Sunday, September 06, 2020

Joe Biden: Is it really dementia, or stuttering, or a decline of his ability to compensate?




We are close to an important presidential election. Four more years of Trump - the end of the world for Trump haters. Or four years with Joe Biden - a disaster for Trump fans.

Truth and fairness are the two first victims in such viciously fought campaigns. One point of attack is to look for weaknesses in a political candidate and create attacks highlighting his weakness. So it's not about policy but about the person himself.

One over-arching weakness, of both candidates actually, is their age. Joe Biden is 77, and Donald Trump is 74. Biden comes across as older (which he is by only three years) and frailer while Trump still shows off his aggressive bulldog full of energy whereas Biden comes across as the soft spoken grandpa.

This video is a good example of attacking Biden on frailness with the underlying message: "Do you want a president of the United States who is frail? Listen to how he bungles his words! This man can't think clearly! He shows the first signs of dementia!"

He bungled his words. Everyone can hear it. For political propaganda, it's not important why he did it and if it's only two sentences out of hundreds spoken per day, because the swing voters will watch this uncomfortable scene and might well ask themselves: "OMG, I dislike Trump but Biden is too frail to become president!"

As people who stutter, we of course might know better. This video might not show at all first signs of dementia but his bungled words are due to stuttering. I myself had many such instances, even as a teenager, where my sharp mind was just caught up in the struggle to get the right words in the right order out. My thoughts were crystal clear. My spoken words that of a bumbling idiot.

So we could defend Biden and say: Look it is just stuttering. He is totally fine otherwise!

But age might well play a role.

I don't think that the video are evidence for dementia. The video is a vicious over-simplification for political purposes. However, the scene might well show his increasing inability due to his age to effectively use the compensatory mechanisms that he learned as a teenager to generate fluent speech and be an effective communicator despite having a stuttering brain prone to traffic jams during speech production. He did brilliantly over a fifty-year career but those mechanisms might have weakened and the stuttering will slowly re-appear.

Interestingly, Biden had not put forward stuttering as a main topic in his previous campaigns, though he did in recent years talk about his stuttering as a child and teenager. His outing however only happened as vice-president with a job that many consider as the end of your political career. I always found his outing strange, because I never heard him stutter or bungle his words. Only during this campaign after fifty years of campaigning, has he put forward stuttering as a main theme. Make no mistake. The campaign managers did not put Brayden Harrington in the spotlight to show what a great person Biden is. He struggled, won, and now helps those that struggle to win. No, outing yourself as a stutterer does not win you extra votes from swing voters at all.

I know why what they did it. His campaign managers are desperatedly trying to get the word out that he sometimes cannot get the word out, because he is a person who stutters and people need to show compassion, feel empathy, and have understanding for his bungling of words.

They know that this explanation, while perfectly reasonable, is a thought process too complex for many swing voters.

But they have no other choice, because he can not not speak as a presidential candidate.

That's the dilemma.

3 comments:

Lisa said...

Good commentary. I agree Biden does show some mental confusion sometimes but not dementia. He stutters more now than he used to but a lot of PWS find their stuttering getting worse as they get older maybe because of the inevitable mental deterioration and forgetting words. Personally I think both men are too old for the job and both get confused and can look dopey when giving speeches. The minimum age for being president is 35, I think there should be a maximum cutoff point at 70 or 75.
Biden's candidacy has spurred some interesting commentary and conversations around stuttering. He's presented as an empathetic, humble sort to contrast with Trump. Unfortunately megalomaniac Trump will go off the deep end if he's re-elected.

Ora said...

"But age might well play a role... the scene might well show his increasing inability due to his age to effectively use the compensatory mechanisms that he learned as a teenager to generate fluent speech and be an effective communicator despite having a stuttering brain prone to traffic jams during speech production. He did brilliantly over a fifty-year career but those mechanisms might have weakened and the stuttering will slowly re-appear."

I wonder if that's true, or how widespread it is. My own experience is different (as you and I have discussed). My stuttering has diminished greatly as I've grown older, into my 70s.

Of course it's possible that age is a factor in the evolution of stuttering over a person's lifetime, but that the effects are different for different people.

Tom Weidig said...

@Ora:

>> My own experience is different (as you and I have discussed). My stuttering has diminished greatly as I've grown older, into my 70s.

I would divide it up into, one, the psychosocial adaption, and, two, the neurobiological basis.

As we get old, we likely adapt better to a low-capacity neurobiological basis. We talk slower, less tension, less fear, and so on. But the neurobiological functioning must decline with age, either slowly by natural aging or dramatically by mini-strokes and strokes.

We also need to consider differences in subjective and objective perception of stuttering.