Biden was debased by the presidential debate on Thursday, June 27.
“What happened last night was heartbreaking,” writes Bari Weiss. “It debased Biden as a man.” (Stills from the presidential debate via

Bari Weiss: They Knew

Biden is no longer fit to be president. Last night’s debate exposed the lies we’ve been told.

Rarely are so many lies dispelled in a single moment. Rarely are so many people exposed as liars and sycophants. Last night’s debate was a watershed on both counts.

The debate was not just a catastrophe for President Biden. And boy—oy—was it ever.

But it was more than that. It was a catastrophe for an entire class of experts, journalists, and pundits, who have, since 2020, insisted that Biden was sharp as a tack, on top of his game, basically doing handstands while peppering his staff with tough questions about care for migrant children and aid to Ukraine.

Anyone who committed the sin of using their own eyes on the 46th president was accused, variously, of being Trumpers; MAGA cult members who don’t want American democracy to survive; ageists; or just dummies easily duped by “disinformation,” “misinformation,” “fake news,” and, most recently, “cheapfakes.”

Cast your mind back to February, when Robert Hur, the special counsel appointed by the Department of Justice to look into Biden’s handling of classified documents, came out with his report that included details about Biden’s health, which explained why he would not prosecute the president.

“We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” Hur wrote. “It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him—by then a former president well into his eighties—of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”

Can anyone doubt that characterization after watching Biden’s debate performance? 

Yet Eric Holder told us that Hur’s remarks were “gratuitous.” The former attorney general tweeted: “Had this report been subject to a normal DOJ review these remarks would undoubtedly have been excised.” Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama adviser, said Hur’s report was a “partisan hit job.” Vice President Kamala Harris argued: “The way that the president’s demeanor in that report was characterized could not be more wrong on the facts, and clearly politically motivated, gratuitous.” The report does not “live in reality,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, stressing that the president was “sharp” and “on top of things.” 

Shall I go on? Okay.

Here was The New York Times last week in an extensive piece headlined: “How Misleading Videos Are Trailing Biden as He Battles Age Doubts.” The story went on to attempt to convince readers that “there is the distorted, online version” of Biden, which is merely “a product of often misleading videos that play into and reinforce voters’ longstanding concerns about his age and abilities.” 

With forensic detail, three Times reporters compared these videos from various angles. “Some of the videos of Mr. Biden circulating during this year’s campaign are clearly manipulated to make him look old and confused,” they wrote, pulling clips that were meant to debunk the idea that he was either. Watch them. See for yourself.

When The Wall Street Journal earlier this month came out with a story for which reporters had interviewed 45 people, soberly laying out concerns about Biden’s age, it was trashed as an “egregious hit job.” Some people called for it to be retracted. 

“Congressional Republicans, foreign leaders, and nonpartisan national-security experts have made clear in their own words that President Biden is a savvy and effective leader who has a deep record of legislative accomplishment,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates told the WSJ. “Now, in 2024, House Republicans are making false claims as a political tactic that flatly contradict previous statements made by themselves and their colleagues.” 

And even in the midst of last night’s dumpster fire, some stalwarts, like the Japanese soldiers who hadn’t realized they’d already lost the war, tried to spin it. 

“Biden has a cold,” a source close to the president told Axios during the debate. Right, that was the trouble. A lack of Tylenol. 

On MSNBC, Joy-Ann Reid suggested that the issue was that he was on the right-hand side of the screen. Yes. That was definitely the problem.

I never understood these reactions. For me, it always seemed easy enough to say: Biden’s 81. He’s fading. Most 81-year-olds do. But it seemed fair to still argue that a faded Biden is better than an all-there Trump. 

As Bill Maher has put it: “I’d vote for Biden’s head in a jar of blue liquid versus Trump.” Or as Sam Harris has said: “Hunter Biden could literally have had the corpses of children in his basement, and I would not have cared.” 

You may disagree with the conclusion, but it’s a coherent argument. It’s not an argument that relies on the denial of reality.

“Telling people they didn't see what they saw is not the way to respond to this.” That was Democratic operative Ben Rhodes’ reaction last night to the debate. The trouble is that’s precisely what the strategy has been for many, many months. 

There were notable exceptions. Ezra Klein published a huge piece in The New York Times in February making the case that Biden should step down for the good of the country. James Carville’s been telling the truth, too. 

When Rep. Dean Phillips entered the Democratic presidential primary last year, his entire campaign was based on the observation that Biden was too old for the job. I reached Phillips via text and asked him if he wanted to comment, in light of the debate, on how the Democratic establishment had treated him given that he had the guts to say the quiet part out loud. “Gandhi said to speak only when it improves upon the silence,” he texted back.

But last night, many of the very people who say they are shocked—shocked!—by Biden’s showing were exactly the people who were covering for him. 

Here was Ed Krassenstein reacting to a video of Joe Biden tripping up the stairs in October of 2023: “Once again, people are pretending to be frightened over the fact that Joe Biden stumbled going up stairs at age 80. I literally stumble going up the stairs at least twice a week. I even fell down my spiral staircase a couple weeks ago. I’m 41 years old, workout daily, and actually use the stair-stepper at the gym 5 days a week. Should I be concerned?”

Here was Krassenstein last night: “Joe Biden has trouble speaking.”

Here was MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in early February saying Biden is fit for the presidency because he can ride a bike. 

Here was Maddow last night, admitting Biden had a “weak” voice and “halting delivery.”

Here was The View co-host Ana Navarro-Cárdenas in September of last year: “Joe Biden is old, but he ain’t dying any time soon. I don’t know if you guys saw him this weekend. He was at the G20. One moment I turned on the TV, he was in India, and then I turned on the TV, he was in Vietnam. Then I turned on the TV, he was giving a press conference, and then at the end of being up for, like, 24 hours working in a completely different part of the world, he said, ‘You know what? I got to go to bedʼ while Republicans were all pouncing on the fact that the man who had been up for 38 hours had to—I had to go to bed just watching him on TV.”

Here was Navarro-Cárdenas’s reaction to Biden’s post-debate speech, where he appeared to be slightly more coherent: “Where the hell was this Joe Biden?”

Those around the president—Jill Biden, certainly, but also all those savvy staffers—should have encouraged Biden to bow out gracefully after his first term. Because what happened last night was heartbreaking. It debased Biden as a man. It was also alarming—the person we saw onstage is our commander in chief. He holds the nuclear football. It wasn’t just Americans who watched his performance last night.

The Democrats talk a lot about “saving democracy.” But if you truly believe democracy is on the line in a race against Trump, the solution is as straightforward as it was before the debate clock started last night on CNN: Replace Biden. The Democratic Convention doesn’t begin until August 19. Biden still has time to pull an LBJ. 

As for the rest of us? Tonight was like a flash going off. So much—and so many—revealed. 

Here at The Free Press, we believe in honesty. We seek and report the truth and tell it plainly when we uncover it—even when it’s politically inconvenient. If you share our values, subscribe today:

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