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Saturday, March 14, 2020


When I was interviewed forty years ago for the deanship of Amherst College, I was asked what changes I would institute if I were Dean.  I said I would make public everyone’s salary, as was routinely done at UMass, where I was then teaching.  When I said that, the temperature in the room dropped ten degrees and I lost any chance at the deanship.

That was a gaffe.

This morning, as I planned today’s post during my morning walk, I could not recall the name of the great American soprano Kathleen Battle.

That was a senior moment.

When I wonder whether Joe Biden, almost certainly the Democratic candidate for the Presidency, has suffered sufficient cognitive decline not to be able to handle the campaign without disastrously imploding, I am not concerned about gaffes or senior moments. 

I live in a community of senior citizens, many of whom are mentally sharp but some of whom exhibit signs of cognitive decline.  This decline takes many forms.  Sometimes it is a loss of short term memory.  Sometimes it is becoming confused when trying to follow a series of instructions, such as a recipe or directions for finding a building.  Sometimes it is repeating stories one has already told [hem, hem, cough, cough], or conflating several stories confusedly, or being unable to complete a thought or a sentence.  And sometimes it is growing defensive or belligerent when challenged.

Biden has exhibited all of these in recent months.

I worry.


Anonymous said...

And we have to disgustingly vote for him. I realize the sacrifice one has to make for the good of the many, but placing a vote for an individual with dementia for the highest office in the land is as close to the red line as one can get.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
s. wallerstein said...

I have my senior moments too and while I see myself as being too old to be president, if I were elected president, I would surround myself with competent younger advisors and cabinet secretaries, and I would let them do much of the decision making and I would appear at important ceremonial moments myself as does Queen Elizabeth who is a lot older than Biden and I am.

I don't like Biden, but it well may be that he realizes (as do the people around him) that he is not as sharp as he used to be and that he will be a one-term ceremonial figure.

JKR said...

You mean it's going to be cognitive decline vs the delusional?

F. Pesoa said...

Think of the bright side: the impeachment hearings and their political fallout for the Democratic Party have receded into the epic past. And COVID-19 may render its own independent verdict. Republicans are less likely to take the novel coronavirus seriously. Biden's grey and white matter may return if and when he realizes he is the front runner and can hold the thought long enough for it to be salutary.

As for the hegemonic class/working class divide, here are some interesting statistics by the "POLICY TENSOR."

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth:  

R McD said...

Off key, but this is the only way I can think of sending a reference to

s wallerstein

who I know is interested in Chile and who might not have come across this:

Otherwise, it seems to me speculation on someone else's mental condition is also a bit off key. Comment on policies and who his cabinet choices might be are surely sufficient cause for concern

RFGA, Ph.D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
s. wallerstein said...



Jerry Brown said...

Ok yes Biden is in a good position right now. But there will be a debate tomorrow night. It might show some weaknesses even though Bernie won't punch below the belt. Trump will though and will not at all hold back on anything. He respects no rules of civility or decency or truth for that matter. Well, I guess I'm hoping on this debate to show us something. And though I know it might run past your bedtime, I hope you can watch it P Wolff

LFC said...

I am fairly sure RPW will remove RFGA's repulsive comment above as soon as RPW has read it.

In addition to being repulsive and gratuitously insulting, the comment misused the word "reticence." That word does not mean "reluctance," although these days the misuse is quite common.

Jerry Brown said...

LFC, I hope you won't correct my own grammatical mistakes so carefully. But if I ever write something like that up above- please call me out on it right away.

Danny said...

I know of Biden’s seemingly limitless capacity for producing embarrassing moments on the campaign trail, Biden has struggled with public appearances for decades.

I could argue that you need to stop saying Joe Biden has dementia. There are very good reasons why this shouldn't be your port of call. I think the last thing we need is people making unfounded accusations about someone else's health, I think it's grossly negligent. But also, it blows past a line that people weren’t willing to cross in past campaigns -- a topic that was taboo in past cycles. And, the attacks are remarkable for the degree they copy the current Republican playbook against Biden.

Jerry Brown said...

Inasmuch as we hold ourselves to higher standards than Donald Trump, then yes Danny- you are right. But you know what is going to come and it isn't going to be the mild questioning of Professor Wolff- it will be President Donald J Trump campaigning for re-election. And he respects no norms of decency and will do whatever he can to pummel Joe Biden and it won't be nice at all.

Anonymous said...

If you had a teaching job where you were required to meet with students (i.e., "teach") 24 hours a week, you would experience similar lapses of memory, and probably more frequently. However, as I am underpaid, I am forced to overwork ("teach" a ridiculous number of hours)--as are many others today.
I am acutely conscious of the fact that I am often too tired to think clearly. And I have had moments when subtracting 8 from 24 was more than my taxed my short-term memory could handle--because I was exhausted from lack of sleep and stress. (And I teach at a university--actually, two...)
Yet, a few months ago, when students had written up comments at the website of one of the universities where I teach (outside of the USA) my supervisor (in a presigious university in the capital) encouraged (ordered) me to write responses. (And my activity of writing a response was "on my own time", as I am only paid for activities within the classroom. And, BTW, note that this is a version of slavery: I was ordered to perform a work activity for which I would not be paid.)

My favorite student complaint was that I stifled conversation (among 12 students) because I couldn't remember their names. At the time I was teaching six or seven different classes (I've forgotten which, and can't be bothered to look it up) at two different universities, an hour apart by train (plus the time commuting from the train station to the classroom and back). I did not write the truth: that on account of my low pay (at a highly prestigious university which compares itself, with some right, to Oxford) I was forced to teach too many classes, and had something like 110 students. If the student wanted teachers to remember students' names, the she (in the local language, there is a marker for sex) should tell universities to pay instructors a living wage. I didn't say that.
But it is the unsayable truth.

In short, Most Revered Professor, I want to assure you that things could be a lot worse. Enjoy your life. Keep up the good work. I learn a lot from your blog. However, I do think that it does you no harm to know how less lucky would-be academics are faring.
Best wishes,

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...

I find the comments of RFGA, Ph.D. to be repulsive. I hope
he (or she) is banned.

Regarding Biden, on top of or maybe part of his cognitive decline,
is the fact that he lies constantly, mostly about his record, and gets
away with it.

There is something very surreal about the direction this primary season has taken.
Exit polls show that Bernie won in some of the states that he officially lost. For example, Texas:

Perhaps the current set of crises has sunk Trump, but can Biden hold it together long enough? The VP choice is now critical: I would nominate Warren, as much as I don't like her either. She is also a liar, but she may be the only way to get a touch of progressive sensibility into the executive branch and also get progressives to vote who might otherwise stay home.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
s. wallerstein said...

If you lie all the time and have a separate "winning" discourse for distinct types of audiences, even normal cognitive decline is going to make things harder for you. If I basically represent the same principles with whomever I converse, I'm unlikely to get confused, but if I have normal cognitive decline for a man in his late 70's and I have no constant principles and am always guided by political opportunism, I'm much more likely to confuse what I say, as I'll have to recall in mid-sentence exactly what lie I need to use to convince each new group of listeners.

RFGA is a case study from Theodor Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality.