On Saturday in Wilmington, Del., Old Joe Biden’s dementia came full circle: he has previously mistaken the vice president for the first lady, and now, at the Commissioning Commemoration Ceremony of the USS Delaware, he recalled the days when the First Lady was vice president. But as always, White House.gov was ready to do everything necessary to make it appear as if we have a competent and coherent chief executive: in the official transcript of Biden’s rambling remarks, his misidentification of his wife as the vice president is quietly corrected without explanation. But the correction actually creates more problems than it solves.
Biden said of First Lady Jill Biden: “And I’m deeply proud of the work she’s doing as first lady with Joining Forces initiative she started with Michelle Obama when she was vice president, and now carries on.” In the WhiteHouse.gov version, we get “And I’m deeply proud of the work she is doing as First Lady with Joining Forces initiative she started with Michelle Obama when she [I] was Vice President and now carries on.”
That’s helpful in case anyone actually thought that Jill Biden was once vice president of the United States, but it’s not what Joe Biden said, and the correction blandly obscures a fact that ought to be of keen interest to contemporary observers as well as to future historians: Joe Biden is not entirely in control of what he says. His misstatement here is not just some innocuous slip of the tongue to be matter-of-factly corrected as if it were an insignificant typographical error; it is just the latest in a long string of weird statements that should arouse genuine concern about the mental state of the president of the United States, if such concern weren’t immediately dismissed as tendentious partisan mudslinging.
Biden’s condition seems to be worsening lately. The Joe Biden who recalled when his wife served as the vice president asked on March 4: “How did we get to the place where, you know, Putin just decides he’s gonna invade Russia? Something like this hasn’t happened since World War II.” Biden declared in his State of the Union address that “Putin may encircle Kyiv with tanks, but he’ll never gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people.” On Equal Pay Day (March 15), Biden called his ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, “Linda Thomas Greenhouse.”
When he said that Putin invaded Russia and called Thomas-Greenfield “Thomas-Greenhouse,” he corrected himself. When he said Putin would never win over the Iranian people and that his wife had been vice president, he didn’t, although in the latter case, the White House transcript could be read as if he did. And that’s another part of the problem.
In 1984, Winston Smith’s job is to rewrite history to conform to present-day political exigencies. He is given old newspapers and per his instructions, changes the text, and sends the old versions down the “memory hole” to be incinerated. Now, of course, everything is online, so there’s no need for incinerators. The WhiteHouse.gov wonks simply change whatever crazy thing Old Joe or Kamala Harris has said now, and the record of their deteriorating mental state and/or rank stupidity is gone forever.
WhiteHouse.gov should be barred by statute from editing the remarks of the president or vice president, whoever they may be, in any way. If corrections to their statements need to be issued, they can be appended to the actual remarks and clearly distinguished from what was actually said, so that no one will mistake the correction for what was really said. While their corrections thus far may appear to be minor and innocuous, they set a bad precedent. What’s to prevent some unscrupulous president, or assertive wonk, from changing the presidential remarks altogether, in order to make some salient political point?
This is not an outlandish possibility. We have already entered into a world where optics are everything and the White House itself has a pretend Oval Office stage set where Old Joe gets up to a lot of his antics. Meanwhile, Biden himself has a habit of denying that the gaffes he made were really gaffes at all. We’re only a few steps away from WhiteHouse.gov erasing the real remarks that Biden made, instead of just crossing them out and correcting them, and replacing them with an entirely fictional version of what he said. Inconceivable? Not at all. This is the administration that insists that a man is the “first female four-star admiral.” So what’s that you were saying about Biden’s handlers not daring to alter the official record?