Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Biden Speaks

When Joe Biden granted his first post-debate interview to ABC's George Stephanopoulos, the plan was to air highlights on Friday and the full interview on Sunday. Given how badly things have gone for the President since then, the network scotched that plan and just aired the full interview yesterday.

Needless to say, Biden had a lot riding on this, especially since his post-debate management has been nearly as disastrous as his debate performance. He's now offered up half a dozen excuses for what went wrong, from being so tired he almost fell asleep on stage, to having a cold, to jetlag. On the whole, these excuses are a bit hard to swallow. For example, if he was hampered by illness, why did it take so long for that to come out? Similarly, maybe the "I almost fell asleep up there" bit was for dramatic effect or something; we don't know. What we can tell you, as battle-worn veterans of public speaking, is that just doesn't happen. Whether it's adrenaline or something else, when you're speaking to people, be it 50 of them or 50 million of them, falling asleep (or nearly falling asleep) is not plausible, no matter how exhausted you are. (Z) once delivered a lecture where he was so ill that, after class, he staggered the 500 feet to his office and then passed out on the floor (after 3 hours of that, then it was the ER). But he still made it through the lecture, and was in no danger of passing out while it was underway.

Anyhow, Friday's interview was the latest, and most important, attempt by Biden to right the ship. If you did not see it, here is the video:

You should consider watching it; the actual interview is only about 20 minutes. If that's a bit much, you can just pick any 3-minute segment to watch; Biden's performance was pretty consistent throughout.

On style, Biden was OK-to-good. He did not lose his train of thought, he did not randomly stop speaking, he did not stumble over his facts. He did pause to ponder Stephanopoulos' questions sometimes, but that's not a problem. He also tripped over his tongue a little bit, here and there. In other words, there weren't many missteps. On the other hand, he was not particularly strong, either. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is "Debate Biden" and 10 is "State of the Union Biden," we'd say it's about a 6.5

On substance, Biden was... uneven. Stephanopoulos did as good a job as possible with his questions, in our view; there was no home cooking going on. However, Biden often relied on canned answers; he must have said some version of "It was just a bad night" 10 times. On top of that he often dodged questions, turning them into an excuse to (four or five times) run through the highlights of his record as president. That's an old politicians' trick, of course, but not particularly appropriate for this circumstance.

There are two things that came up during the interview that are going to get the lion's share of the attention, one of them wrongly and one of them rightly. The moment that is being grossly overblown came when Biden was asked if he would consider stepping down. And the way it's being reported is that he declared that only the Lord Almighty could convince him to do so.

There are two reasons this segment is not as significant as it sounds, in our view. First, as long as Biden's position is that he's going to stay the course, he has to assert that as strongly as possible, to the point of using over-the-top verbiage. Second, he did not actually say that "only" the Lord Almighty could get him to step down. What he said is that the Lord Almighty COULD do it, but isn't going to. That leaves open the possibility that someone other than the Lord Almighty could get him to drop out (Jill Almighty? Barack Almighty?), which means Biden could still bail out and save face.

The second part of the interview that is getting attention, and most certainly should, were the various attempts that Stephanopoulos made to get Biden to commit to a full cognitive and neurological workup, along with the release of the results to the voting public. Biden dodged that question, and dodged it again, and finally nodded when Stephanopoulos said "Clearly, the answer here is no."

Under normal circumstances, we can understand why a president would not be willing to do this. Lots of things could come up in a neurological screening, and most diagnoses have some amount of nuance. However, the media and the public largely don't do nuance. And they tend to be very unforgiving of health problems, particularly those involving the brain. There are many diagnoses that would not interfere with a person's ability to be president, but that would nonetheless be treated that way by the general public.

In any event, that is normal circumstances. What is happening right now is NOT normal circumstances. Given what happened at the debate, there's a fair argument to be made that Biden owes it to the American public to get tested (note, the same argument applies to Donald Trump, though he won't do it). Perhaps more significantly, a proper neurological workup may be the only viable option for Biden to quiet some/many of the naysayers.

That Biden will not undergo a workup, and won't even consider it, suggests one of two possibilities. The first is that he has good reason to be nervous about the results, and to think they will do his candidacy even more damage. The second is that he knows for a fact that the results will be troublesome, and will do his candidacy even more damage. For example, it has been suggested, including by some of our doctor-readers, that Biden has Parkinson's disease. Well, a neurological workup would certainly let that cat out of the bag.

Meanwhile, the sharks not only continue to circle, they are getting more aggressive. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) broke ranks yesterday, and told reporters he's trying to gather a group of senators who will work together to try to persuade Biden to step down. Note that the group doesn't exist yet, but the mere fact of Warner going public like this is not a good sign.

As we have written several times, there are some serious downsides to Biden dropping out. And there are some serious downsides to his staying on the ticket. But the worst of all possible worlds is a Democratic civil war, and that is exactly what is budding right now. We shall see where things stand in a few days. While a week may be a lifetime in politics, next week is going to be a cat's worth of lifetimes. (Z)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates