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FOR FREE PEOPLE

What Was a Parkinson’s Doctor Doing at the White House?

Plus: the Democratic revolt against Joe Biden. What do people in Oakland think of Kamala Harris? Election results in France and the UK. And much more.

What do the people who know Kamala Harris best make of our 49th vice president? Why were some Jews willing to vote for Le Pen in France? And did a certain ’90s movie predict our current Biden disaster? All this and more in today’s Front Page from The Free Press. 

But first, the story everyone is talking about.

On Sunday afternoon, news broke that on a call of senior House Democrats, a number of top lawmakers said Joe Biden should announce his withdrawal from the race. If the reports are true—and New York’s Jerry Nadler and Joe Morelle, California’s Mark Takano, and Washington’s Adam Smith are pushing for Biden to end his campaign—it is a sign that the president is in for a long week. So far five Democratic lawmakers (Angie Craig, Raúl Grijalva, Seth Moulton, Mike Quigley, and Lloyd Doggett) have publicly called for Biden to step down. 

Who knows who will join their ranks by tomorrow morning when Congress is back in session?

All of this has happened in the wake of Joe Biden’s Friday interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulous—an interview intended to quell voters’ fears that at 81, he is too old to run for reelection. The interview did little to halt those concerns—or the belief that he may be suffering from dementia, as The Free Press’s Emily Yoffe reports in our first piece: “Why Did a Parkinson’s Doctor Repeatedly Visit the White House? Here’s Emily:

Has the reason for Joe Biden’s obvious physical and mental decline been hiding in plain sight? Two July 6 reports suggest the president has been seeing a movement disorder doctor for months.

On Saturday, the New York Post reported that a doctor at Walter Reed Medical Center with expertise in Parkinson’s visited the White House January 17, hosted by the president’s physician Kevin O’Connor. A second report, published by Alex Berenson on his Substack, Unreported Truths, revealed that the doctor visited the White House nine times between July 28, 2023, and March 28, 2024. (The logs run through March 31, 2024, and are available for anyone to access online.)

The doctor in question is Kevin R. Cannard, a neurologist and retired Army colonel. His physician profile page shows he is a neurologist and movement disorders specialist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center who researches treatments for early phase Parkinson’s disease. Berenson notes that Walter Reed “provides medical care to senior federal officials.” Read on for Emily’s argument on why the American people deserve to know the truth about our president’s health. 

As the Democratic Party openly revolts against Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris appears increasingly like the person who could replace him at the top of the ticket, polls continue to show she remains unpopular with voters. But maybe the voters just don’t know her well enough yet. Bay Area journalist Leighton Woodhouse wondered: What do the people who know her best make of our 49th Vice President? Here’s Leighton:

Kamala Harris has made a big deal out of being a native daughter of the East Bay. Born in Oakland, California, and raised in neighboring Berkeley, she worked for the Alameda County District Attorney’s office before being elected DA of San Francisco. In 2019, she kicked off her presidential primary campaign at Oakland City Hall and headquartered her West Coast operation in the city. 

Oakland’s reputation as a gritty town that played a central role in black radical political history has helped shape her public persona. So nobody is in a better position than Oakland residents—and in particular, black Oakland residents—to assess her authenticity.

Community organizer Seneca Scott and I took a walk in his neighborhood of the Lower Bottoms to ask Oaklanders what they think of a possible President Harris, and whether they think Biden should step aside for her. Click on the video below to see what they had to say.

  1. Alex Thompson—one of the few Washington reporters to doggedly pursue the Biden age story before last Thursday—has another alarming scoop about the level of handling the leader of the free world requires. For the president’s events, staffers prepare “a short document with large print and photos that include his precise path to the podium.” (Axios

  2. A growing number of Democrats are backing the idea, first suggested by (former?) close Biden ally Jim Clyburn, of a “blitz primary” to pick their candidate if Biden drops out. Delegates would pick the candidate using ranked choice voting before the Democratic convention, and candidates would run “positive-only” campaigns. What could possibly go wrong? (Semafor

  3. Jonathan Chait thinks that’s a terrible idea. Instead, he argues that “a small group of party leaders—say, Biden, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Hakeem Jeffries, and Jen O’Malley Dillon—should decide on a new candidate over the next week.” Is it democratic? No. But hey, sometimes a smoke-filled room is just what you need. (New York

  4. America has a courtier problem, with those around Joe Biden prioritizing their own proximity to power over the future of the country: “Had he not chosen to run, they would have lost their place in court. And that was all that they cared about.” (In My Tribe)

  5. Investors cannot stop talking about politics, and their appetite for expert insight into world affairs has never been bigger. But is this just money managers wanting to be up on the news? According to the FT, it might be something more, as “many senior executives believe the world is going through not just a temporary bout of political volatility, but a structural shift that will have a long-term impact on the investment world.” (Financial Times

  6. Has the Supreme Court, with its immunity ruling, authorized the release of death squads onto the streets of America? Hyperbolic claims like that have been a defining feature of the coverage of the court, but the truth is much less dramatic, says Jonathan Turley. (The Hill

  7. New technology allows patients with amputations below the knee to control the movement of their prosthetic legs through neural signals. “The patients that have this neural interface are able to walk at normal speeds; and up and down steps and slopes; and maneuver obstacles really without thinking about it. It’s natural. It’s involuntary.” (IEEE Spectrum

  8. A group of Sherpas and Nepali soldiers recovered four dead bodies and a skeleton frozen in ice on Mount Everest this year, as part of a cleanup that will take years to complete. Some 100,000 pounds of trash have been left behind by climbers near the mountain’s peak. Why people still want to climb Everest remains a mystery. (AP)

  9. Henry Oliver laments the rise of the discourse novel, which “cannot get beyond repeating the platitudes of modern discourse. . . . The modern fashionable novel is not about the fashion of class, clothes, or cutlery, but of the limits of what you can and cannot say.” (The Common Reader)

  10. America’s berries have never tasted so good—and it’s all thanks to Driscoll’s, the “Apple of berries.” Imagine not loving capitalism, a system that incentivizes super-smart scientists to figure out how to make your fruit taste even better. (Wall Street Journal

In the two weeks since the first round of the French parliamentary elections, France has been wondering: Can Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Rally party be stopped? The answer, delivered by the voters last night, was a resounding yes. Le Pen’s bloc went from being the largest in the first round to the third largest in the second round of voting yesterday. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist bloc is projected to come second, and in a stunning come-from-behind victory, the far-left group of Jean-Luc Mélenchon has come out on top. 

The result, a deadlock with no party close to the number needed for a majority, sets the stage for prolonged instability of the sort that was once a defining feature of French politics. It also throws Macron’s future into doubt: his prime minister, Gabriel Attal, tendered his resignation after the results landed Sunday night. 

For many of France’s Jews, the results underscore an awful predicament. Mélenchon, who in 2017 called Jews “an arrogant minority that lectures to the rest,” has persistently fanned the flames of antisemitism. Moshe Sebbag, a rabbi for the Synagogue de la Victoire, is urging young French Jews to move to Israel, telling The Times of Israel: “it seems France has no future for Jews.” And the threat from the Mélenchon left, as antisemitic violence has surged in the country since October 7, has even persuaded some to do the once unthinkable and vote for Marine Le Pen.

Our Peter Savodnik is in France at the moment and found himself at a party in which many of the attendees were surprising themselves and voting for Le Pen.

Here’s Peter:

“The Jews will change the fascists” is not something one hears every day, but there I was, at this party, and the Frenchwoman opposite me was saying exactly that. She added that the old language—fascism, Nazi—was mostly meaningless now. These were words that partisans and their surrogate-drones lobbed at people they didn’t like. They bore little resemblance to their original meanings.

Continue Reading: Why French Jews Believed the Political Right Could Save Them—and France.

→ Keir Starmer’s underwhelming victory: While France’s voters delivered a shock on Sunday night, the British electorate were much more predictable three days earlier, when the Conservative Party was ousted after 14 years in power and Keir Starmer’s Labour Party secured the large majority everyone expected. It was a historically heavy defeat for the Tories. The party now has 121 MPs—the smallest number in its almost 200-year history.

But the election hardly showed massive enthusiasm for Labour. Turnout was way down, at 60 percent, the lowest level since 2001. And, at 34 percent, Labour’s overall share of the vote was actually less than the 40 percent far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn achieved in 2017. So how did Starmer do it? Part of the answer is with the help of Brexit insurgent Nigel Farage, whose populist Reform party peeled off millions of voters, mostly from the Conservatives. 

If you want to go deeper on the UK election, start with Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who chews through the numbers on Labour’s “Potemkin landslide.” Then check out Peter Hitchens, in fantastically gloomy form, with a farewell to conservatism for UnHerd. On Substack, Neil O’Brien, a Conservative MP who clung on, makes sense of his party’s terrible showing with an “everything bagel theory of defeat.” From Politico, a look at why Keir Starmer’s victory isn’t necessarily encouraging for fellow center-left candidate Joe Biden. And The Times of London’s Will Lloyd (sadly hiding behind a paywall) dissects the class dynamics of the result, with Starmer’s “strivers” replacing the “chumocracy” of the Tory years. He asks: “Is the era of ‘posh boy’ dominance really over?” —OW

→ Kat Rosenfield on the movie that predicted the Biden debacle: Ever since the Great Debate Debacle—and its successor event, the Stephanopoulos Sit-Down That Could Have Gone Better—Joe Biden’s most fervent supporters have chosen one of two tacks. The first is full-on denial: the president is doing fine, they say! Amazing, even! Any blips in his performance were merely the result of poor preparation, or a cold, or some secret saboteur inside CNN who installed a “ghastly pallor and verbal incoherence” filter on the camera in front of him. 

But in the second camp, the one not completely disconnected from reality, an arguably more disturbing idea has emerged: that Biden's fitness for office actually doesn’t matter and never has, because he has good people around him

Is the president sane? Competent? Entirely alive? You need not ask yourself these questions, because the president is not the president; he’s just a figurehead, more of a mascot, really—like the Geico Gecko of the executive branch. The actual presidency consists of somewhere between five and 50 people, whose identities may or may not be public knowledge, who stand behind or around or sometimes on top of the president and execute the duties of the office according to their collective wisdom. Did you think, when you pulled the lever for Joe Biden in 2020, that you were actually voting for Joe Biden the singular human being? You fool. You absolute imbecile. 

Needless to say, it has been quite something to see some of my fellow liberals, who have been arguing for years that democracy is on the ballot this November, now also insisting with a straight face that it’s ridiculous to expect our democratically elected president to, like, do the job. (Also: per news reports, the team of good and competent people currently advising the president is led by his son, Hunter, which is not exactly reassuring. It’s almost like the type of cognitive decline that affects a person’s presidential capacities could also affect his judgment about whose advice to trust.)

But if you’ve ever wondered if those folks are right—if Americans are in fact totally cool with a group of unelected officials pulling strings behind the scenes, while the man known as POTUS watches Dick Van Dyke reruns and drools contentedly into a bowl of creamed corn—may I direct your attention to one of my favorite movies, the 1993 Kevin Kline comedy Dave, in which some devious Washington insiders attempt to do exactly this?

The premise of Dave is simple. When the president has a stroke and ends up comatose, his chief of staff Bob Alexander secretly hires a body double—that’s Dave—to impersonate the president full time. Obviously, hijinks ensue (the scenes between Kline and Ving Rhames as his Secret Service agent are particularly fun) but for our purposes, what matters is Bob, a power-hungry schemer who takes advantage of the president’s incapacitation to veto bills and set agendas and generally keep his corrupt, conniving hands firmly on the levers of power. 

But that’s fine, right? After all, Bob is part of the team, handpicked by the president to do exactly this; surely it would trouble nobody to learn that he’d taken over the president’s duties. Except, of course, it’s not fine—as illustrated perfectly in the moment when Dave threatens to reveal their charade to the public.

“The whole press corps is right out there,” he says. “Should I go tell them, or do you want to?”

Bob doesn’t answer. He’s trapped, he knows it—and so do we. It is impossible to watch this movie, this scene, and not understand intuitively that he can’t tell the press what he’s done. That what he’s done is a bad thing. That the American people would absolutely not be comforted by the notion of a shadowy cabal secretly running the country, while the man they voted into office lies comatose in a basement room under the White House. 

That’s not what they voted for. That’s not what we vote for.
Kat Rosenfield

Michael recommends All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren: It’s relevant to the current political situation, but the crux of the novel is the narrator’s character development and his eventual atonement. 

Gary recommends Vaclav Smil’s How the World Really Works and wishes our leaders had read its chapters on the physical systems and risks that underpin the modern world.

What do you recommend? Let us know: thefrontpage@thefp.com

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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