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Ruben Navarrette: Biden's tongue-twisted town hall

Ruben Navarrette: Biden's tongue-twisted town hall

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SAN DIEGO — President Joe Biden joked that sometimes he wakes up in the White House and asks his wife, Jill: "Where the hell are we?"

I believe it. The 78-year-old probably has many such moments.

I've been in the communications business for 30 years. God didn't give me artistic, athletic, mechanical or musical skill. But He did give me the ability to get my point across.

There are jobs you can't do if you can't communicate effectively.

Such as president of the United States. One needs to be able to talk to the American people in simple and clear language.

That's why Biden's disastrous appearance last week at the CNN Town Hall in Milwaukee was worrisome. It's not enough to say the career politician has lost his fastball. He's throwing wild.

I winced throughout the event. I want Biden to succeed. To do that, he needs to be able to put two sentences together.

To the degree that Biden sometimes struggles to do this, some of the blame might belong to the aging process.

When I posted that on Facebook, baby boomers — who are appropriately named because they act like infants — got triggered. Apparently, I'm an "ageist." The Woodstock generation that once warned us not to trust anyone over 30 now tells us not to criticize anyone pushing 80. It's a shame the flower children wilt so easily.

At 79, my father is six months older than Biden. The career cop, who spent 37 years on the job, was once a master storyteller and strong public speaker. He aced oral exams, spoke at Rotary Clubs and taught college classes. Today, he struggles to make his way from the start of a sentence to the end — especially when he is under stress.

During the CNN town hall, I counted — from Biden — no fewer than a dozen stem-winders, half sentences, mistakes, lost trains of thought, non sequiturs and streams of consciousness.

CNN fact checkers — who I thought were taking the next four years off — found at least four untruths that Biden told regarding vaccines, China, illegal immigrants and the minimum wage. If pro-Biden CNN conceded four falsehoods, there were probably many more.

Most politicians are skilled at not answering a question, but we need to worry when one appears to forget what the question was.

When asked by an audience member what he intended to do about white supremacy, Biden talked about how he got into politics "because of civil rights and opposition to white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan" and said he "would make sure that my Justice Department and the civil rights division is focused heavily on those very folks."

What a flat and uninspiring answer. Biden then took a gratuitous poke at Trump and called white supremacy "a bane on our existence."

The phrase is bane of our existence.

It's cool for a president to be folksy. But red flags should go up when he gets stuck in Mayberry. This wasn't an ice cream social. As the first town hall of the Biden presidency — and maybe the last one for a long time, if protective White House aides have their way — the goal was to reassure Americans as we go from one calamity to another.

After the town hall, a liberal commentator conceded that the president "rambled."

At least Biden had a chummy moderator.

CNN's Anderson Cooper tossed softballs; i.e., "What's it like (to live in the White House)?" He gave Biden the correct answer to an immigration question; i.e., "Just to be clear, you do want a pathway to citizenship … for roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants … and that would be essential in any bill for you?" He even brushed past a condescending comment from Biden about how "not everybody in the Hispanic and the African American community … know how to get online to determine how to get in line for that COVID vaccination."

That comment harkened back to a Democratic primary debate in September 2019 when Biden — in response to a question about repairing the legacy of slavery — said he wanted to "bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children" because "they don't know quite what to do."

Thanks to the media, Biden will continue to get by with a lot of help from his friends. But his enablers can only cover up so much. We are, after all, talking about a politician who — after a half century in the game — loves to talk, but no longer does it as well as he used to.

How long can Team Biden keep something like that under wraps? Sooner or later, it's going to be a problem. I'd bet on "sooner."

Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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