Weekend at Bernie’s

© 2020 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

How quickly the political winds can shift. A few weeks ago, all the talk was about the “unstoppable” Bernie Sanders, how this time there would be no Clinton machine working illicitly behind the scenes to rig the nomination process against him, how his minions had coalesced into an actual movement, grabbing onto a growing but underserved segment of the electorate, and how Democratic Party officials would bend over backwards to assure that he would not be “cheated” out of the nomination this time if he legitimately won the requisite delegates. Yes, 2020 was Bernie’s year, the year of socialism, the year America finally fulfilled what Bernie saw as its obligation to reward the underclass while concurrently punishing the upper class.

However, merely forgiving student debt, extending Medicare to all and eliminating national borders wouldn’t be enough. The ultimate satisfaction would only take place if actual financial pain was inflicted upon the wealthy. After years of watching the rich get richer, those saddled with student debt deserved a measure of schadenfreude along with their loan forgiveness. Higher income taxes. A special surtax. A wealth tax—a comeuppance for the crime of merely holding an unforgivable sum of money. It would feel so good knowing that their college loan payoff was directly infringing on the unjust indulgences of the upper crust.

But all of a sudden, potholes spontaneously appeared on the Road to the Nomination. All the so-called “moderates” dropped out and tossed their support and money behind ‘ol Joe Biden, the reasonable one, the non-extremist candidate, the direct link to the greatest Democratic president of all time. Super Tuesday turned into a disaster for Bernie. Biden rose from the dead. Bernie’s magic carriage split an axle and is stuck on the road, awaiting repairs, as ‘ol Joe rides by in slow motion on his donkey, tipping his hat as he goes. The contest for the nomination is very much in doubt and Bernie is looking at Joe’s donkey from behind.

Both Bernie and Joe are older guys. Age has always been a controversial topic when it comes to leadership. How old is too old? When does one’s mental capacity begin to decline? Obviously, it varies greatly from person to person. In politics, party is also a factor. The liberal media openly questioned President Reagan’s mental fitness for office because of his age even before he beat Carter in 1980 (Reagan was nearly 70 when he assumed office). Hillary Clinton would also have been nearly 70 upon entering office in 2017, yet her mental acuity at the same age as Reagan was never even questioned.

There is a world of difference between innocent ‘misspeaks’ or exaggerations and fundamentally losing one’s perception on reality. Trump exaggerates constantly. He goes for the dramatic impact of the moment. He undoubtedly knows he’s exaggerating or winging it, but it doesn’t matter. His overall point is crystal clear and everyone—supporters and detractors alike—knows exactly what he’s getting at. While his critics love to jump on whatever small detail inaccuracies he utters at that particular moment, after 3 ½ years of the Trump Presidency, what writer Salena Zito said during the 2016 campaign is truer now than ever: “Trump’s supporters take him seriously but not literally. His critics take him literally but not seriously.”

It’s different with Biden. His gaffs are far too numerous, far too serious. These are not the bleatings of an opportunistic politician caught up in the emotion of the moment, becoming a little tongue-tied while trying to make a dramatic point. Bernie Sanders may say the U.S. is an evil country, but we know that he’s just being deliberately overly theatrical. His words may be inappropriate, inaccurate and distasteful, but most people aren’t questioning Sanders’ actual mental health. They question his judgment and outlook, yes, but not his mental stability. In his late 70’s, Sanders gives every impression of being one sharp, cantankerous individual who is speaking and acting quite intentionally.

Biden’s behavior is agonizingly, painfully familiar to anyone who has a declining older parent or older friend. We all recognize the mannerisms, the fragile attempts at correction and rationalization and the uncomfortable, wan smiles as they try vainly to mask what is all too obvious: a diminished mental awareness and reduced capacity. You begin telling your mom, “Don’t give your Social Security number to anyone over the phone,” because you realize she is confused so easily. You tell your dad, “I’ll take Thursday off from work and go to the doctor’s with you,” because you know that he won’t understand everything, won’t hear everything, won’t ask the right questions and will likely forget the most important things right after he leaves. Your older parents are ok to still do their own grocery shopping or drive three miles for an early dinner at Cracker Barrell, but they can no longer process multi-faceted, complex information and they can’t make far-reaching, high-level decisions.

What if Joe Biden wins the nomination and then somehow defeats President Trump in November? Can he govern? Can he understand all the incredibly complex national security, defense, economic/financial and diplomatic issues facing him and then craft a coherent vision to move the country forward? Will there be—can there be—a compelling “Biden Doctrine” that confidently positions the United States in an advantageous stance relative to our greatest international, economic and military adversaries?

The thought among many is that a Biden presidency would be a shadow presidency because his lessened intellect and easily confused manner would render him incapable of satisfactorily meeting the demands of the office. The actual power and policy decisions would be generated from behind the scenes.  Unelected operatives and “advisors” would run the show, imposing their brand of governance and philosophy on the country. The 1989 movie “Weekend at Bernie’s” has become something of an icon in modern American popular culture, depicting an attempt to fool the outside world that a deceased insurance executive is still alive. The title of the movie is now a metaphor for any circumstance where a shallow figurehead is posited as an actual leader. The prospect of a Biden presidency is a truly frightening prospect for any level-headed voter. We’ve faced nothing like this before.