Abcarian: Take a chill, my fellow Americans. Your president isn't cognitively impaired

Did he trip over his feet? Did he make an indefensible gaffe? No, my fellow Americans, he did not.

I admit, the bar was set in a rather bizarre place for President Biden’s State of the Union speech on Thursday. He is, after all, the oldest American president. And though he is only four years older than his presumed November opponent, former President Trump, 77, the hysteria about Biden’s age has become an abiding feature of the national political debate.

Take a chill pill, people.

Our 81-year-old commander in chief was in fine form. His speech, which lasted a little over an hour, was many things: a serious accounting of the country’s status at home and in the world, a blueprint for a second Biden administration and a campaign speech that included repeated verbal jousting with his Republican hecklers.

What it was not: the ramblings of “a sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory,” which was how special counsel Robert Hur imagined the president would present himself to a jury if he were to be prosecuted for mishandling classified documents.

You could practically hear the collective sigh of relief from wobbly-kneed Democrats, who have been far too willing to let doubts about Biden’s age cloud their support for his reelection.

Some even said the not-so-quiet part out loud.

“No one’s gonna talk about cognitively impaired now!” exclaimed New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler.

“I kinda wish sometimes I was cognitively impaired,” Biden joked.

Their post-speech conversation was picked up by C-SPAN microphones, which kept cameras trained on the president and his mob of well-wishers as he made his way across the House floor. Watching it, I felt I was eavesdropping at a very high level.

“Those interruptions!” one member exclaimed to Biden.

“It’s a game they play,” the president replied. “They did it last time. I said, ‘Anyone who wants to cut Social Security, raise your hand.’” (That moment was a high point of last year’s State of the Union and seems to have set a template of sorts for the boisterous back-and-forths we saw Thursday. What a contrast to the moment in 2009 when Republican South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” at President Obama. I can still picture then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expression of anger and disapproval. How quaint that seems now.)

As Biden made his way across the floor, he was lauded by Democrats.

“You fired us all up!”

“That was a sermon!”

“You kicked ass and took names!”

“You brought the Irish fire tonight!”

There were some serious exchanges as well: “I told Bibi,” I heard Biden tell Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who had said something about Israel. I strained to hear what came next but, to my frustration, it was inaudible.

In any case, by most assessments, the speech itself was a triumph.

Thirteen times, Biden took on former President Trump — “my predecessor” — without deigning to name him, and he batted down the rude members who jeered and yelled, shutting them up with on-point comebacks.

Biden’s words dripped with disdain for Trump as he vowed to stick with Ukraine in its war with Russia. “We will not walk away, we will not bow down,” he said, invoking Trump’s bizarre deference to Vladimir Putin.

He slammed Republicans for blocking the bipartisan border security bill at the behest of their dear leader, and when they booed him, he departed from his prepared remarks. “Oh you don’t like that bill, huh? That conservatives got together and said was a good bill? I’ll be darned. … What are you against?” (His reelection, obviously.)

He took on Jan. 6 denialism: “My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth of January 6th. I will not do that. This is a moment to speak the truth and bury the lies. And here’s the simplest truth: You can’t love your country only when you win.”

Biden stole the thunder of uber-obstreperous Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Say Her Name,” a reference to a Georgia nursing student who was killed by a suspect authorities have said is in the country illegally. “Laken Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” Biden said, using an unfortunate term and mispronouncing her name as “Lincoln,” but taking the wind out of MTG’s sails nonetheless.

He also directly addressed Riley’s parents, who had been invited to attend the speech but declined. “My heart goes out to you having lost children myself,” Biden added. “I understand.”

Biden looked directly at the Supreme Court justices, six of whom sat in the front row, and declared he would — if voters give him a Democratic majority in Congress — restore the federal right to abortion.

“My God,” he said, summing up the fears of those who believe passionately in reproductive rights, “what freedoms would you take away next?”

On a grand scale, this is precisely the question facing Americans as they choose their next president.

Do we want a spiteful man who has vowed to seek revenge and retribution on his enemies and has declared he would be a dictator on Day 1?

Or do we want an empathetic president who promises he will “defend democracy, not diminish it,” and that he will “always be a president for all Americans?”


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