Column

We Can’t Dismiss Joe Biden’s Gaffes as a Product of Age

How can Americans trust Biden with the country’s well-being if they can’t trust he’ll take criticism without resorting to strange insults?

Former Vice President Joe Biden rallies with a crowd of hundreds while visiting Hampton, NH on February 9, 2020. Photo: Boston Globe/Getty Images

Does anyone really find Joe Biden charming anymore?

At a campaign event in New Hampshire this weekend, the former vice president called a young woman who asked him about his poor showing in Iowa a “lying dog-faced pony soldier.” Yes, I’m serious. A lying dog-faced pony soldier. The insult sounds vaguely Trumpian — especially given the president’s penchant for calling women dogs — but mostly it’s just nonsensical.

Biden, who has used the phrase before, attributes the line to a John Wayne movie — incorrectly, according to sleuths at Slate. A spokesperson for the faltering candidate tweeted that it was a well-received joke, though the college student on the receiving end of the bizarre barb didn’t seem to feel the same. Madison Moore, a 21-year old economics student at Mercer University, told the Washington Post, Joe Biden has been performing incredibly poorly in this race. His inability to answer a simple question from a nobody college student like me only exacerbates that reality.”

What happens if Biden ends up on a debate stage with Trump? We’ve already seen him challenge the president to a pushup competition. It’s hard to imagine anything but two old men beating their chests and trading taunts.

Biden has a particular problem with answering questions he doesn’t like — especially when they’re asked by younger women — without resorting to insults or anger. Whether he’s wagging his finger in the face of a young activist who asked about abortion or sarcastically calling a moderator “a lovely person” when pressed about his previous support for the homophobic Defense of Marriage Act, Biden default response to scrutiny is condescension.

When Trump resorts to anger and insults, the left rightfully calls him out for it. But somehow with Biden we’re meant to find it all part of his folksy charm?

What’s just as troubling is that these consistently off-putting and sexist remarks are often met with little more than a shrug — mostly, I believe, because of Biden’s age. (And gender: It’s hard to imagine a candidate like Sen. Elizabeth Warren publicly using a term like this and the media moving on so quickly.)

We’re meant to shrug off his “gaffes” because Biden is of a different generation. But isn’t it just simple ageism to suggest that we give Biden broader and kinder latitude on issues everyone else has caught up on? Part of being an effective leader is the ability to change over time and progress alongside the culture. How are Americans supposed to trust Biden with the country if they can’t even trust he’ll take criticism without resorting to strange insults?

At least there’s one upside to Biden’s latest inability to roll with the punches: Now can we stop pretending he’s the “electable” candidate.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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