That’s a poser; what’s the respectful way to attack someone for being too senile to run for president? Cory Booker tried dancing his way through this thicket when challenged by CNN’s Erin Burnett and Dana Bash after last night’s debate. While most of the rest of the Democratic contenders clucked their tongues at Julián Castro’s dig at Biden’s memory, Booker tried to salvage Castro’s attack:
BOOKER: Look, I think we are at a tough point right now, because there are a lot of people who are concerned about Joe Biden’s ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line, and without fumbling. And I think that Castro has some really legitimate concerns about, ‘can he be someone in a long grueling campaign that can get the ball over the line,’ and he has every right to call that out. I do think that tone and tenor is really important, and we can respect President Biden [sic] and disagree with him. I tried to show that in the CNN debate where he and I have strong different — disagreements. But we shouldn’t do things that at the end of this — when you demonize somebody, create bad blood, it’s hard to unify afterwards. …
BOOKER: I think there was a lot of moments where a number of us were looking at us on stage when he tends to go on sometimes. At one point, he’s talking about people in communities like mine listening to record players. I don’t remember the last time I saw a record player in my community —
BASH: They’re back in, you know.
BOOKER: They’re back in — the vinyl is hot!
BASH: It is hot, I just want to let you know. [crosstalk]
BOOKER: Maybe he’s cooler than I am, but there are definitely moments where you listen to Joe Biden and you just wonder. But, I don’t know, look …
I don’t think Booker’s “just wonder[ing]” about Biden’s policy choices here. When Burnett asks him the sixty-four dollar question about Biden’s age being a disqualifier, however, Booker backpedals … by saying Biden’s always been a little incoherent:
BURNETT: Senator, are you saying that he’s just too old to be president?
BOOKER: No, I’m definitely not saying that, because I’ve listened to Joe Biden over the years and often felt like there were times that he, ah, is going on or meandering in his speech. Look, I want someone who can excite and energize and call us to campaign like we saw back in ’08 and ’12 where we had record turnouts, and somebody who can speak to the fullness of the Democratic Party.
The record turnouts had a lot more to do with organization than rhetoric, a point both parties seem determined to ignore in yet another election cycle. Besides, if that’s the criterion on which Booker makes his decision, why is he still in the race at all? Where are his crowds, his turnout, his own organization?
Back to being respectful about age: Booker’s right about Biden’s meanderings being less about age and more about Biden’s consistent style of campaigning and speaking. So why bring up age at all? Because, in all fairness, Booker’s not the only person to “listen to Joe Biden and just wonder.” Bernie Sanders is older, but Biden’s frailty is starting to poke out from the edges, especially in that moment where his eye filled up with blood in the middle of a sit-down live interview on CNN. Hardly any major media outlet even bothered to note it, including CNN. Booker should have challenged Burnett and Bash on that point — why not?
Maybe it shouldn’t be used as a gotcha as Castro did last night, but Biden’s age and health is not an unfair issue. The better question is why the media has avoided it.