Photo: Win McNamee (Getty)

Joe Biden’s politics are bad and he is a bad candidate. Ordinarily that might be the most important measure of a guy running for national office: That his positions, both as stated and as demonstrated by his decades in national government, amount to a tepid, grey, nutrient-free broth of long-discredited Third Way boomer bullshit; that, in the context of, well, all this, the horror of 2019 and the swelling terror just over its horizon, The ship’s good, we just need a better captain to steer it is not in any meaningful sense different from apocalyptic death-cult Heaven’s Gate shit; that the places where his talking points harmonize with the worthy priorities and goals of others are also the very places where his own long track record as a defender of credit companies and champion of racist crime policies most clearly discredits him; that he has nothing more to offer by way of tactical approaches to accomplishing his weak goals beyond musty, insulting platitudes about harnessing the imaginary good will and good faith of the sneering genocidal fascists on the far side of the aisle. If that were all, there wouldn’t need to be more.

But also! Joe Biden is 76 years old and plainly in steep cognitive decline, which is a nice way of saying that he is a doddering, senile old oaf who cannot keep his teeth in straight and whose brain appears to be some torn-up sponge chunks floating in dishwater. During last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Biden appeared confused about his own position on health care, both about the details of the health-care proposal on his own website and about what he himself had just said about his health-care proposal, a few minutes earlier. Later, a moderator read him back something he’d said in 1975 about segregation in schools, a snide rejection of the idea that present-day white Americans have any responsibility to make reparations for slavery, and asked him, “What responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”

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To which Biden responded:

Well they have to deal with the in—the—look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved I started... dealing with that. Redlining, banks, making sure that we are in a position where—look, you talk about education. I proposed that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title 1 schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to 45 billion a year, give every single teacher a raise so they equal, raise so getting out of the, the 60 thousand dollar level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to the help the, the stu—the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need—we have one school psychologist for every 15 hundred kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are [unintelligible]—I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have make sure that every single child does in fact have... three, four, and five year olds go to school, school, not daycare, school.

We bring social workers in to homes of parents, to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not they don’t want to help, they don’t want—they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television, the—excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the, the phone, make sure kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school, a, a very poor background, will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get there. There’s so much we—

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At this point, the moderator attempted to cut him off. It was an act of mercy. He pushed back, and launched into some weird gibberish about Venezuela and how “I’m the guy that came up with $740 million, to see to it those three countries, in fact, changed their system to people don’t have to chance to leave. You’re acting like we just discovered this yesterday.”

Here’s video, so that you can see how transcription fails to capture Biden’s confused, slurring incoherence.

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What you are seeing is a sundowning and increasingly panicked geriatric who cannot follow the cognitive thread from the beginning of a sentence to the end of one, much less from one sentence to another. To the extent you can pull any actual semantic content out of this demented babble, Joe Biden, frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, answered the question of whether and how America’s educational system should redress the legacy of slavery and systemic racism in this country by saying that social workers should be sent into black parents’ homes to teach them how to put the record player on at night so their kids will hear as many words as white kids. As a charitable donation, you can perhaps grant that he had no fucking idea what was coming out of his mouth.

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If you accept the basic and fairly uncontroversial proposition that “President of the United States” is an important job with the power to influence many extremely vital functions of government, and that this job is best done by someone capable of at least steady if not genuinely nimble brainwork, then it doesn’t even matter whether Biden’s politics are bad; or whether he has shown himself over the years to be a weasel who uses a phony Regular Amtrak-Ridin’ Uncle Joe routine to paper over shameless stoogery on behalf of various predatory industries; or whether his cretinous attitudes toward issues such as race, criminal justice, and the bodily autonomy of women were outdated over 40 years ago and have not substantially changed since then. He can’t fucking think straight. He’s a senile old man who has no business running a museum tour, much less the executive branch of the federal government.

(And so, naturally, the Washington Post’s analyst, Dan Balz, writes that “former vice president Joe Biden on Thursday delivered the kind of performance his supporters have been waiting for—combative when needed and in the thick of the action throughout.” As for, like, the actual stuff Biden said, or the plain, slurring, loose-dentured confusion with which he said it, that mostly goes unmentioned. Why should that matter? He was givin’ ‘em hell!)

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(We’re all doomed.)