Opinion | Biden has a woman problem — or two — in the White House – The Washington Post

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There wasn’t much to celebrate this July Fourth, with democracy on the bidding block, two presidential candidates vying for Worst Possible Choice and alternative scenarios that fluctuate between chaos and doomsday.

With so much in flux, this column could be overwhelmed by events, but a few things bear saying. Let’s start with the sudden post-debate recognition among Democrats that Joe Biden isn’t quite up to speed. Really? He wasn’t exactly hitting on all cylinders during his third run for president in 2020.

Biden was jauntier back then, sure. But consider this headline from March 2021, two months after he was inaugurated: “Biden ‘just fine’ after tripping 3 times jogging up steps to Air Force One.” Subhead: “The White House blamed the incident on high winds and a ‘misstep.’”

After the debate last week, the same propaganda team attributed Biden’s “faltering” performance to a cold. A few days later, they said he was suffering jet lag — from a trip to Europe two weeks earlier. No, what happened to Biden was obvious to anyone watching. He was spacing out and mumbling answers because it looked to me like his occipital lobe, fusiform gyrus, hippocampus and temporal gyrus weren’t communicating.


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Look at a video taken after the debate when Biden and the first lady joined supporters in the Democratic spin room. The president stands off to the side looking somewhat dazed while Jill Biden takes the microphone, turns toward her husband and, as if talking to a toddler, exclaims: “Good job, Joe! You answered all the questions! You knew all the facts!” Joe smiles.

Then she turns back to the crowd and screams, “And what did Donald Trump do? He LIED!” It was not her best moment.

Jill Biden has appeared for a while to be running the show and, therefore, the country — though I don’t recall seeing her name on the 2020 ballot. It’s clear she is pushing her husband to stay in the race, probably not eager to retreat to Delaware with a man whose years have caught up with him. It happens. Age sweeps in the front door and, faster than you can say “Scranton,” turns a previously vigorous, intelligent person into a stranger content to watch dust particles do the hokey pokey in a shaft of sunlight.

Never mind the stroke-of-midnight end to first ladies’ status — the White House residence, staff, stylists and magazine covers. It was for former first ladies that “Cinderella” was written.

Herr Trump, meanwhile, is a recently convicted felon who benefits only by comparison with Biden’s performance. Trump’s lies far exceeded Biden’s, according to the folks who fact-check so we don’t have to. But at least he was wide-awake and, for him, relatively controlled. If only he had kept his vitriol to a simmer rather than a low boil. Instead, he shot back at a clearly faltering Biden and looked, as ever, like a back-alley bully.

Biden, as nearly everyone has noted, couldn’t form intelligible sentences. At times, he entered the stare zone where the brain searches desperately for a GPS to tell him where he is. As I’ve written during the past 3½ years, it was painful to watch. Almost as painful as listening to Kamala D. Harris try to ground her thoughts in sentences. Most of the time, she sounds as though she’s leading a séance. A speech she gave at Howard University last year makes the point:

“So I think it’s very important — as you have heard from so many incredible leaders — for us, at every moment in time, and certainly this one, to see the moment in time in which we exist and are present, and to be able to contextualize it, to understand where we exist in the history and in the moment as it relates not only to the past, but the future,” she said-ish.

A four-minute, viral video recently in circulation on X shows her repeating a phrase that she seems to like — a lot — in numerous settings. I didn’t count the number of times she said some variation of “what can be, unburdened by what has been,” in those four minutes, but the woman gets credit for being able to inject dramatic earnestness into words of which even she, surely, has wearied.

As Biden now weighs his options, it is increasingly plausible that Harris could replace him on the Democratic ticket. I’d prefer the chaos of an open convention in Chicago.

But the machinery has already cranked up to make her seem presidential. After the debate, she appeared on television long enough to make two statements and then was whisked away. The White House is well aware of her tendency to wander the wordscapes of the metaphysical. But just watch. Because Harris is the first woman, first South Asian American, first Black vice president — no Democrat will be brave enough to say what’s obvious: She’s no Barack Obama.

For the sake of the country, I hope she’s more than she appears to be. And I hope Jill will take Joe home while he can leave with his dignity mostly intact. But my lingering fear is that Trump will be president again — not despite Harris but because of her.

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