Voters may be stuck with Biden, but Democrats shouldn’t pretend we didn’t see what we saw during the debates

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

In spite of the immediate panic his poor debate performance sparked last week, as of now, it remains more likely than not that President Joe Biden will stay on the ballot in this year’s looming presidential election.

So, his supporters have devised a plan to fix matters, which includes asking voters to essentially hurry up and get over what we all saw and heard.

Part of that effort includes getting the most popular Democrat in the country, former President Barack Obama, to chime in and help everyone get on message.

“Bad debate nights happen,” Obama posted on X. “Trust me, I know. But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself. Between someone who tells the truth; who knows right from wrong and will give it to the American people straight — and someone who lies through his teeth for his own benefit. Last night didn’t change that, and it’s why so much is at stake in November.”

If you are to believe Obama and a number of leading Democrats like House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Jamie Harrison, Biden merely had a bad night that will set the stage for some great comeback at a later date. 

As for the reasons behind why it was such a bad night, the Biden camp has come up with different excuses: he had a cold, he might have been “overprepared” or depending on whom reporters asked, not prepared well enough.

To say Biden merely had a “bad night” is to play in our faces. The same goes for faulting others — say the makeup people in some cases — for what caused such fright among even the most ardent Democrats. 

Biden may well indeed have been battling the sniffles, but even if his answers hadn’t been delivered in a whispery voice, they were still often meandering. What was that line about beating Medicare? Why did he bring up a migrant murdering a woman in that way?

And why did he so often look confused at various moments through the 90-minute event? 

Now we have reports saying that “from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Biden is dependably engaged” but “outside of that time range or while traveling abroad, Biden is more likely to have verbal miscues and become fatigued” and how his staff shields him as a result of it. Other reports detail a meeting between Biden and an EU leader where he was found to be sharp and cogent until the final moments when he “ended the meeting with the same anecdote he started with … everyone’s heart sank.” 


Biden is an 81-year-old man serving in an office known to accelerate the aging process.  It is a worry voters have expressed in polling for several years now. How much longer did those around Biden think he could evade the effects of aging — or hide them from the public? 

Yet, in a nod to rhetoric from the 2020 campaign, at a fundraiser over the weekend, First Lady Jill Biden said: “Joe isn’t just the right person for the job. He’s the only person for the job.”

I have never embraced the idea that only Biden alone is capable of beating Trump in an election but have accepted this is the predicament the powers that be have placed us all in.

I’ll let others go back and forth over whether or not Biden’s debate performance was the worst one in American history, but in any situation where Donald Trump, an incurious and unstable sociopath who lies like he breathes, can come out looking like the more together one in the eyes of viewers, that is a problem that no amount of propaganda can cure.

Democrats are trying to reel folks back in and silence their concerns about Biden’s advanced age and how that will impact him in a second term. The more popular term these days is gaslighting, but this is all very much propaganda by any other name. It is a practice many politicians — even some of those we agree with ideology — engage in. 

It’s not working on all of us, though. 

Some donors have responded to these efforts to squash doubt with more fear and anger. As for voters, according to a new CBS News poll, 72% of voters question Biden’s cognitive abilities and don’t want him to run again. It doesn’t mean Biden can’t win, but as dangerous as Trump is, Biden leading the country until the age of 86 isn’t the best case scenario either. Biden fancies himself as the man standing between Trump and the end of democracy, but historians have warned about the perils of gerontocracy, too

Democrats are trying to excuse what we all saw last week and make clear that our options for president are what they are. So be it, but I’m not living in their shared state of denial by pretending what I saw from Biden was fine. 

Or that one old man’s refusal to abdicate power does not give another permission to do the same.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of “I Can’t Date Jesus, I Don’t Want To Die Poor,” and his latest essay collection, “I Finally Bought Some Jordans.”

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