Long before he became president, Joe Biden was known as a “gaffe machine.” His verbal stumbles, exacerbated by a stutter he has fought since childhood, were so frequent that when he was tapped as Barack Obama’s vice president in 2008, Slate felt compelled to explain “why Joe Biden’s gaffes don’t hurt him much.” Their conclusion was that Biden’s missteps were so common that they no longer had much impact: “When Obama picked Biden, some Democrats suggested that Biden’s unpredictable tongue would become a distraction. Others criticized him as being too ‘safe.’ They’re both right. He is a gaffe machine—but he’s harmless.” This was why I argued in 2019 that Donald Trump was the perfect match-up for Biden: the latter’s noted propensity for gaffes would pale in comparison to his competition.
Joe Biden is also—I hope you are sitting down for this—old. Like most people his age, he is not as spry as he was when he was younger. He speaks and moves a little slower. He has more trouble controlling his stutter than he once did. At the same time, he is more adaptable and agile at 79 than most, as he demonstrated this past week in Israel during an impromptu moment with two Holocaust survivors:
In other words, Joe Biden is a man long prone to verbal foibles who is also older than he once was, and his conduct as president has reflected that. This is an accurate description of the mundane reality. But it is not interesting or politically useful—which is why the Republican Party and its ideological ecosystem have decided to invent a different Biden. This Biden is not simply an older version of his past self, for better and worse, but instead is an incapacitated vegetable who has no idea what is going on around him. (What this says about Donald Trump, who couldn’t beat this alleged invalid, is never elaborated.)
While covering President Biden’s visit to Israel this past week, I got a front-row seat to how this works. As we’ve discussed previously in this newsletter, one of the fastest ways that falsehoods spread on social media is through selectively edited or misrepresented viral videos. Whether it’s an interview with an athlete or a clip of a Black Lives Matter protest, these videos mislead many into thinking they saw or heard something that never happened. This is how utterly uninteresting moments from Biden’s Israel trip were turned into evidence of his purported mental meltdown.
Take this claim from the official messaging account of the Republican National Committee:
The included video clip does show Biden asking “What am I doing now?” But there are some red flags. It is just nine seconds long, and no context is provided. It turns out there is a good reason the video was truncated: The full version provides a perfectly reasonable explanation for Biden’s question. And you don’t have to take my word for it; you can watch it for yourself. The Israelis livestreamed the entire welcoming ceremony when Biden landed, and the relevant portion appears at around 23:17:
So what happened? After departing Air Force One, Biden walked down a long line of dignitaries and officials, exchanging fist bumps and greetings. When he arrived at the end of this receiving line, he asked where exactly he should be standing for a photo op with Israel’s president and prime minister: “What am I doing now?” They showed him where to go, and that’s how we got dramatic shots like this one:
The RNC clip comes directly from the Israeli livestream. In other words, whoever made it likely knew that Biden had said something entirely innocuous, and chose to misrepresent what happened. Displaying remarkable contempt for its audience, the RNC posted the deceptively edited video and relied on its followers being too credulous to look up the original and discover the truth. Sadly, it worked, as the clip spread like wildfire across conservative social media:
This wasn’t the only banal incident from the visit that Republican operatives disingenuously recast. On Biden’s second day in Israel, he was awarded the country’s presidential medal of honor. At that event, Biden gave a speech, after which he walked from the podium to his right and gestured to two chairs on stage, pointing to one and asking Israel’s president which he should sit in. If you are already bored, you should be. But on official Republican Twitter channels, this moment became something far more exciting: Biden, it was claimed, tried to shake hands with someone who wasn’t there.
Ironically, the truth is evident in the RNC’s own embedded video. If you watch the full clip, Biden is gesturing to the chairs, not to an invisible person. The only reason it looks momentarily like he isn’t is because the chairs are initially outside the video’s frame. He can see them, but the viewer can’t. Once again, it was not Biden who was at odds with reality, but the RNC. Once again, the RNC relied on the ignorance of its audience in order to mislead them about the president’s capacity. And once again, many were deceived:
Obviously, these misrepresentations are an injustice to Biden and Democrats. But they also harm conservatives and Republicans. Here’s why.