Joe in the looking glass

Let's see a show of hands of septuagenarians or octogenarians who haven't experienced a senior moment, tripped on an invisible obstacle, or embellished an old story? Not many, I suspect. Why? Because these things go hand-in-hand with the aging process. Our bodies just atrophy, naturally, and that goes for Republicans' bodies as well as Democrats'. It's normal. What isn't normal is that we put older folks in charge of nuclear weapons… or allow them to represent us on the world stage… or give them carte blanche to write all manner of off-the-wall executive orders with the potential of destroying our economy.

We wouldn't dream of suggesting that these folks enroll in the police academy or expect them to don football gear and compete with younger, stronger men who can easily recover from their injuries. Neither do we give them a driving license to operate a one-ton plus motor vehicle without a yearly exam after they've hit 75. 

Those of us on the Right are understandably up in arms. Joe's errors in judgment suggest someone who is hopelessly out of touch with today's reality, and continually proves it through his actions. We are also upset because this now 81-year old man reminds us of our own human frailties. We're uncomfortable at the thought of "there but for the grace of God go I." Yes, Joe is a daily reminder of our own vulnerabilities, and while we conservatives are royally irritated at his dumber-than-dumb policies, we've 'seen this movie before' with his mentor-in-chief, Barack Hussein Obama for eight excruciating years. In contrast to Obama, President Joe has delivered us a haymaker by continuing those failed policies and gifted us with his senility -- a double whammy if there ever was one.

But Americans are lucky to have Joe in the White House for a number of reasons. One is because he reminds us that our leaders are fallible (and fall-able). Some of his missteps are like our own, and in that respect, he is truly "everyman." His exaggerations and fictional stories can be quite amusing.  They're much more entertaining than Obama's singing and Bill Clinton's saxophone solos. The colorful characters from his real or imagined past reveal an imagination in overdrive. And there are many examples of it, but two of my favorites are Joe's contention that he grew up in a Puerto Rican community. The second is his frequently-made comment about "lying dog-faced pony soldiers." Joe has obviously been influenced by the movies, by fiction writers and by comedians of various stripes. Joe isn’t, however, the first President Americans have laughed at. John Kennedy was famous for his dry wit, but Joe is the first commander-in-chief who's fallen up the stairs in contrast to Gerry Ford who occasionally fell down them.

No, Joe is a solo act at the 1600 Pennsylvania improv. It's like he needs to find something, anything, to compensate for his shortcomings, so if there's nothing relevant to the situation in his actual background to lighten the moment, he'll make something up like the tough guy 'Cornpop' at the swimming pool, for example. Like the vast majority of us, Joe wants to be liked… and needed. His life has been tragic at times. He lost a wife and child in a fatal car accident and a son to cancer. His other son is a nationally-known embarrassment. His brothers are hangers on, happily mooching on Joe's celebrity, so it's only natural that he should retreat into the recesses of his mind for temporary comfort.

Unfortunately, that's not in his job description.

Being President isn’t the same as storytelling on the front porch to one's grandchildren or doing stand-up comedy in LA or shaking invisible hands. It's serious business, and risky business, when all the world's dictators and strongmen are watching his every move and equating his condition with that of an entire nation. The world is not getting safer because of Joe; it is getting more dangerous. And while we can laugh with (and at) Joe's machinations, we must realize that he will not improve with age. He's not some vintage wine whose value is obvious to all who love the grape; he's more like an old tuna sandwich that's been gathering mold under our sofa cushion (thanks to Grumpier Old Men for that one).

Granted, he can manage his decline and compensate somewhat for his frailty, but that requires that he share power with his advisors and allow them to make policy, something most of us fear. After all, we didn’t elect them; we elected him. We must stop treating Joe like our quirky uncle or our spouse that we've pledged to stand by "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health." Americans thought they chose a leader and instead got a follower that pandered to special interests and created policies that no senior citizen in his right mind would have instituted -- policies that led to rising costs endangering our ability to live on fixed incomes, increased chaos on our streets, out of control immigration, unstable gasoline/energy prices, etc.

Those of us who have been around the corral a few times know what happens when America takes its eyes off the ball and pretends that the world is our oyster. We all end up paying the price for our naiveté. The truth is that there are two groups of people that should never have too much power: adolescents and those in their twilight years.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired career U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in 30 countries for 25 years during the Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush Administrations. He is the author of fourteen books, seven of which deal with American politics. He has also written over 1,300 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He operates a political news story aggregator website, He can be reached at:

Image: US Gov.

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