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Joe Biden Says Something Stupid Again... Or Not

This isn't the second-most-important story of the day, but it's about the Biden family, so we're going to stick it here nonetheless. Yesterday, we had an item about Joe Biden's "God Save the Queen, man" remark. And among the observations we made was that we did not regard this, in any way, as a sign that Biden's got cognitive issues.

This led a number of folks to e-mail us with the other Biden misstatement du jour, something that happened at the League of Conservation Voters' dinner last week. The President was delivering remarks on various environmental projects and, if you believe the right-wing media, he said something really embarrassingly bad. Here, for example, is the Biden clip, accompanied with commentary from a right-wing talker, under the title "Biden's Latest Gaffe May Be The Worst Yet!":

Should you not wish to watch it, the transcription of the "gaffe" is: "We have plans to build a railroad from the Pacific all the way across the Indian Ocean." On the surface, that sounds pretty bad. Obviously, there is not going to be a floating sea railroad that has Los Angeles as one terminus and Dar es Salaam as the other.

The point we tried to make in yesterday's piece, and that we now make again, is that before playing armchair neurologist and diagnosing Biden with dementia, it is more instructive to try to decode what the president (or anyone else in this situation) was actually saying. And guess what? That becomes much easier to do if you hear the full quote, as opposed to presenting it out of context, as Fox and the RNC, among others, have done. Here's the actual quote:

We have plans to build a railroad from the Pacific all the way across the Indian Ocean. We have plans to build in—in Angola one of the largest solar plants in the world. I can go on, but I'm not. I'm going off-script. I'm going to get in trouble.

For now, we will point out two things (there's a third coming later). The first of those is that it's clear Biden swallowed his words a little bit, and either said (or was supposed to say) "across TO the Indian Ocean." If you put that in there, and then swap out "Pacific" with "Atlantic" (an easy transposition to make, especially for a fellow who grew up in an area where The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was the dominant grocery-store chain), then you end up with this: "We have plans to build a railroad from the Atlantic all the way across to the Indian Ocean. We have plans to build in—in Angola one of the largest solar plants in the world."

Once you do that bit of very minor reverse engineering, then the question is: Is there supposed to be a railroad built from Angola to the east African coast? And the answer is: Yes. Just a month ago, during his Asia trip, the President delivered a speech on economic development, and it included this paragraph:

[I]n Sub-Saharan Africa, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation is looking to invest in this first railway project on the continent. The rail line would extend from the western shores of Angola to the border of the DRC and Zambia, with the goal of ultimately reaching the Indian Ocean, connecting the continent east to west for the first time.

This is clearly what he was talking about.

We are not trying to be in the business of Biden apologia. But we are also educators who have a profound dislike for misinformation. And we are people who have delivered tens of millions (actually, probably hundreds of millions) of words' worth of public speaking, and we know the occasional mistake happens. A lot, actually. We've said thousands of things that weren't quite right. The difference is our audience is a classroom full of students, and not the eyes of the world, including eyes of those who are looking to jump on every misstep. Oh, and Biden has had to overcome a stutter, which is no easy thing to do.

More broadly, and this is another point we tried to make yesterday, the occasional misstatement is simply not evidence of dementia. That's just not the pathology. In general, those with dementia lose sense of time, such that they say things that make sense, but only in the context of 30 years ago. If someone says something that is utterly nonsensical, like promising that a sky railroad is going to be built, that's more a sign of psychosis. And, in any case, these conditions don't peek through once in a while, in random ways. They show up repeatedly, and in similar, recognizable ways. If Biden were to keep asking where his first wife is, that would be a bad sign. But he doesn't. And if he did show actual signs of dementia or other cognitive dysfunction, the White House staff, which has access to plenty of medical expertise, would keep him under wraps or would have quiet conversations with Kamala Harris about invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. They wouldn't keep sending Biden out to deliver speeches before the cameras.

One last point, and it's the third note promised in the above paragraph. People with serious cognitive issues are almost invariably in denial, because nobody wants to believe their mind is failing them. Note that Biden, by contrast, takes ownership of his missteps, and jokes about how he'll get in trouble for going off-script. That kind of self-awareness is almost complete anathema for someone with actual dementia (or psychosis).

Since we wrote that item yesterday, we wanted to follow up today in order to make crystal clear our assessment of the situation. We simply do not believe the President shows signs of debilitating cognitive issues; the evidence just does not support it. Some age-related decline? Sure, but that's true of nearly all presidents, except for the handful of people elected to the office in their forties. And the next time Biden's political opponents seize on one clumsy sentence out of a week of public appearances, and turn it into a "Gotcha!" moment, consider the possibility that they are acting in extreme bad faith, and that they really don't have the expertise to reach the diagnosis they are clamoring about. (Z)

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