The president is not a crook. But there may be something more unforgivable in the court of public opinion. The president is old.
That is what will linger from Joe Biden’s pyrrhic victory at the hands of the justice department on Thursday. True, he will not face criminal charges over his handling of highly classified documents when a private citizen, despite an awkward photo revealing papers stashed in a broken cardboard box in his garage, according to special counsel Robert Hur.
But most striking among the reasons that Hur gave for his decision was that 81-year-old Biden “would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.
The special counsel had delivered an attack line to Donald Trump’s election campaign on a silver platter. Only in America could Trump gain a political lift from 91 criminal charges even as his opponent suffers a political setback from not being charged at all.
And Trump, who is 77, is at least as likely to speak gobbledygook as Biden, recently confusing his Republican opponent Nikki Haley with former House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yet as in so many other areas, he is somehow given a free ride, in part because he is a white hot ball of anger who just seems younger, in part because his age seems trivial compared to his alleged crimes and misdemeanours, including a far more serious classified documents case.
But Hur still wrote that Biden’s memory was “significantly limited” when he was interviewed by members of his prosecution team. It “appeared hazy” regarding the debate about US forces in Afghanistan and could not recall the years when he was vice-president. Most startlingly Biden “did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died”.
It is all fodder for Republicans, who have been working around the clock to pin Biden to the wall as a babbling Methuselah who doesn’t know what day of the week it is. Alex Pfeiffer, communications director for Make America Great Again Inc, a pro-Trump Super Pac, said: “If you’re too senile to stand trial, then you’re too senile to be president. Joe Biden is unfit to lead this nation.”
Nikki Haley, a Republican candidate for president, posted on social media: “Joe Biden can’t remember major events in his life, like when he was vice-president or when his son died. That is sad, but it will be even sadder if we have a person in the White House who is not mentally up to the most important job in the world.”
Biden’s lawyers were quick to dismiss the report as a hatchet job by a partisan hack swerving outside his lane. They accused of Hur, a Republican who served in senior roles at the justice department during the Trump administration, of overreach and “investigative excess”.
Unfortunately that defence had already been undercut by Biden himself. Speaking in Nevada on Sunday, he apparently confused François Mitterrand, the former French president who died in 1996, worth France’s current president, Emmanuel Macron, while recalling European worries over US democracy and the January 6 insurrection.
Then, in New York on Wednesday, Biden referred to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl – who died in 2017 – as talking to him about the same issue when he apparently meant Angela Merkel.
A day later the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, tried to neutralise the gaffes by pointing to recent examples of other public figures – including the House speaker, Mike Johnson, and Fox News host Sean Hannity – mixing up names. She told reporters: “And, look – you know, look, as it relates to the names and – and what he was trying to – you know, what he was trying to – to say, look, many people – elected officials, many people – you know, they tend – they can – they can mis- – misspeak sometimes. Right?”
Biden, meanwhile, is not helping his own case. He turned down the chance to do a TV interview before Sunday’s American football Super Bowl, a platform that reaches millions of viewers who might not be following politics closely. He has sat for a quarter as many interviews as Trump at this point in his presidency, and one-fifth as many as Obama, according to Tthe White House Transition Project’s Martha Kumar.
Such elusiveness gives the impression of a man whose “handlers” believe that he must be coddled and shielded for his own health and gaffe avoidance.
There are eerie echoes of 2016 when then FBI director James Comey declined to recommend charges against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her use of a personal email system when she was secretary of state but rebuked her as “extremely careless”. Comey reopened his investigation 11 days before the election; Clinton has blamed him for her shocking loss to Trump.
What those Comey interventions did was feed a pre-existing narrative that Clinton, wife of former president Bill Clinton, came with a whiff of corruption, an elitist assumption that the rules governing everyone else did not apply to her. Now special counsel Hur has fed a pre-existing narrative that Biden is too old for the job. Should that solidify in the public mind as his defining characteristic, it will be a disaster for the president’s re-election – and the battle to preserve democracy.
Title: Special counsel delivers Trump a Biden attack line on a silver platter
Source: the Guardian
Date: February 9, 2024 at 04:13AM