Biden in the Bardo

Seymour Hersh said Biden isn’t all there. Thomas Friedman and Jane Fonda were reduced to tears. Rob Reiner, who watched the debate with Fonda in LA in the company of Doug Emhoff, the husband of Biden’s VP Kamala Harris, screamed at the TV: “We’ve lost.” One of the party’s top money-bundlers told Politico: “Our only hope is that he bows out, we have a brokered convention or he dies. Otherwise, we are fucking dead.” These were just some of the shock reactions to Joe Biden’s somnambulant performance in his debate against Trump last week in Atlanta. 

Biden’s decrepit appearance, death-rattle voice and baffling answers shouldn’t have been a surprise. He’s 81-years-old and he’s been descending into senescence for years. But most people, including many of his most ardent supporters, hadn’t seen this diminished version of Biden before on extended display. 

Biden doesn’t make many prolonged public appearances anymore. He hasn’t given a full-press conference in nearly a year. He’s been kept on a tight public leash by his staff, restricted to short interactions with the White House press gaggle or prepared remarks fed to him by a teleprompter. Even then he’s seemed halting, confused, and mentally frail.

During an interview with CNN, Carl Bernstein said multiple sources told him there have been at least 15 occasions in the last year and a half “where the president has appeared like he did at that horror show (his debate performance).”

Bernstein said that in the last six months, sources have told him there has been a marked rate in Biden’s cognitive decline.  He says that some of his sources have taken their concerns to Ron Klain in the last year, worried that the President is losing his train of thought and didn’t have the capacity to pick up where he left off.  Bernstein described a fundraiser at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York in June of 2023, where the President became “Very stiff…almost like a kind of rigor mortis.” 

Biden’s staff and family are charged with protecting him. The media isn’t. Most other courtier reporters surely knew what Bernstein had heard. Yet, they’ve largely been complicit in covering up Biden’s accelerating cognitive decline, presumably because of their deep hatred of Trump, whose faculties, such as they are, also seem to be in an advanced state of decay.

As Jill Abramson, former executive editor of the New York Times, wrote in Semafor: “It’s clear the best news reporters in Washington have failed in the first duty of journalism: to hold power accountable. It is our duty to poke through White House smoke screens and find out the truth. The Biden White House clearly succeeded in a massive cover-up of the degree of the President’s feebleness and his serious physical decline, which may be simply the result of old age. Shame on the White House press corps for not to have pierced the veil of secrecy surrounding the President.”

But the dam finally burst after the debate. Nearly the entire stable of NYT liberal columnists-Nick Kristof, Friedman, Ezra Klein, Krugman–said Biden should stand down for reelection for the good of the country. A few days later the newspaper’s lead editorial cast the same fatal judgment on Biden. Then New Yorker editor David Remnick, the Peggy Noonan of the liberal commentariat, rendered his own stark appraisal of Biden’s terminal political condition: “For the Joe Biden to insist on remaining the Democratic candidate would be an act not only of self-delusion but of national endangerment.”

Biden’s inner circle, largely consisting of his family and long-time advisor Ted Kaufman, who is himself 85, have closed ranks, blaming his enfeebled performance against Trump on a cold, on the cold medicine, on CNN’s lighting and makeup crew, on the moderators’ failure to fact-check Trump and on Biden’s staff over-preparing him at Camp David, leaving him tired and vulnerable to Trump’s hyperbolic fusillades. 

But as Ben Rhodes, former assistant National Security Advisor for Obama, a couple of hours after the debacle: “Telling people they didn’t see what they saw is not the way to respond to this.”

Mika Brzezinski, a Biden dead-ender and co-host of Morning Joe, was one of the last media holdouts: “The choice is one terribly bad night versus a decade of destruction to our core beliefs, our democratic values, and yes, our Constitution. For me, Joe Biden is still the man for this moment.

Of course, it wasn’t just “one terribly bad night.” Biden’s brain didn’t suddenly melt under CNN’s lights. It’s been eroding for years and there’s no drugging it back together again. Face it, that “terribly bad night” is probably the best Biden will ever be from now on…


+ To anyone who’s followed Biden’s career, he wasn’t “all there” even when he was there. In 2008, there were many neutral observers who thought that Sarah Palin at least stood toe to toe with him in the VP debate. I thought she won on points by exceeding low expectations.

+ There’s a reason Biden’s aides haven’t let him do many interviews and it became obvious to all on Thursday night. But the published texts of the 2 long interviews he’s done recently–with Time magazine and the Special Counsel–exposed his incoherence, shoddy memory and flights of fancy.

+ Franklin Foer says Biden’s staff tends to self-medicate with booze after a day spent with the Boss, so it seems unlikely the Team will be ready for a 3 am crisis phone call Hillary used to warn about…

+ Biden was especially inarticulate on what should have been one of his strongest lines of attack against Trump, abortion: “Here’s the deal, there’s a lot of young women who are being raped by their – by their in-laws, by their – by their spouses, brothers & sisters, by – just – it’s just – it’s just ridiculous. And they can do nothing about it.” Raped by their “sisters”?

+ Biden has always been “personally opposed” to abortion and as a senator tried to restrict it as much as possible, particularly by repeatedly voting for the Hyde Amendment, banning federal funding for abortions–meaning in effect poor women didn’t enjoy equal reproductive rights.

+ Biden seemed to commit political seppuku “right on the stage” (as Mick Jagger sang) when he asserted that he’d “beat Medicare.”  But the full Biden quote before he said “We beat Medicare” is just as damning as the mortifying finale…

+ Trump dropped a couple of truth bombs during the sclerotic debate with a zombie-like Biden, who persisted with his farcical contention that only Hamas is resisting his ceasefire plan…

+ Biden: “Everyone from the United Nations Security Council straight through to the G7 to the Israelis and Netanyahu himself have endorsed the plan I put forward, endorsed the plan I put forward, which has three stages to it. The first stage is to treat the hostages for a ceasefire. Second phase is a ceasefire with additional conditions. The third phase is now the end of the war. The only one who wants the war to continue is Hamas, number one.”

+ Trump correctly pointed out that Israel is the one who objects to a permanent ceasefire, a truism he followed up with a racist insult, saying Biden (who has armed the slaughter of more than 40,000 Palestinians) had become a “Palestinian, a very bad Palestinian”…

+ Trump: “You got to ask him, as far as Israel and Hamas, Israel is the one that wants to go. He said the only one who wants to keep going is Hamas. Actually, Israel is the one, and you should let them go and let them finish the job. He doesn’t want to do it. He has become like a Palestinian. But, they don’t like him because he is a very bad Palestinian. He is a weak one.”

+ So weak, he has armed the slaughter of more than 40,000 people he’s now being derisively compared to.

+ “Palestinian” is the new N-word, which anyone from politicians to comedians can use as a term of racist derogation without fear of recrimination, redaction or bleeping.

+ I didn’t catch this revealing admission from Biden’s incoherent mumbling in Atlanta until reading the transcript this morning, where he adopts Netanyahu’s eliminationist rhetoric on Hamas and suggests that the CIA has been helping Israel target Hamas leaders for assassination or airstrikes:

“Hamas cannot be allowed to be continued. We continue to SEND our experts and our intelligence people to how they can get Hamas like we did Bin Laden…They should be eliminated.”

+ Biden did not have a “bad debate performance.” He showed he was incompetent to be president. This enfeebled man, who has resisted all advice to change his disastrous course, is overseeing two wars: one plunging the world toward nuclear confrontation, the other a full-blown genocide. 

+ It’s obvious now why no one can change Biden’s mind about Gaza. There’s no mind left to change.

+ The Democrats hid FDR’s polio because they feared it would make him look weak, even though his mind was sharp. Biden stood largely stable on 2 legs for 90 minutes tonight but there was no way to conceal his enfeebled mind. He failed at the 1 thing he had to do: prove he was competent.

+ Biden’s people pushed for this early debate. Why? Anyone who’s been around him for the last two years had to have seen diminished capacity and know this is how it would turn out. Was it a last chance to prove to an enfeebled power-mad politician that he’s not up to the challenge? Will Jill or Obama make the call that is over?

+ Like the climate, Biden on debate night, bad as he was, is the best Biden will be from here on out.

+ Well, it looks like it’s going to be Jonestown on the Potomac. Dear leader says, drink up, kids!



+ Age of presidents at the end of their term…

Biden 82 / possibly 86
Reagan 77
Trump 74 / possibly 82
Ike 70
Jackson 69
Buchanan 69
Harrison 68
Truman 68
GHW Bush 68
Monroe 66
Washington 65
Madison 65
Jefferson 65
Adams 65

+ Putting Biden’s age in historical perspective: Biden’s birth in 1942 was closer in time by four years to Sherman burning Atlanta, than to his own self-immolation on stage against Trump in the same city.

+ Of the 40 presidents who have died, 33 of them (82%) died before they reached Biden’s current age of 82…

+ Biden hasn’t held a single press conference this year. In 1984, Reagan, who was then at about the same stage of cognitive degeneration, held five.

+ According to the Financial Times, during a meeting between Joe Biden and an EU leader earlier this year, the Europeans were relieved to find Biden sharp and cogent, until the final moments.  “He ended the meeting with the same anecdote he started with… Everyone’s heart sank.”

+ Biden’s last defense is that despite his age and inarticulateness, unlike Trump, he doesn’t lie. But that’s only because he can no longer remember what the truth is…

+ In fact, the notion that Biden doesn’t lie is itself a lie. He’s lied about getting arrested trying to see Mandela, lied about being selected for the Naval Academy, lied about being arrested as a civil rights activist, lied about having a job driving an 18-wheeler, lied about having an uncle who was eaten by cannibals, lied about having visited Iraq and Afghanistan 38 times, lied about writing his my own speeches, lied about having seen beheaded babies, lied about seeing babies in ovens, lied about mass rapes committed by Hamas, lied about the Gaza death toll, lied about who is obstructing his ceasefire deal, lied at the debate about no US troops dying anywhere in the world …

+ According to Axios, “From 10 am to 4 pm, Biden is dependably engaged — and many of his public events in front of cameras are held within those hours. Outside of that time range or while traveling abroad, Biden is more likely to have verbal miscues and become fatigued.”

+ I believe the non-technical term for this is “Sundowning.” The technical term is dementia. But not to worry. Historically, almost all crises have occurred between 10 am and 4 pm EST. It’s all good…

Sundown, I think it’s a shame
that when the light gets dim
I can’t remember my name…

(Apologies to Gordon Lightfoot)

+ If Biden persists in his “Joe’s Alert from 10 to 4 Campaign” perhaps he can make some headway by advocating a 6-hour work day for the rest of America.

+ According to Jane Mayer, author of Landslide with Doyle McManus, on Reagan’s final term: “Reagan’s staff was so worried he was out of it, they tested him secretly, to see if they needed to invoke the 25th amendment. But Reagan told a few jokes and convinced them he was all right.

+ Will Biden blame his senescence, if he’s ever hauled before a war crimes tribunal for his role in arming the genocide in Gaza, as Reagan’s team used Ronnie’s demyelinated brain to claim he was mentally “out of the loop” during the Iran/contra conspiracy?

+ Franklin Foer, who chronicled Biden’s first term in a book: “To his closest advisers, Joe Biden is a figure frozen in time…To admit his end is to provoke a crisis in their own professional life. If I’m not whispering in Biden’s ear, then what am I?”

+ A Democratic mega-donor ranted to Puck’s John Heileman about the duplicity of Biden’s inner circle: “They lied to us—systematically, over years. Given the stakes, it’s unforgivable. Unconscionable.”

+ The writer Emma Berquist described the Democratic Party as “primarily a jobs program for the wealthy.” That’s pretty good. But I think it might be more accurate to say it’s a jobs program for the otherwise unemployable children of the wealthy.

+ At a post-debate rally, Jill Biden tried to lift her husband’s spirits by telling him, “Joe, you answered every question, you knew all the facts…”

+ But if you want to prove to the kids that you’re not as out of it as it looks and you really do know what decade you’re living in, it’s probably not productive to dazzle them with an anecdote about John Wayne “working for the military” to get the Apaches back on the reservation…

+ Most people would be humiliated by statements like this, but the Biden campaign apparently sees it as an endorsement of their horse, er, guy in this race…

+ Axios reported that Biden’s inner circle pinned the blame on the younger (in their 50s and 60s, I guess) members of the debate prep team: “He was over-prepared and relying on minutiae when all that mattered was vigor and energy. They prepared him for the wrong debate.”

+ What “minutiae”? Biden wasn’t lost in facts. He was just lost. 

+ Dave Weigel: “Nothing explains why, when handed a perfect abortion question on a silk pillow, Biden started talking about a woman raped and killed by an illegal immigrant. That’s not overpreparing. That’s… something else.”

+ Apparently, Biden’s aides didn’t understand why he gave an entirely different answer on the age question than the one they spent more than a week perfecting.” They expected a deracinated man to act rationally under pressure and were surprised when he didn’t. I’m not sure who’s more unqualified for their jobs: Biden or his staffers.

+ By all accounts prepping Biden for the debate wasn’t a dream assignment. Biden is at best prickly and at worst abusive to his staff, especially when he is corrected or introduced to ideas or subjects he doesn’t fully grasp. Politico quoted a top Biden official describing what it’s like to brief the President these days: “It’s like, ‘You can’t include that, that will set him off,’ or ‘Put that in, he likes that. It’s a Rorschach test, not a briefing. Because he is not a pleasant person to be around when he’s being briefed. It’s very difficult, and people are scared shitless of him…. He doesn’t take advice from anyone other than those few top aides, and it becomes a perfect storm because he just gets more and more isolated from their efforts to control it.”

+ When you’ve lost James Carville: Carville told Axios that he never thought Biden running “was a nifty idea” and predicts that Biden will be off the ballot by Election Day. Carville said there are only a few people who the president really listens to. “He doesn’t have advisers. He has employees.”

+ Shortly after the debate, the White House’s former deputy photo director Chandler West wrote on Instagram “It’s time for Joe to go.” West later told Axios, “The debate was not the first bad day, and it’s not gonna be the last.”

+ During the Democratic debates in 2019, Julian Castro was virulently attacked for questioning Biden’s mental acuity, his promising political career was pretty much demolished as a result. Now Castro’s getting some schadenfreude: “Biden had a very low bar going into the debate and failed to clear even that bar. He seemed unprepared, lost and not strong enough to parry effectively with Trump, who lies constantly.”

+ R.T. Rybak, former Minneapolis mayor and vice chair of DNC, wrote on his Facebook page after the debate: “Our elected officials, are staying shockingly silent in public, especially considering how many of them acknowledge privately that this has to happen. If we lose this election because they didn’t have the guts to do what they know needs to be done, holy hell and history will come down on them like an anvil,”

+ Whether it’s the bodies of slaughtered children in Gaza or the President’s zombie-like performance at the debates, the Biden campaign wants you to disbelieve what you’ve seen and heard.

+ Michigan’s popular Governor Gretchen Whitmer called the White House to deliver her assessment that “Michigan, in the wake of the debate, was no longer winnable for Biden.” His chances to win Michigan had narrowed considerably before the debate over his backing of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza.

+ It’s not just Michigan. Biden’s own internal polling shows a campaign that’s in freefall…

+ A CBSNews poll found that 74% of registered American voters think Biden should not be running for president, while 54% think Trump should not be running for president.

+ Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Biden’s debate performance: “I think like a lot of people I was pretty horrified…People want to make sure that…the president and his team are being candid about his condition that this was a real anomaly and not just the way he is these days.”

+ Is Harris that bad, someone asked. Yes, she sucks. Still, she’d probably outperform Biden. But she’s also doomed by the Hubert Humphrey Effect. She’s inextricably tied to the fatal policy that was sinking Biden before the last straw debate: his support of genocide in Gaza, which she won’t renounce.

+ According to Axios, the Biden political survival plan consists of:

1. Dismissing “bedwetting”
2. Squeezing the polls for “juice”
3. Warning of chaos if Trump is reelected
4. Limiting dissent within the Party

+ It sounds like the plan to sell Biden’s hapless humanitarian pier in Gaza…

+ They don’t have any other real options. In the past, you’d sit your candidate down for an in-depth interview on 60 Minutes or Face the Nation to prove he’s still sentient. They can’t risk that with Biden, even between 10 and 4.

+ At a fundraiser with big Democratic Party donors in Maclean, Virginia on Tuesday, Biden blamed his feeble performance in Atlanta on … jet lag: “I wasn’t very smart, I decided to travel around the world a couple times, going through I don’t know how many time zones — for real I think it 15 time zones…I didn’t listen to my staff. And then I came back and nearly fell asleep on stage.“ Biden returned from his trip 12 days before the debate and flying on Air Force One is about as grueling as a night at the Ritz.

+ According to the New York Times, “the preparations, which took place over six days, never started before 11 a.m. and Mr. Biden was given time for an afternoon nap each day.” Does the afternoon nap occur during the six hours a day when Biden is considered at his most alert?

+ Obama DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson made a case for Biden on Morning Joe:  “A presidency is more than just one man…I would take Joe Biden at his worst day at age 86 so long as he has people around him like Avril Haines, Sam Power, Gina Raimondo supporting him, over Trump any day.” So sayeth the man who supported sending the NYPD riot squad to crush the student protests at Columbia, where he sits on the board of trustees at the same time he serves on the board of Lockheed…

+ If you want to legitimize the Deep State Theory of Politics, just send out a Deep State veteran to say you don’t have to worry about having a senile president because the Deep Staters on his staff will run the government for him…

+ Of course, Deep State politics can cut both ways. Many long-time CIA hands are not happy with Biden’s unilateral support of Israel and some of them have started leaking to the Financial Times at the moment of Biden’s maximum vulnerability…

+ McKay Coppins: “The parallels to Trump’s Republican enablers are notable here. So much of our national fate is determined by old men for whom retirement is death and the prospect of losing their job seems existential.”

+ GOP co-chair and Trump daughter-in-law, Lara Trump: “If they remove Joe Biden from the ticket and  do not have Kamala Harris as their nominee, and  try to plug someone else in…I can’t think of a bigger assault to our democratic process.” The Biden family agrees.

+ Hunter Biden has apparently joined meetings with Biden and his top aides this week at the White House. A senior staffer told NBC News: “What the hell is happening?” (The staffer might be recalling that Biden banished dozens of young White House staffers due to past marijuana use, even though the use of pot in DC is legal.) Meanwhile, as of Tuesday, Biden hadn’t talked with Pelosi or any Democratic governors since the debate.

+ In a 2019 text, Hunter Biden implored his dad to run, for entirely selfish reasons, naturally: “If you don’t run I’ll never have a chance at redemption.”

+ It’s like the Bidens are trying to lend credence to every crackpot conspiracy theory floated by Marjorie Taylor Greene…

+ Since it doesn’t seem like Biden the Torpid is going to budge, and no one is willing to force him out, the DNC should (but won’t) redirect all of its campaign war chest into winning at least one house of Congress, as some kind of hedge against the advent of a full-blown autocracy.

+ The defense of Biden’s insensate performance at the debate in Atlanta has been worse than the performance it was meant to defend, re-emphasizing all the reasons people disliked Biden and his inner circle, even before it became clear the man himself has devolved into a muttering stalk of asparagus.

+ Sen. Peter Welch, the Democrat from Vermont: “I really do criticize the campaign for a dismissive attitude towards people who are raising questions for discussion. That’s just facing the reality that we’re in.”

+ David Menschel: “Watching Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s arrogant and narcissistic refusal to retire lead to the undoing of her life work could have served as a cautionary tale for elite Democrats. Instead, they seem intent on emulating it.”

+ Of course, Biden’s incoherence has often been an asset and, despite the debacle in Atlanta, it may still prove to be one. For much of Biden’s career, ambiguity proved more advantageous than clarity. If people understood his real views on pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war in Ukraine, Israeli genocide, immigration, and inflation, he’d likely hemorrhage even more voters.

+ On Tuesday, Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas became the first Democratic member of Congress to call for Biden to withdraw from the presidential race. (Doggett represents a district that went for Biden by roughly 50 percentage points.)

+ An open Democratic convention to elect a new nominee might actually draw people to watch it and lend a little excitement to an otherwise moribund party. Call it the Super Bowl of the Super Delegates. The only other way people are going to pay any attention at all is by watching Chicago cops batter anti-genocide protesters in a replay of 1968…

+ David Sirota: “One of the worst parts of all this is that when Biden loses, the GOP, corporate Dems and media will definitely blame the loss on all the actual good stuff like the FTC & CFPB etc, and give a free pass to the party bosses/consultants/pundits who are really to blame for the debacle.”

+ Biden may well have to go. But the defining moral question of his presidency was his support for the genocide in Gaza. And that question has already been answered.


+ It’s hard to imagine the Roberts Court making the decision to grant US presidents complete immunity for official acts when Obama was president. But it hardly matters. Obama often acted as if he enjoyed this immunity. For example, when he authorized the extra-judicial assassination of American citizens, like Anwar al-Awlaqi and Samir Khan.

+ Sotomayor’s stinging dissent was seized upon by the Biden team, which is probably printing t-shirts and coffee mugs with its final line. 

+ But a dissent is just a dissent, an I-told-you-so for the history books. It’s not a response. It’s not a solution. And Biden doesn’t seem to have one, except using the power-grabbing court as a reason to vote for him…

+ Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during the period when the court was being reshaped from the Warren Court to the Federalist Society All-Star team it now is. Yet he’s singularly incapable of describing what has happened or offering any protection against its usurpation of power. As anyone who remembers the debacle he made of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings knows, Joe Biden is deeply complicit in making the court what it is today.

+ What flag did Martha-Ann run up the pole at the Alito house after the decision granting presidents royal immunity? The standard of Richard III?

+ In his teleprompter-aided response on the Supreme Court presidential immunity decision, Biden asked Americans to believe “what their eyes saw” on J6, but he wants us to ignore what we witnessed during the Atlanta debate.

+ Same dead eyes, same vacuous words, same paucity of ideas, new spray-on tan…

+ Biden’s entire administration is stocked with “institutionalists” who’ve proved themselves impotent to stop the gutting of the institutions they’re charged with running. He’s heading a government that, except for its war-making wing, in effect no longer exists.

+ Biden should be grateful for the Supreme Court ruling granting royal immunity to US presidents. It means that he’ll never be prosecuted in US courts for his critical role in two of the most heinous crimes on the books: mass infanticide and genocide.

+ Liberal fantasies about Biden ordering Seal Team 6 to take out Trump before the election seem misguided on several grounds, notably because Biden would inevitably send them to the wrong address.

+ A final word from Frank O’Hara (my favorite American poet, at least on Wednesdays):

What good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank?

You could substitute Democrats for Impressionists…


Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3