Americans are increasingly concerned about President Joe Biden’s mental state, and for good reason. It’s not just some mean right-wing trope. Biden routinely forgets the names of world leaders as well as officials in his own cabinet. He can just about get through a speech with a teleprompter, but anything off script leads to trouble.
This is embarrassing enough to watch when Biden is addressing domestic issues. When his fatuity plays out on the world stage, as it did on Tuesday, it can be downright horrifying.
The most powerful man in the world isn’t all there. Biden’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly suggested that he lives in an alternate reality.
He claimed to have restored relations with America’s allies just a few days after France recalled its US ambassador over a dispute about a submarine contract with Australia. He later rather undermined the rapport built up with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison by forgetting his name and calling him ‘that fellow down under’.
Biden’s usual pattern is that he can only handle one major public appearance each day before he needs to recover. Unfortunately, the mechanics of international relations demands more of world leaders. And Biden clearly can’t cope.
After his speech to the UNGA, he still had a bilateral meeting with Boris Johnson at the White House. As such, Biden’s staff made sure he was armed with a laminated notecard for the meeting, which contained commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘roll over’.
Not really, but the notes snapped by an eagle-eyed press photographer did remind the President to welcome Johnson to the White House and speak positively about the relationship between the UK and the US. An easy thing to forget for a President, apparently.
The most shameful portion of the sit-down, however, came when the leaders began to interact with the press in the room. Biden derisively replied ‘good luck’ when Johnson suggested the pair take questions from the pool reporters then refused to call on any members of the American media.
Once Johnson had taken questions from the British press, Biden’s wranglers cut the British PM off mid-sentence, yelling at the media to leave the room. Biden eventually appeared prepared to respond to a question about the border from CBS’s Ed O’Keefe, but the wranglers continued to shout so that reporters could not hear the President’s answer.
It is bad enough that lower-level communications staffers prevented their boss from speaking to the media, but it is a pure disgrace that they also thought it appropriate to interrupt a visiting world leader. Can you imagine the international incident that would have erupted if British officials refused to let the US President speak freely to the press while abroad?
I have been in the Oval Office as a member of the press pool. During the Trump administration, I saw wranglers corral reporters rather aggressively. But they have always backed off when a world leader has indicated that they want to take further questions from the press.
Last night’s scenario was so unprecedented, in fact, that the White House press corps filed a formal complaint with White House press secretary Jen Psaki about their treatment. Psaki dismissed their protest, insisting that she wasn’t even aware of what had happened in the Oval and that there was little she could do about the incident.
Biden’s mental deterioration must be even worse than we realise if his staff members are willing to treat foreign leaders with wanton disrespect to prevent him speaking to the press. Their actions were more akin to an authoritarian regime than a country whose Constitution guarantees the right to a free press.
Until now, many members of the mainstream media have claimed that it is cruel to question Biden’s mental state. Isn’t it worse to pretend that nothing is wrong as our Commander in Chief routinely embarrasses and degrades our country on the world stage?