots about his mental acuity. The freakout has become a national news story on par with former President Donald Trump on Sunday threatening to abandon our NATO allies and let Russia “do whatever the hell they want.” (Note for those at home: these two things are actually not at all on par in terms of threats to world order and planetary stability.) As Margaret Sullivan points out, the Biden story consumed the weekend news cycle, while the Trump comments barely registered as a blip.

Interestingly, all of the #BidenTooOld coverage is about as new and revelatory as #ButHerEmails. If nothing else, it proves that a scandal holding that the president forgets things is always going to go down smoother than a scandal in which a special counsel flagrantly violated a long-standing Justice Department practice and protocol not to “criticize uncharged conduct.” As Sullivan was quick to point out, CNN and the New York Times and every U.S. corporate media entity and its cousin jumped onto the bandwagon. “For the media to make this the overarching issue of the campaign is nothing short of journalistic malpractice,” the former public editor of the New York Times wrote.

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Biden is old and he forgets things. Nobody is unaware of these facts, up to and including President Joe Biden, who said as much of himself in his press conference last week. But the ploy worked as intended, with the Hill cheerfully reporting that as a result of the Hur report and the wall-to-wall questions it spontaneously raised, 86 percent of Americans now believe that Biden is too old to serve in office.

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So now Americans face the problem that Biden is old, while Trump is an authoritarian who wants to “create a private red-state army under the president’s command.” The purpose of this army, per Stephen Miller, is to deport as many as 10 million “foreign-national invaders” who he claims have entered the country under Biden, and the plan, as Ron Brownstein describes it, is to “go around the country arresting illegal immigrants in large-scale raids.” Then, he would build “large-scale staging grounds near the border, most likely in Texas,” to serve as internment camps for migrants designated for deportation.

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One can certainly see why the two stories would weigh the same.

Perhaps one way to navigate yourself through this seemingly insoluble morass would be to ask yourself why Biden, who is stipulated #Old, has managed to helm the most successful presidency in modern history. Booming economy, eye-popping jobs reports, first gun violence reduction bill in decades, $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan plus COVID relief, Inflation Reduction Act, infrastructure prioritized, judges seated. Pick your metric—there have been a lot of wins. And the reason this old man who sometimes forgets things like dates has gotten all this done? He has, for the most part, surrounded himself with experts, genuine scientists, respected economists, and effective governmental actors and advisers.

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Ben Mathis-Lilley

How Bad Is This for Joe Biden, Really?

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Governance is not an action film. There is no minute-to-minute psychodrama involving someone in a tight black T-shirt mincing along the outdoor ledge of a skyscraper, ninja-kicking his lonely way down to the stairwell, where he karate-chops the well-armed baddies and then commando crawls his way into an empty vault with the glass chest where the nuclear reactor sits. No. Despite our fascination with the Great Man theory of American lawmaking, the presidency is an office that largely turns on superb staffing, visionary planning, deft political negotiation, and artful execution. Joe Biden doesn’t actually have to remember every single detail himself—he has to use his judgment to employ and empower a large contingent of skilled experts to execute upon their agreed-upon vision.

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If you are unconvinced, the best evidence that we keep falling for Great Man fantasy propaganda is the unmitigated failure of the first Donald Trump presidency. Here we had a self-described loner literally trumpeting his I-alone-can-fix-it worldview, all embodied in Great Man megalomania. He managed to accomplish virtually nothing: Almost none of his promises for single-handed economic revitalization, world domination, or intrepid urban crime-solving panned out. His great dreams were either strangled in infancy by staffers or halted by courts. And whether you believe that this happened because Donald Trump surrounded himself with incompetent yes men, or steely adults in the room, both versions serve to offer proof of concept: Donald Trump accomplished close to nothing because the people around him were either too inept to put his vision into practice or too skillful at blocking him to allow him to put his vision into practice.

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Put another way, if you or anyone you know finds themselves reacting to the Biden Is Old revelations with the thought that, sure, Donald Trump is a 91-indictments richer, adjudicated sexual abuser, defamer, liar, violator of national security, self-enriching, fascist-boosting insurrectionist, but it’s OK because he will surround himself with people who might check those impulses—well, doesn’t it rather intuitively make more sense to instead vote for the highly effective, internationally respected, but yes, sometimes forgetty guy who is surrounded by people with day planners? Donald Trump may be 4-years-less-elderly, but he still confuses Nikki Haley and Nancy Pelosi. He is also still an authoritarian fantasist who has run through every reasonably competent staffer and cabinet official and is now turning to the profoundly dangerous ones. It’s really not a contest when you compare him to anyone who has surrounded himself, and will continue to surround himself, with competent, skilled people who get things done.

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The real reason we all keep falling for Great Man horse race stories is because they are good for fueling fantasies of all-powerful big daddy presidents who control every tiny aspect of governance in their tiny wee hands. If that is your jam, well, it would make sense to vote for the only candidate who believes in the same dream. If it’s not, the question is reducible to rather simple stakes: Do you want the Big Daddy who surrounds himself with sycophants and nutters and people with shared last names, or the one who surrounds himself with competence and expertise? This doesn’t seem, on balance, like a really tricky call. Do we prefer presidents who can backflip and ninja-kick their way to total world dominion? Perhaps. To my knowledge, nobody ever made a Tom Cruise movie about listening and learning and compromising. But if you still believe governance to be a sober and serious enterprise, vote like the alternative is chilling, because it is.

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QOSHE - Everyone Needs to Stop Freaking Out About Biden’s Age Immediately - Dahlia Lithwick
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Everyone Needs to Stop Freaking Out About Biden’s Age Immediately

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14.02.2024
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Because last week’s natterings unerringly become this week’s news, we are now trapped in a mind-numbing collective freakout about special counsel Robert Hur’s purposefully deceptive and broadly misunderstood takedown of President Joe Biden’s possible criminal conduct, a “report” replete with wholly gratuitous potshots about his mental acuity. The freakout has become a national news story on par with former President Donald Trump on Sunday threatening to abandon our NATO allies and let Russia “do whatever the hell they want.” (Note for those at home: these two things are actually not at all on par in terms of threats to world order and planetary stability.) As Margaret Sullivan points out, the Biden story consumed the weekend news cycle, while the Trump comments barely registered as a blip.

Interestingly, all of the #BidenTooOld coverage is about as new and revelatory as #ButHerEmails. If nothing else, it proves that a scandal holding that the president forgets things is always going to go down smoother than a scandal in which a special counsel flagrantly violated a long-standing Justice Department practice and protocol not to “criticize uncharged conduct.” As Sullivan was quick to point out, CNN and the New York Times and every U.S. corporate media entity and its cousin jumped onto the bandwagon. “For the media to make this the overarching issue of the campaign is nothing short of journalistic malpractice,” the former public editor of the New York Times wrote.

Advertisement

Biden is old and he forgets things. Nobody is unaware of these facts, up to and including President Joe Biden, who said as much of himself in his press conference last week. But the ploy worked as intended, with the Hill cheerfully reporting that as a result of the Hur report and the wall-to-wall questions it spontaneously raised, 86 percent of Americans now believe that Biden is too old to serve in office.

Advertisement

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