The Morning Jolt


Where’s Biden?

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden arrives to speak about his plan to combat racial inequality at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., July 28, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the menu today: A long look at Joe Biden, how little he appears in his campaign’s videos, and what we can determine about whether he’s as mentally sharp as he used to be; a new report from NBC News leaves some key facts out; and New York media are asking tougher questions about the accuracy of the death count from the coronavirus in that state’s nursing homes.

Joe Biden, the 2020 Campaign’s Missing Man

If you look at the Joe Biden YouTube page, the first thing you notice is that most of the videos don’t feature Joe Biden very much. He’s not in the livestream of the national grassroots mobilization launch. He doesn’t make a cameo in the Chinese-Americans for Biden video featuring Olympian Michelle Kwan, Yo-Yo Ma, and several members of Congress. He doesn’t appear in the “Out for Biden” video featuring Jill Biden and Chasten Buttigieg. Biden offers a very short voice-over for an “Educators Hero” video featuring Arizona’s 2019 teacher of the year, Kareem Neal. One video features Scranton, Pa., residents talking about Biden. A one-minute video emphasizes “the story of Black America is the story of America” and that “just like our ancestors who stood up to the violent racists of a generation ago, we will stand up to this president and say, ‘no more,’ because America is better than him.” Biden did record a pre-taped brief introduction to the “Todos Con Biden Charla [chat] with actress Aubrey Plaza.” (It turns out that at age 16, Plaza was a representative at the Joe Biden Youth Leadership Conference in Delaware!)

The Biden video that probably got the most attention in the past few days is one of Biden driving his Corvette on what appears to be the long driveway of his home in Delaware. Even this generally lighthearted video has a brief wistful moment — “every time and again I think of my dad and [Biden’s late son] Beau. God, could my dad drive a car!” — and Biden’s remarks are . . . very much what we’ve seen in his other public appearances. “I believe that we can own the 21st Century market again by moving to electric vehicles. And, by the way, they tell me and I’m looking forward if it’s true, to driving one, that they’re making an electric Corvette that can go 200 miles an hour. You think I’m kidding? I’m not kidding. So, I’m excited about it.” (General Motors had no comment about whether they were working on an electric Corvette.)

It’s not a bad video, per se, but . . . these are presumably the best takes.

Biden is not entirely absent from the videos for his campaign. But he’s rarely in them for very long, and his remarks, seldom more than a few minutes, are generally voice overs, with videos or photos of Biden shaking hands and appearing earlier in the campaign.

On paper, the Biden campaign could argue that having so many videos of other people offering testimonials to the importance of electing him is a sign that his campaign is about “we, not he,” or “driven by the people, not an exercise in ego gratification” or something like that. But the sparse servings of the candidate himself aren’t happening in a vacuum.

You notice Biden hasn’t subjected himself to a tough interview with a Chris Wallace or Jonathan Swan type. Then again, Biden’s standard interviews during a virtual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists didn’t run so smoothly.

Biden isn’t going to be giving his convention address in Milwaukee. This suggests that the Biden campaign is not confident in his ability to travel from Delaware to Milwaukee and back without an unacceptable level of risk of catching the coronavirus. It is fair to wonder if Biden will travel anywhere between now and Election Day.

There’s a reason Julian Castro went after Biden’s memory and mental capacities in one of the primary debates, and insisted afterwards that he didn’t regret it. (It didn’t help that Biden called Castro “Cisernos” a month later.)

Rasmussen polling found 59 percent of voters don’t think Biden would complete his first term as president. The Atlantic reported at the end of June that “other focus groups have revealed similar data. The word young voters most associate with Biden is old, followed by good, and then creepyDemocrat, and smart, according to a focus group conducted over the past few weeks for NextGen America, a political organization that focuses on increasing youth turnout. Mixed in are leadergreatniceexperiencedokay, and cool, but also senile and dementia.”

Ted Rall is a very liberal cartoonist who was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders in this recent Democratic primary. Back in March, Rall offered a blistering assessment of Biden in the Japan Times that was, as far as I can tell, almost entirely ignored here in the United States:

It is perfectly fair to talk about Bernie Sanders’ heart attack as well as Biden’s and Trump’s mental acuity.

Contrary to current ridiculous Democratic talking points, it is not ageist to point this out. One out of seven Americans over the age of 70 suffers from dementia. (Biden is 77.) If it’s ageist to talk about dementia among the elderly, it’s ageist to talk about immaturity among the young.

It is neither necessary nor possible to scientifically determine whether the former vice president has dementia. On the other hand, you don’t need an astronomer to know that the sun rises in the east. If you have encountered dementia, you know Biden has it…

As a citizen, you have no business casting a vote thoughtlessly or less than fully informed. Deliberately casting a vote for someone clearly suffering from dementia, or turning a blind eye to it, or being simply unaware of Biden’s mental state are inexcusable.

I spent the last few years watching my mother’s decline due to dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. She had been brilliant. Years before her death, however, she was having a tough time keeping it together. I would have voted for her as president in 2012 but not 2016. It would have been wrong.

No one who has been close to someone deteriorating from that disease could fail to see the same signs in Biden.

Rall has not budged, now that Biden is the nominee and, if polls are accurate, likely next president. He wrote last month,Joe Biden is mentally unfit for the presidency. He is clearly suffering from dementia, which is why his campaign is hiding him. Now they’re trying to come up with excuses for him not to debate Trump. If the electorate wants to hand over nuclear launch codes to a man who is senile, let them commit this madness without me.”

We’ve all watched Joe Biden on our television screens for years. We know what he was like as vice president. The guy who’s been running for the past year or so . . . has lost at least a step, and maybe more. If these fears were baseless, Biden would be out and about, interacting with reporters and taking questions and socially distant town halls, etc., and we would see for ourselves. The fact that his campaign appears to be minimizing the amount of time that he’s interacting with people and operating without a script is an answer . . . a pretty ominous answer. If Biden’s mind were as sharp as Obama’s in 2008 or 2012, would prominent Democrats be publicly floating the idea of doing away with the presidential debates?

Right about now, Trump fans are jumping up and down and arguing Biden is deteriorating and can’t string two sentences together, and that Democrats are terrified of having him on stage with Donald Trump for 90 minutes. But Biden can string two sentences together, and probably two paragraphs together. The last time we saw Joe Biden on a debate stage, on March 15, he held his own against Sanders for two hours. Clearly, he still has some good nights left in him. But does he have four years’ worth of good nights left in him?

Biden’s age and mental acuity may not matter that much by November. Trump is a walking disaster area; he entered a routine conversation about the economy with GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and, with little warning, berated Adelson for not donating enough to his reelection campaign, reportedly offending and alienating the man who is arguably the single most important donor to the Republican Party.

But Democrats know, deep in their guts, they were not supposed to go into the 2020 election with a presidential candidate best kept away from the cameras after more than a few minutes. Democrats like to think of themselves as the young, fresh, eloquent, bold, outsider party — the JFKs, the Bill Clintons, the Barack Obamas. In 2016, by nominating Hillary Clinton, the Democrats tossed away their preferred perception of being the young party, and in fact embodied the establishment and status quo. Biden is not Hillary Clinton — but he’s not completely different, either.

A common theory on the right — and perhaps not just the right — is that much of the Democratic Party sees Joe Biden as a tool; his purpose is to beat Trump and then he will be cast aside, in favor of this presumably more-progressive vice president. One has to wonder just how much Joe Biden himself would truly object to this turn of events. Recall that when Biden’s second presidential bid crashed and burned in January 2008, and before Obama selected him as the elder-statesman security blanket in August, it appeared Biden’s days of influence in the Democratic Party were over. He was going to stick around for a seventh term (!) in the Senate, but no one spent much time asking, “what does Joe Biden think?” Instead, Biden enjoyed one of the most remarkable third acts in American politics.

If elected, Biden’s status in the history of the Democratic Party will be secured. In addition to being a longtime senator and a two-term vice president, he will be the man who beat Donald Trump — who did what Hillary Clinton couldn’t — and who spared the country another term of a president his party detests with a probably unparalleled ferocity. Maybe Biden is fine with that as his epitaph.

NBC News Visits a Wuhan Lab and Declares It’s Clean

NBC News is invited to tour the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China and writes an article contending the institution is being unfairly “scapegoated” as the possible origin point for SARS-CoV-2. Josh Rogin of the Washington Post lays out everything the NBC News report gets wrong, fudges, misleads, misquotes, and fails to mention.

I wonder if the NBC News team in China had a chance to visit their parent company’s largest and most expensive theme park it has ever built, Universal Beijing Resort, or to catch a Universal Pictures film in a Chinese theater while they were there.

New York Is Hiding the Coronavirus Death Toll in Nursing Homes

The popular narrative of “Andrew Cuomo, Pandemic Hero” is an unnerving triumph of spin over facts and a lack of curiosity on the part of the national media. The New York media are covering Cuomo in a much tougher manner:

New York’s coronavirus death toll in nursing homes, already among the highest in the nation, could actually be a significant undercount. Unlike every other state with major outbreaks, New York only counts residents who died on nursing home property and not those who were transported to hospitals and died there.

That statistic that could add thousands to the state’s official care home death toll of just over 6,600. But so far the administration of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has refused to divulge the number, leading to speculation the state is manipulating the figures to make it appear it is doing a better than other states and to make a tragic situation less dire.

ADDENDUM: Vladimir Putin announces — claims? — Russia has developed a coronavirus vaccine.

There’s an old joke that after the United States put a man on the moon, a Russian scientist met his American counterpart and boldly pledged that his country would out-do the West . . . by landing a man on the sun.

“What, are you crazy?” the American scientist asked. “If you try to land a man on the sun, he’ll burn up!”

The Russian scientist scoffed and tapped his forehead. “What, you think we haven’t thought of that? That’s why we’re going to launch the rocket at night!”


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