The oldest president to ever take the oath of office, Joe Biden has been around long enough to remember the Presidential Fitness Test. Inspired by President Eisenhower and popularized by John F. Kennedy, a generation of American children was challenged to become more physically fit. In-school testing was demanding, and kids, by and large, despised the day when they were forced to do pull-ups, the long jump, and a mile run, among other activities. Mercifully, the program was finally terminated during the 2012-13 school year.
At age 78, Joe Biden underwent another presidential fitness test of sorts when he held his first live press conference. While it did not involve pull-ups or the shuttle run, many Americans tuned in to see if Biden was up to the rigorous task of being the United States president. It is a valid question to ask about someone who has suffered two serious neurological episodes, not to mention several recent falls, one causing a fractured foot.
Recently the president’s mental acuity was questioned by one of his employees. Former White House stenographer Mike McCormick worked alongside Biden from 2011-2017. McCormick believes the president has lost 50% of his cognitive abilities in the last few years. That is a considerable amount of gray matter.
Neurological problems are often physically manifested by a loss of balance, lethargy, and garbled or slurred speech. Then there are the cognitive challenges like inappropriate anger or frustration, memory retrieval, general confusion, and difficulty with names and numbers. From falling three times on his way up the stairs of Air Force One to his many memory lapses, there is a legitimate question to be asked: Is the man up to the job of being president?
Joe Biden did not stumble up the lectern step, nor did he lose his balance while standing there, but it was evident to the average viewer that the president cognitively struggled in several areas.
Coming out of the Starting Gate
Early in the game, Mr. Biden is often less confused and appears to be at his best. This time he seemed more even, but in a halting manner, with frequent fits and starts. His speech cadence was extraordinarily ponderous. At times, this laborious speech pattern hampered him, and he seemed confused. He also had a good deal of difficulty with names and numbers. He could not recall the former president in one exchange and finally landed on “Trump” as if he were searching through an old-fashioned Rolodex. Other names proved too challenging to retrieve. He would commonly refer to a piece of legislation as “the act” or “the thing.”
Particularly disheartening was Mr. Biden’s extensive use of notes, especially in foreign policy areas where he presented as someone out of his depth. It is unusual for a president to use notations for a live press conference. He also used written talking points when addressing the subject of infrastructure. This was probably because statistical figures were involved in discussing the topic, and notes provided him actual figures that he simply could not recall. In yet another instance, when speaking on the subject of immigration, Biden fumbled, saying 100,000 before self-correcting with “I mean 1,000.”
At times, Biden had trouble beginning to answer, almost as if he had to prime the pump before speaking. This created elongated, awkward pauses. A few times – specifically when discussing the filibuster – he entirely lost his train of thought and rambled on about immigration for several minutes until prompted by the reporter that he forgot the question’s subject.
Fox’s Dana Perino commented, “He did fine, and fine was all he needed.” Democrats may be satisfied with Joe Biden’s appearance in front of the press corps, but there is no doubt the president had to work diligently at it. More worrisome, though, is Biden’s surprising statement that he “expected” to run for president again. If this performance is indicative of Joe Biden’s cognitive capabilities, that seems almost an insurmountable task come 2024.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.