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The two Bidens and the 3 a.m. call

A president must be fit to lead 24 hours a day


President Joe Biden (left) at Thursday night’s debate and at a midday visit to the D.C. Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday Associated Press/Photos by (left) Gerald Herbert and Evan Vucci

The two Bidens and the 3 a.m. call
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Everyone acknowledges that Thursday’s presidential debate was a disaster for President Joe Biden. He needed to reassure Americans that he had the mental acuity to run for president, but instead, he showed voters the opposite. When he spoke, his train of thought constantly derailed or stalled out. When he wasn’t speaking, he looked slack-jawed and confused. Everyone’s worst fears about his mental state were realized.

Since Thursday, there has been rampant speculation about President Biden’s political prospects. Can the Democrats dump him from the ticket? Can he finish the campaign? Can top Democrats or Biden family members convince him to step aside? If he voluntarily steps aside, can Vice President Kamala Harris be passed over as a replacement? If he were to step aside, would Harris do any better against Donald Trump? (Not according to the polls.) And on and on the speculation and handwringing go.

In all of this, the focus has been on whether President Biden should continue running for a second term. But hardly anyone has given attention to what, to me, seems a far more pressing concern: Is Biden fit to finish his current term? He has almost seven months left. Why aren’t more people asking whether the confused octogenarian on the debate stage has the wherewithal to be in charge in the case of a national emergency? A nuclear attack?

This concern has become even more acute after Axios reported on Saturday that some of the president’s closest aides have witnessed “two Joe Bidens.” One appears as an energetic president running for reelection. A second flashes forth as a confused old man who struggles “to string thoughts together.” Apparently, there is an all-out effort to make sure that the first Joe Biden is the one the public sees while trying to keep the second one concealed from public scrutiny.

Nevertheless, it was the second Joe Biden who showed up to the debate on Thursday night. How could Biden and his campaign let this happen? According to the Axios report, it may have been inevitable. White House insiders say that the time of day dictates which of the two Bidens will appear. “From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” the report noted, “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, aides told Axios.”

What assurance do the American people have that their president is up for the proverbial “3 a.m. call”? It is cold comfort to read that the president is mentally competent only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when we all know that national security emergencies don’t necessarily keep those same hours.

Thursday’s debate was well outside of that window, and it showed. Could this be a sign of a larger problem? The White House correspondent for the Daily Caller thinks it may be: “The behavior the Biden aides described can be compared to a symptom of dementia called ‘sundowning.’ The term ‘sundowning’ references ‘a state of confusion’ that affects elders, particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease or types of dementia, during the evening or as the sun is beginning to set, according to the Mayo Clinic. More extreme cases of ‘sundowning’ result in anxiety, aggression, pacing, wandering and even hallucinations and trouble sleeping, the Mayo Clinic states.”

On Thursday, the president showed the world symptoms associated with dementia. What assurance do the American people have that their president is up for the proverbial “3 a.m. call”? It is cold comfort to read that the president is mentally competent only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when we all know that national security emergencies don’t necessarily keep those same hours.

In 2008, back when Hillary Clinton was running against Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, the Clinton campaign ran a now-famous ad asking whether Obama, inexperienced in foreign policy and national security, would be ready for a 3 a.m. call with the nation facing a direct threat.

Can you imagine this Biden scenario at 3 a.m.: “Mr. President, we need you to wake up. Our satellites just detected two ballistic missiles fired from North Korea and headed west. They will reach their target within half an hour. What should we do?” At that moment, can the citizens of the United States afford to have a commander in chief who doesn’t have the faculties to answer clearly for another seven hours? One of the main reasons we elect a president is so that he can be there for us and the rest of the free world in that crucial moment.

The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It gives instructions for replacing the president or vice president in the event of death, removal, resignation, or incapacitation. Our elected leaders need to remember this provision. At this point, it is fair to ask whether President Biden has the mental acuity to do his job no matter what time of day it is. Even if he doesn’t meet a clinical definition of “sundowning,” what we saw on Thursday night does not look like someone ready for that 3 a.m. call. Can we tolerate that risk for another seven months?


Denny Burk

Denny serves as a professor of Biblical studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of numerous books, including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).

@DennyBurk


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