Columnist Jay Fleitman: Joe Biden for president?

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles as he takes a question from a reporter at a campaign event at the William “Hicks” Anderson Community Center in Wilmington, Del., July 28. AP

Published: 8/3/2020 5:50:48 PM

Three new video clips of Joe Biden surfaced on television news this week.

In one of them, he was talking to three interviewers when he related a recent medical encounter he had in which a nurse leaned over and whispered in his ear that if anything medically serious would happen to him, that she could breathe up through his nose and bring him back to health.

He found this to be amazing. I found this to be shocking. It is not clear what this medical encounter was about, it is not clear that it even happened, but it was clearly bizarre.

The other two clips that I also saw on television was one of a recent speech in which he clearly did not know where he was, and another in which he was answering a question about the 2020 census, and in his answer he added the qualification that it happened two or three years ago.

These are not lovable Joe Biden gaffes. I have been involved in patient care for over 40 years, and have no doubt that these are signs of significant cognitive defects. I don’t know if Joe Biden has Alzheimer’s disease, but he clearly has a degenerative neurological disorder in which dementia is a part. If Biden, who turns 78 on Nov. 20, is elected he will be the oldest president to win the office, and older than Ronald Reagan was when he left the presidency just before he turned 78. Donald Trump, who was the oldest person to assume the presidency at age 70 in 2016, turned 74 in June. This is not necessarily purely an age-related issue, but Biden appears not to be aging well. And Democrats know this.

So far the Biden campaign is one in absentia. It is a hidden campaign, in which he has been kept mostly hidden from view, never answering questions at press conferences, and otherwise only making public statements that are funneled through his campaign team. After all, the campaign has problems with Biden statements like his recent claim that 120 million Americans have died of COVID.

The Democrat on the street knows this as well, though no one wants to name it. I have overheard several conversations in which people who clearly support the Biden campaign expressed the hope that he stays out of public, does little speaking, does not engage in any debates, and that they are sure that the Democrats will surround a prospective President Biden with a well-functioning team if he wins.

Biden, of course, cannot be replaced on the ticket. He won the nomination in the primaries, and if he were to be removed, Bernie Sanders supporters would demand that their man has the rightful claim to the candidacy.

Electing a medically precarious president has precedence. Franklin Roosevelt ran for a fourth term in 1944, and everyone around him knew he was dying. He ran again, and the Democratic Party ran him again, even though it was clear he did not have long to live. He was sworn in in January 1945, and died in April 1945.

He selected Harry Truman as his running mate for vice president, not with the thought that he would make for a good president when Roosevelt died, but only out of consideration that he did not damage the ticket’s chance of winning. The Democrats had to win, and the well-being of the country came second. The country was lucky that Truman turned out to be a very good president.

The parallels to the Biden campaign are clear, and we are awaiting his choice for a vice presidential running mate. I hope his team is looking for someone who will be a competent chief executive to take over if Biden becomes untenable in the position. It seems that the search has other criteria. Whoever is making this decision seems to have restricted the choice to “women of color.”

This is intended at this fractious time to ensure that minorities are included in the nation’s power structure, but it in fact excludes from consideration other available candidates of different ethnicities and gender at a time when the presidential candidate himself is likely impaired.

Maybe I am all wrong, and we will see a sharp Joe Biden in the debates. The Democratic leaning press and media often raise questions of Trump’s competency to be president. He is characterized as being narcissistic, blustery, erratic, and unintelligent or uninterested. It is impossible to be outside the White House and Trump’s personal orbit to know what if any of this is true.

So please don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving my side a pass on questionable behavior, but I am asking Democrats not to turn a blind eye to what is in plain sight about Joe Biden for president.

Jay Fleitman, MD, of Northampton writes a monthly column. He can be reached at
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