It’s time to ask whether former Vice President Joe Biden is up to the job he’s after.
Years ago I was invited to a New York Bar Association program in the Virgin Islands that was organized by an appeals court judge who, after graduating from law school, had clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He both admired and liked Marshall and invited the justice and his wife to join the rest of us at the exclusive resort hosting the program.
I brought my 13-year-old daughter who, as luck would have it, got to sit next to the famous jurist at both lunch and dinner. After dinner the first evening, as my daughter and I headed back to our cabin, she turned to me and asked innocently, “Dad, what does Mr. Marshall do?” When I told her he was a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, she looked up at me and simply said “Oh, my God!”
Although Marshall was to remain on the court for some years, he had pretty much lost it by then. His clerks were running him, and liberals who could generally count on him to vote with them on important cases were praying that he would live until a Democratic president would take office and name a similarly liberal replacement. I don’t report this now to disparage Marshall or his memory. He was a great justice for many years and remained a very nice man, but should have retired long before he met my daughter that evening.
The partisans who propped him up put their politics above all else, and those who saw him during those years saw but a shadow of the man, the lawyer and the judge he had once been. They were putting their own political agenda above the interests of the court, the nation and Marshall himself.
The Mississippi and national Republicans who convinced the late Sen. Thad Cochran to run one more time when he and they knew he could no longer perform as he had for decades also put their politics ahead of everything else and let a man who had served his country well become an embarrassment in his last years.
The question of when one is too old to serve on the Supreme Court or in the U.S. Senate — or in the White House — is a difficult one to answer. Chronological age is not itself a good way to judge a man or woman’s ability to perform at the level these jobs demand. Some people age quickly, and some are as sharp at 90 as they were at 30, but when it becomes clear that a popular officeholder or candidate is no longer up to the job he or she holds or seeks, it is incumbent upon friends and partisans to ease them into a well-earned retirement. That doesn’t always happen.
There is a tendency among politicians to see gaffes or forgetfulness by their opponents as signs they are slipping, so one has to be cautious in concluding that a candidate or officeholder is actually losing the mental acuity needed to do the job he or she seeks. Every candidate slips up on the campaign trail, but an occasional slip up can’t be taken as evidence of something worse — unless it happens again, again and again.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has always been prone to exaggeration and fantasizing, but the fact that hardly a week goes by without his forgetting major facts, confusing what he’s done in the past or forgetting which office he’s pursuing, what state he’s in or who he’s talking to has to be troubling and even painful to those around him. Mr. Biden has made things up in the past for political gain, but in recent days his fantasizing seems less for such self-serving purposes and more because he cannot help himself.
Of what political value was his assertion that he negotiated the Paris Accords with China’s Deng Xiaoping 20 years after the man died or his assertion that, if elected, he would “appoint” the first African-American female to the Senate though Carol Moseley Braun, the woman who was in fact the first African-American U.S. senator had earlier endorsed him, and a younger Biden would have known that presidents don’t appoint senators anyway or that there have been 150 million American “gun deaths” in recent years?
These are but a few of dozens of goofy or incomprehensible things Mr. Biden has uttered on the campaign trail, and when combined with a penchant for losing his temper when questioned at public events have had a cumulative impact that forces one to wonder if the old Joe Biden, whether one liked him or not, and the Joe Biden running for president today are two very different men.
Those who’ve known him from the beginning will remember that Mr. Biden first won his Senate seat by implying during his campaign that his opponent had been around too long and was no longer up to the job because, well, he was slipping. Little did the young Senate wannabe know back then that one day people might conclude the same of him.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.