While Joe Biden recently has become the Democratic establishment’s answer to the Bernie Sanders insurgency, his declining cognitive ability is hard to ignore. Garbled speech, nonsequiturs, confusion, and the appearance of an actor forgetting his lines characterize most of his unscripted remarks, whether in public venues or on the debate stage.
This evident cognitive decline is something that a great many Americans will recognize, due to their experience with aging relatives. While Biden was never terribly bright, even a few years ago he appeared significantly more energetic, lucid, and articulate.
At 77, he clearly is not as capable as he once was.
Biden’s declining abilities had at least something to do with his poor showing in the early Democratic primaries. He lost the first few, coming in an embarrassing fourth place in Iowa. Until Super Tuesday, the non-Sanders candidates appeared to be replaying the scenario of the Republican primary of 2016. Several ideologically similar figures with varying degrees of political skill were dividing the vote among the party’s establishment and permitting an outsider to win through the old stratagem of “divide and conquer.”
Then, in an audacious display of Machiavellian discipline, two of the most popular remaining candidates—Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg—bowed out on the eve of Super Tuesday. How exactly this happened remains a mystery. But soon endorsements from key figures in the Obama Administration came rolling in.
After disappointing Super Tuesday results, Michael Bloomberg and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have also dropped out, with the former endorsing Biden. While Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) remains the race, she has been sidelined by the Democratic leadership, who have changed the debate rules to exclude this powerful and fresh voice from consideration.
Remaining are Biden and Sanders, representing ideologically opposite poles within the Democratic Party, with particularly strong differences on economics and foreign policy, as well as a palpable difference in tone.
Biden’s recent surge is curious. He has the same demerits that previously kept him in the rear of the pack. He won South Carolina, due primarily to its large percentage of black voters, but there is no realistic chance he or any Democrat would win there in November.
As the failed impeachment showed, Biden is knee-deep in corruption. And, as before, he lacks energy and strength as a campaigner, and is burdened by peculiar personal weaknesses, such as a penchant for invading the personal space of children and insulting voters. How did this strange guy become the consensus choice of the Democratic Party pooh-bahs?
The most obvious answer is that they think he can beat Trump. After all, he has had a lot of experience, once-upon-a-time was known for appealing to blue-collar voters, and, while not an excitement candidate or novelty, he is a known quantity.
But there is something more.
Biden Is a Friend to People in Power
Biden is a party man. When the party changed, he went with it, standing up for gay marriage, transgenderism, and other faddish items that excite the Democrat base. At the same time, he has fought for globalization, banking interests, and a neoliberal foreign policy, including his once-popular support for the Iraq War.
In other words, he has that peculiar mix of views that is culturally progressive while being at peace with finance capitalism and American liberal hegemony. It is the same basic worldview of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. This point of view finds eager assistance from the various organs of the deep state.
By contrast, Trumps’ unconventional views and expressed desire to “drain the swamp” have resulted in a constant battle with the permanent bureaucracy and its sycophantic allies in the press. This includes not only the usual institutional friction, but conspiracies against him by the most powerful instruments of national power: the FBI, the CIA, and the courts. From these came the insertion of spies and informants into his presidential campaign, an attempted impeachment, and resistance to the exercise of well-established presidential powers through nationwide injunctions.
It is fitting that America’s policy in Ukraine became the pretext with which his enemies tried to remove him from office. America’s policy there has been little explained and barely noticed by most Americans, but it has much to do with our ongoing friction with Russia, was the brainchild of the CIA’s John Brennan, was once the portfolio of Joe Biden, and it exemplifies all of the worst instincts of American foreign policy’s mandarin class.
How the Deep State Controls Elected Officials
Returning to Biden’s apparent mental decline, what if his lack of energy and apparent confusion are not faults, but virtues, at least for one cohort of supporters? After all, a dull and declining president is even more easily manipulated than the average president. By limiting information, boxing in decisions, or slow-walking items of disagreement, all presidents have had to deal with institutional resistance.
In Kosovo, Bill Clinton grumbled as the army dragged its feet on deploying its ground forces. In Iraq, George W. Bush was not persuaded by WMD intelligence, but he backed down when CIA Director George Tenet replied, “It’s a slam dunk.” And Ronald Reagan famously avoided the full weight of blame for the Iran-Contra affair, because it was widely understood that he was increasingly disengaged and reliant on advisors in his second term and likely unaware of what the CIA was doing behind his back.
But Obama also exemplifies the modern, compliant, and figure-head presidency, particularly with regard to the national security state. While Obama appeared in control and presented the image of a thoughtful and deliberate leader, this was only because he did very little to upset the status quo. While he was mocked for “leading from behind” on foreign policy, this also describes his approach to the presidency as a whole.
He outsourced key decisions, such as the details of Obamacare, or the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. And he spent his political capital either on programs that empowered government bureaucrats or did not threaten them, such as his use of the bully pulpit to express solidarity with his alienated black and minority supporters.
Consider the fawning profile of President Obama from the New Yorker in 2012:
Each night, an Obama aide hands the President a binder of documents to review. After his wife goes to bed, at around ten, Obama works in his study, the Treaty Room, on the second floor of the White House residence. President Bush preferred oral briefings; Obama likes his advice in writing. He marks up the decision memos and briefing materials with notes and questions in his neat cursive handwriting . . . If the document is a decision memo, its author usually includes options for Obama to check at the end.
It should be obvious how this method empowers the people drafting the memos along with their limited menu of options. There is a well-known cognitive bias of picking the middle choice when presented between two apparent extremes. This supposedly thoughtful approach actually ends up outsourcing the most important decisions to others.
Obama apparently is proud of his record as a compliant teacher’s pet, who did not burden his handlers with Trump’s insouciant skepticism and questioning. His suave, pseudointellectual style was the attractive public face for the faceless deep state and its functionaries.
In spite of campaigning on ending the Iraq War and “not doing stupid shit” on foreign policy, Obama ended up going along with his advisors’ recommendations for conflict with Libya, Syria, and Ukraine. These were all examples of the dubious but aggressive neoliberal foreign policy peddled by the deep state’s key figures and institutions.
If Biden were to become president, he would be even more pliable than Obama. In addition to generally endorsing the status quo and the rights of the government workers to influence policy, he is low energy, incoherent, and, one must imagine, subjectively aware of his increasing weaknesses. As such, he will find it easier to rubber stamp and endorse what is put before him in order to preserve appearances and avoid internal criticism.
The Power Behind the Throne
A President Biden would be like the child-kings of Europe, whose decisions were made by regents and other advisors—the “power behind the throne.”
While Biden’s declining mental acuity will hurt him during the campaign and likely cause him to look terrible in any debates, he has promised that things will “return to normal” if he is somehow elected.
In other words, he appeals to the establishment because he promises a restoration of the extensive powers and immunity from oversight that characterized the Obama-era FBI, CIA, and national security apparatus, along with the rest of the federal government’s overreaching bureaucracy. As with Obama, a figurehead President Biden’s chief function will be to ratify what the left-leaning government officials want to do without the distraction of executive oversight.
Far from being concerned about his creeping senility, the deep state may be rallying for Biden precisely because he will be weak, easily manipulated, and no threat to their agenda and habitual overreach.