“Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f–k things up,” President Obama once reportedly said of Joe Biden. But even Barack Obama might be surprised at how close this ability of Biden’s has already come to bringing the world to disaster.
Back when he was running in 2019, the worst thing Biden would do was to ramble on about what a “bad dude” Corn Pop was back in the day, telling crowds about his run-in with this likely fictional figure. Back then, as the vice president rambled on, his crowd rambled too, wandering around happily and talking among themselves while the crazy old guy kept blithering on stage.
But last weekend Biden rambled on a more important stage — in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland. And this time he was talking about an even worse dude than Corn Pop: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Once again Biden went off-script. But this time the whole world was paying attention. For the person in charge of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal was talking about the future of the man in charge of the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal. At the end of his remarks the president said of Putin, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
So there we were, within a month of a Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. America had started off with a light-touch response. And now the US president appeared to be calling for regime-change in Moscow. Something no American president advocated even during the worst days of the Cold War.
You can easily feel for Jen Psaki and Co. at moments like this. For there is now a whole White House team dedicated to following President Biden around with a pooper scooper trying to clear up just such messes. In recent weeks this squad has had to explain Biden’s remarks to US troops in which he suggested that they were soon going to Ukraine. They also had to clarify that when the president said America would respond to any Russian use of chemical weapons “in kind” he did not mean that America would use chemical weapons against Russia.
But the off-script line in Warsaw was Biden’s worst F-up so far. And it was interesting to see the speed with which the White House scooper team was deployed. Immediately after the president’s remarks, the White House said that the president’s words did not mean what they meant. They then walked back Biden’s comments. But the president himself would not.
“I’m not walking anything back,” he said, claiming that his comments were merely “expressing the moral outrage that I feel.”
Ordinarily, if a president keeps demonstrating that he cannot remain on script about issues which could lead to nuclear conflict, people start talking about invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. Except that in the current case, it seems arguable that this would only make things worse.
After all, were that to happen, then the world would then be graced with President Kamala Harris. Perhaps the only person in America who can make Joe Biden look fully on top of his brief.
Before Biden went to Poland, Harris made her own trip. At one point she announced, “I am here, standing here.” To ensure this was the case, she looked downwards, as though determined to do her own research. “On the northern flank,” she said, before her voice began to tremble and she started playing with her face. Something seemed to suggest to her that perhaps she wasn’t on the northern flank. “On the eastern flank,” she corrected herself, looking at her feet once more. Perhaps she was hoping to find something in the topography to confirm exactly which flank she was on. At this point her voice began to quaver and she started to cover her nose. “Talking about what we have in terms of the eastern flank,” she went on, voice wavering.
Close Kamala-watchers know what these strange ticks mean. They mean that the vice president doesn’t know what she is talking about. Her voice generally starts to waver whenever she is about to either hyena-laugh (as she did in Poland when asked about refugees) or whip up one of her best word salads, as she did again in Jamaica this week. All are signs of being far out of her depth.
But it is the same with Harris’ incompetence as it is with Biden’s. Most of the US media spent so much time berating the last administration for incompetence that they seem to believe that — having eased Biden into office — they cannot now admit that he is doing anything wrong.
Questions & concerns
This week, Fox News’s Peter Doocy asked the president about his most recent mis-speaks. This is the same Peter Doocy who in January, Biden called “a stupid son of a bitch,” to zero outrage from the rest of the usually easily offended US media.
When Doocy asked Biden about his gaffes, Biden doubled down. He claimed that “none” of his recent gaffes even “occurred.” So that was that. The next question came from the usual court press, who offered Biden a question he preferred. “You have more foreign policy experience than any president who has ever held this office,” this courtier started off. A view Dwight Eisenhower among others might have contested. But Biden likes this sort of question. Still he dismissed it because the journalist went on to ask again about his “remain in power” remark. “You have so much experience,” the journalist kept on.
“Nobody believes I was talking about taking down Putin,” Biden retorted angrily. Despite the fact that plenty of people — including those in front of him — clearly thought otherwise.
What can be done about this state of things? We live in a country where both the commander in chief and his vice president don’t know where they are going and seem often unsure of where they are. More competent members of the administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, seem to keep in the background because those in the foreground keep humiliating them.
All we can hope for is that the midterms change the calculus of power in this country. And that if the most senior offices in the land are determined to go off script at the cost of nuclear war, at least Congress and Senate might be among the growing number of bodies available to clean up after them.