Over the past few weeks, there were two disturbing incidents noted in the media that involve our aging politicians.
In the first case, the president gushed about asking for further funding for vaccine research with the stated goal of recommending one for all Americans.
“I signed off this morning on a proposal we have to present to the Congress a request for additional funding for a new vaccine that is necessary, that works,” he said.
Most media outlets took this to apply to the many COVID-19 vaccines in development, from nasal barrier vaccines to pancoronavirus vaccines, but no one was sure that he didn’t mean instead additional funding for the new subvariant MRNA booster that is already produced and due to be released later this month.
Whatever he meant, this latest pronouncement on COVID didn’t manage to project confidence or clarity, and it certainly won’t lead to anyone taking a vaccine who was on the fence before.
On Sept. 1, when the White House released the president’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, which emphasized preventive tools, treatments and vaccines rather than lockdowns and shutdowns, it was difficult to take it fully seriously coming from a confused leader who previously has focused on restrictions rather than intelligent personal choices.
Americans remain nervous about future COVID lockdowns or mandates and this plan does not automatically reassure them.
Time to step down
At the same time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sustained another brain freeze in the middle of speaking with his eye deviating to the right.
His episodes appear “typical of a brief focal unaware (complex partial) seizure” according to Dr. Orrin Devinsky, chief of the NYU Epilepsy Service and world renowned seizure specialist.
Devinsky added that the episodes could be the result of prior head trauma.
He acknowledged that he hasn’t examined McConnell and that he must be seen by trained specialists. Other neurologists have suggested the episode could be due to Parkinson’s.
McConnell was attended to ably by his aides on the scene and cleared by Congress physician Dr. Brian Monahan to return to work, which implies that what happened wasn’t a surprise to anyone there, though Monahan pointing to dizziness and dehydration was misleading and understated the seriousness of the problem.
But the larger question remains unaddressed, which is when is the right time for McConnell to step down? Will his legacy be affected by his continuing on in an impaired condition?
And what about Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s clearly worsening dementia where her staff tells her how to vote, or Sen. John Fetterman’s residual impairment from depression superimposed on a severe stroke?
How many people in Pennsylvania feel he can represent them properly? Doesn’t the country have a right to leaders who are fit to serve?
At the same time, it is the president of the United States who shows America’s best or worse face to the world, not our senators or members of Congress.
When our president is unfit, our country suffers as a result. When it comes to presidents, the stakes are much higher.
This is why term limits evolved directly from FDR running and winning a fourth term while hiding out of control blood pressure, congestive heart failure and a sudden cerebral hemorrhage and melanoma, which killed him just as World War II was winding down.
Even more disturbing and historically problematic was President Woodrow Wilson suffering hallucinations and extreme fatigue from the Spanish flu just when he was negotiating the Treaty of Versailles with the French and British at the conclusion of World War I.
The case can be made that the Germans were punished more severely as a result, leading to the rise of the Nazis, while Wilson went on to have a severe stroke and mumbled instructions to his wife during the latter days of his administration.
Unfortunately, we don’t appear to have learned anything since then. If we have a right to transparency when it comes to our current president, we clearly aren’t getting it.
President Biden is surrounded by handlers and his increasing episodes of disorientation and cognitive mistakes are erroneously labeled as “gaffes.” While the world watches, our president grows more feeble and seems less capable or authoritative every day.
His last physical in February was suspicious for lack of any cognitive testing or MRI of the brain, though the report did reveal that his stiffened gait is worsening, leading to several falls.
Neurologists have told me that his problems walking could be connected to too much fluid on the brain or vascular problems.
He has a longtime history of atrial fibrillation, is maintained on blood thinners and had two aneurysms repaired surgically in 1988, and both conditions can lead to long-term cognitive decline.
Surveys of the American public reveal concerns that President Biden is too old to run for re-election, but I don’t think age is the issue so much as mental acuity and fitness.
A vote for FDR should not have meant a vote for Harry Truman any more than a vote for Biden should mean a vote for Kamala Harris.
Or did someone say Michelle Obama?