Joshua Z. Rokach

The same old Joe Biden

Joe Biden official portrait/

We US voters and, indeed, the rest of the world, rightly focus on Joe Biden’s discombobulated performance at his presidential debate. Biden’s responses to that disaster, more than the debate itself, highlight worrisome issues beyond age.  Those of us around  during his vice presidency and who follow his presidency see some of  the same pattern of behavior then as now.

Three characteristics emerge. First, saying what he needs to, whether true or not, to avoid admitting mistakes or failure. Second, saying what advances him in the moment, only to reverse when it suits him. Third, making grand pronouncements then hiding details that undercut his rhetoric.  

Take Biden’s explanations for his debacle. Immediately, he said he thought he did fine.  When everyone could see otherwise, he said he had a cold. He neither took preventive measures nor told anyone ahead of time to forewarn them. Next, he said he suffered from jet lag, though he returned from his trips 12 days before and then rested at his retreat. He blamed his staff for poor preparation, which did not explain his vacant look and his inability to finish sentences. Finally, he said he works too many hours, though he also said he could handle his workload.

On previous important occasions, we saw the same evasions. Passing comprehensive health care reform marked the high point of President Obama’s tenure. Biden advised abandoning the effort in favor of nibbling at the edges. Yet, Biden has always claimed credit for helping to enact the Affordable Care Act. He moved not one vote. Another signature moment occurred with the immaculate killing of Osama bin Laden. Biden opposed the operation, according to attendees at the meetings. He claimed that later, he told the president in private to go ahead. As president, he withdrew precipitously from Afghanistan, against the advice of his generals. He claimed everyone agreed with him.

Next, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News pressed Biden on how he would feel if he remained a candidate and Trump won. Biden replied that he would be at peace because he did the best he could. This from a person who has shouted from the proverbial rooftops how electing his rival would imperil democracy itself. Shock ensued.  

It should not have. Biden’s answer in the interview served Biden’s purpose at the moment. If he conceded that Trump posed a danger, how could Biden risk such an outcome and not drop out? The next day he would go back to advocating the defeat of a would-be dictator at all costs. The same thing happened at other turning points. When Barack Obama chose Biden as his running mate in 2008, he made the prospective vice president promise he would not run for higher office. Biden agreed.  

We know how that turned out. (Biden claims he changed his mind when President Trump saw “fine people on both sides” of the Unite the Right neo-Nazi riot in 2018. However, The Long Alliance (Henry Holt and Co. 2023) maintains that Biden prepared to run even before Trump took office.)

In 2020, to get elected, Biden promised that he would be a “one-term president,” a transition  to a new generation of Democrats. Need I say more. (Biden claimed he ran again only because of Trump. However, Trump announced in November 2022. The Democrats stacked their primaries in favor of Biden less than three months later.  It strains credulity to think such a seismic change took that little time to accomplish.) 

Finally, last week, Biden announced he would prove his capability to continue. He would subject himself to two supposedly spontaneous radio interviews.  He did not do well.  More importantly, the hosts revealed that Biden’s aides gave them a list of questions and the hosts told Biden’s people which they would ask.  

Similarly, Biden hides the details of his self-described historic accomplishments which makes them not so grand. One example: Biden boasts of success in combating climate change. He points to electric vehicles and the transition away from fossil fuels in the Inflation Reduction Act. I wrote in this blog that  protectionist manufacturing requirements and stingy incentives would thwart the goal. Two days ago, the New York Times published a story that Tesla and Ford will shift away from electric vehicles because of reduced demand.  

The US has experienced record oil and gas drilling and leads the  world in production, presumably to keep gasoline prices low. Indeed, the press reports the White House balks at a Treasury Department plan to crack down on Russian evasion of oil sanctions, on the slight change gasoline prices rise in an election year. 

Will Democrats buy the snake oil or do the right thing?

About the Author
Joshua Z. Rokach is a retired appellate lawyer and a graduate of Yale Law School.
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