Maybe I Should Stop Calling Him "President Wheezy"

I came up with that moniker back in 2019 to remind us that Joe Biden wangled a draft deferment back in 1968 due to his claim of asthma.

(Similarly, since 2018: President Bone Spurs.)

But, geez, suggestions are welcome for a new nickname for Joe, after yesterday's revelations and performances. For starters, as related by James Freeman: Special Counsel: Biden Too Forgetful to Prosecute.

Today is not a day that Justice Department prosecutors are going to look back on with pride. Nor are they likely to be proud of their association with special counsel Robert Hur. Tasked with investigating Joe Biden’s mishandling of classified documents, Mr. Hur has instead taken on the role of defending Mr. Biden’s conduct, which clearly was not consistent with the law. It may be embarrassing and frightening that the president is mumbling and bumbling his way through his term, but what’s outrageous is that his cognitive challenges now seem to be functioning as a legal immunity shield.

Mr. Hur writes in his report today that he doesn’t think charges against Mr. Biden are warranted, in part because he assumes a jury would sympathize with the elderly potential defendant.

Biden might be elderly, but he was just spry enough to evade his handlers and display his mental acuity before a questioning press. The results were… well, just a sampling of reactions from NR:

  • Jeffrey Blehar: I’m Finally Beginning to Believe It’s Possible Joe Biden Steps Down.

    Did you just see that press briefing? The same one I did, where Joe Biden babbled nearly nonsensically for several minutes denying that he babbled nearly nonsensically for several minutes to the special counsel who was investigating his retention of classified records?

  • Luther Ray Abel: Biden's Bumbling, Fumbling Press Conference.

    The press conference […] was all the evidence a disinterested party would need to conclude that the sitting president of the United States is unwell and unfit.

  • Philip Klein concentrated on Biden's Anger.

    […] it appears that Biden, or his handlers, seem to believe that having him show anger — yelling, lashing out at reporters, his staff, and the special counsel — would prove him to be energetic and mentally fit. But his tantrum accomplished the exact opposite. He came off like an elderly relative who isn’t ready to acknowledge that he can’t live independently anymore.

  • Noah Rothman saw it as an Unmitigated Disaster.

    Joe Biden could have used the disturbing findings in Robert Hur’s report on the president’s mishandling of classified documents and his demeanor during interviews with the special counsel to his advantage. He and his allies could have only emphasized the material distinctions between his conduct and Donald Trump’s, which framed the president as less evasive and obstructive than his likely Republican opponent. He might have brushed off the observations about his mental decline and used the low expectations for his performance they set to vault off them during his forthcoming State of the Union address. Given Hur’s apparently low estimation of Biden’s faculties, it wouldn’t have been difficult to surpass them. But Biden didn’t do any of this.

    Rather, the report set off a flurry of presidential activity that is highly unusual for the president. He delivered not one but two public addresses in its wake, even going so far as to take reporters’ questions well past the point at which Biden prefers to retire. The goal was clearly to communicate Biden’s vivacity, but the effect was the opposite. In a primetime address to the nation, Biden chose to present his most cantankerous face — all while doing little to dispel the notion that his cognitive acuity is in decline.

  • But let it not be said that NR was unanimous. Charles C. W. Cooke says Biden's Totally Fine.

    Indeed, if one reads the [special counsel's] report carefully, it is reasonable for one to assume that Biden struggled during the special counsel’s investigation precisely because he is so sharp, energetic, and, frankly, handsome during the rest of his time in the White House. What Biden apparently can’t do is perform his role as president and comply with the many right-wing witch-hunts that have been thrust unjustly into his life. But who could? Certainly not one of those younger men, who lack Biden’s stamina and wit.

    Um, I may have missed some sarcasm there. (I'm getting old too.)

  • Meanwhile, in his morning newsletter, Jim Geraghty wonders: Who’s Going to Take the Keys Away from This Man?.

    Discouraging our elderly parents from driving absolutely sucks, but we do it because of the risks that their driving poses to themselves and everyone else. If we can do this to our own parents, why can those around Biden, and prominent Democrats, not do this for the country? What, the consequences of a bad decision aren’t severe enough?


    Joe Biden is too old to be an effective president, and he’s knocking on the door of being too old to be president, period. It was always absurd to believe that Biden would be able to handle one of the most challenging jobs in the world as an octogenarian, and the notion of his serving two full terms and remaining in the Oval Office until age 86 is ludicrous.

    Geraghty also has pointers to off-NR reactions, which are also aghast.

So, what do you think? Switch over to "President Dotard"?

Also of note:

  • Fortunately, it looks like someone else will be on the November ballot. And don't worry about his alleged danger to "democracy". As John Hasnas points out: Trump Doesn’t Threaten Democracy—He Embodies It.

    In the 1987 film “The Princess Bride,” Inigo Montoya spends his life seeking revenge against his father’s murderer, Count Rugen. When they finally meet, he repeats incessantly: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Finally, in utter frustration, Count Rugen yells, “Stop saying that!”

    I know how Count Rugen felt. Everywhere I turn, I hear people saying that Donald Trump is a threat to democracy. I have heard this repeated so many times that like the count, I want to yell, “Stop saying that!” Mr. Trump absolutely is not a threat to democracy. He is the embodiment of democracy.

    It is fair to say that the former president is a threat to constitutional government. He has no understanding of the separation of powers and thinks Article II would authorize him to do whatever he wants. He seems unaware of the limitations the Bill of Rights places on the powers of the federal government and has no conception of an independent judiciary.

    It is also fair to say that Mr. Trump is a threat to the rule of law. He believes he can instruct the Justice Department to prosecute his political opponents. He has no problem ignoring judicial decisions when they go against him and has mused about being a dictator for a day.

    And it is fair to say that Mr. Trump is a threat to prosperity. His plan to impose 10% across-the-board tariffs—which American consumers would have to pay—without reforming entitlement spending will make us all poorer and increase the deficit.

    One thing it isn’t fair to say is that Mr. Trump is a threat to democracy. There is a consensus among political theorists that the essential feature of democracy is that every person subject to governmental authority must have an equal say in selecting that government. Every person. Not only those who are well-informed about the salient political issues. Not only those who make rational decisions. Not only those who are in touch with the facts of reality. Everybody.

    Um, well, that was kind of a mixed bag, wasn't it?

    Reader, this country is skating on very thin ice.

  • Also, a threat to truth. A response to a Trump adviser from Alex Demas at the Dispatch: Assessing Claims About Who Pays Tariffs and Whether They Preserve Jobs.

    The campaign for the Republican nomination is down to two candidates, and Nikki Haley has gone on the offensive against Donald Trump since her second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary last month. Her critique of Trump’s proposal to increase tariffs prompted a response from Trump adviser Stephen Miller claiming that tariffs are paid for by foreign producers and that the U.S. can restore American jobs by restoring tariffs. His first claim is false. His second claim is misleading because, while tariffs may help preserve jobs in some industries, research shows they also threaten jobs in other sectors. 

    I wonder if President Dotard is together enough to appreciate this 1988 snippet when Mike Dukakis (Jon Lovitz) responded to incoherent blather from George H. W. Bush (Dana Carvey, unshown in the clip):

  • Recommendation for the University Near Here: An open letter, saying it's time to adopt Institutional Neutrality.

    The Academic Freedom Alliance, Heterodox Academy, and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression are nonpartisan organizations dedicated to defending and advancing freedom of speech and open inquiry in higher education.

    We stand together in sending this entreaty to college and university trustees and regents across the country during this time of growing national concern about the fate and security of free thought on campuses.

    It is time for those entrusted with ultimate oversight authority for your institutions to restore truth-seeking as the primary mission of higher education by adopting a policy of institutional neutrality on social and political issues that do not concern core academic matters or institutional operations.

    That would be a neat followup to UNH cutting back its DEI bureaucracy.

  • It should have done that, but… Jacob Sullum examines an interesting issue related to our Wednesday item about Amazon being too willing to succumb to censorship demands from the Dotard Administration: Was Amazon 'Free to Ignore' White House Demands That It Suppress Anti-Vaccine Books?. It's a blast from the past:

    In 1956, the Rhode Island General Assembly created the Commission to Encourage Morality in Youth, which was supposed to "educate the public concerning any book, picture, pamphlet, ballad, printed paper or other thing containing obscene, indecent or impure language, or manifestly tending to the corruption of the youth." It was charged with "investigating situations which may cause, be responsible for or give rise to undesirable behavior of juveniles." Although the commission itself had no enforcement power, it was authorized to "recommend legislation, prosecution and/or treatment which would ameliorate or eliminate said causes."

    As part of their mission, Justice William Brennan noted in Bantam Books v. Sullivan, Rhode Island's cultural watchdogs would "notify a distributor that certain books or magazines distributed by him had been reviewed by the Commission and had been declared by a majority of its members to be objectionable for sale, distribution or display to youths under 18 years of age." One distributor, Max Silverstein & Sons, received "at least 35 such notices," which typically "thanked Silverstein, in advance, for his 'cooperation' with the Commission," noted the commission's "duty to recommend to the Attorney General prosecution of purveyors of obscenity," and informed him that "lists of 'objectionable' publications were circulated to local police departments."

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-02-12 6:15 AM EDT


The Idea and Its Consequences

(paid link)

In a Substack post, Bryan Caplan shared mail from an anonymous reader, who called this Thomas Szasz book "his best book overall". I noted that it was owned by the University Near Here Library, and they haven't revoked my borrowing privileges yet, so I grabbed it.

It is Szasz's full-throated explication and defense of his view that mental illness is a metaphor. Excepting certain obvious brain malfunctions, like Alzheimer's, there are no physical "lesions" associated with mental illness.

Metaphors are fine, as far as they go. But the mainstream psychiatric community takes this one way too far, using it to absolve evildoers of responsibility for their misdeeds, and to coerce people with unusual beliefs and behavior. (And also, not coincidentally, to make a lot of money off the misguided concept.)

I'm not totally convinced by Szasz, but he makes some excellent points, and he dragged my skepticism meter about "mental illness" up by more than a few notches.

One of his more telling arguments: it's alleged that when mentally ill people perform crimes (murder, arson, assault, theft, etc.) thay are acting under the compulsion of their illness; they aren't responsible, and don't deserve criminal punishment. Szasz notes that the actions that mental illness supposedly compels are uniformly bad; nobody ever claims that mental illness compelled people to perform acts of saintliness, generosity, tolerance, etc.

And that's darn peculiar. Does "mental illness" have some sort of built-in compass about human morality, causing it to work in only one direction? That seems incoherent and unlikely on its face. Actual physical illnesses seem to be morally neutral.

Szasz doesn't mention so-called "hate crimes", but this related observation kept coming to my mind while reading: If you've misbehaved illegally, and the authorities think you did so because you had "hatred" as an underlying motive, that's not considered "mental illness": that's your fault, your responsibility, and it may bring you more years in prison.

Does that seem conveniently arbitrary to you, as it does me?

Another drive-by point: is pregnancy per se an illness? Of course not! Ah, unless it's an unwanted pregnancy: then it's a mental illness, and the only cure is abortion, always euphemized as "reproductive care".

This book is, in part, just one side in a slow-motion decades-long debate between Szasz and his critics. Caution is warranted when reading only one side. Szasz is occasionally strident, occasionally sarcastic, and that may be understandable, but my own tastes are for something more measured.

I will point out one place where I think he badly stumbles: in drawing his own parallel between psychiatry and slavery, he makes much of the Constitution's famed three-fifths compromise, calling it "a remarkable legal fiction created to legitimize a peculiar human institution".

And (sorry Tom) it just wasn't that simple: it was the southern slaveholding states that wanted to count their (non-voting) enslaved populations as much as possible for purposes of increased Congressional representation. (And also, to neglect them if it came to "direct taxation".)