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Saturday, March 9, 2024

Oh, didn't he dither?

When Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) rebutted Joe Biden's state of the union speech, she based her comments on the contention that he was dithering away and lost control of the country.  However, much you may disagree with what Biden has done, you cannot validly say he hasn't done it.  Saying that Biden can't perform because he's old is like saying Obama couldn't perform because he's black.  Ageism is a prejudice just like racism.

As my spouse has been a staff member for both  U.S. senator and a congress woman, I am familiar with the reputations of many people who have worked in Congress, Joe Biden being one of them.  Biden is a task man.  When there was a  particularly difficult issue to address in Congress but something had to get done, he was often assigned to help get it done.  He has an affable and kindly demeanor that could cool down partisan rancor.  He was friends with many people from the opposing party.  

Joe Biden is a stutterer.  He has had to learn a therapeutic procedure that stutterers employ so that they don't stutter when they speak.  Stutterers can generally read aloud without stuttering. (

During my first year of college teaching, I had two stutterers in my classes.  I was concerned about how to treat them during a class discussion.  I didn't want to put them in an embarrassing situation in front of their peers.  The college I was at then was known for its speech therapy program, so I asked the chair of that department for advice.  He explained that stutterers process language differently than those who don't stutter, and a technique that stutterers are taught to help them with their speech is to write the words in their heads that they want to say before they pronounce them.  As it turned out, the reason that the two young men chose that college was because of its speech therapy program.  I gained a great respect and admiration for stutterers from that orientation and especially for those young men.  I note that Joe Biden often refers to notes at his press conferences and often hesitates a bit as he answers questions.  His occasional stumbles are not a matter of age.  And he joins Winston Churchill as a world leader who stuttered.

As an old person myself, I am well aware of the vicissitudes of age.  One of them is the huge amount of information one acquires.  When asked to give a perspective on some matter, there are so many facts to sort through.  It may take a while to give a considered answer because there is so much information to consider.  When we call up information on our computers, we get that whirling circle or a notice that the computer is gathering and loading the data.  But we seem to expect humans to be instantaneous in their thought processes.  It has nothing to do with age, but with process.

However, there is a fatigue factor to consider.  This is something that affects people of any age, and people who do intellectual work know that there are times when you have to rest and renew your approach when dealing with vast amounts of information and difficult issues.  We warn people about making decisions when they are tired and advise them to tackle a problem in the morning after a good night's sleep.  Competent decision-makers avoid being impetuous and give their information and their own thought processes careful deliberation.   Taking care and time is not a matter of age;  it's a matter of competence and integrity.

Acts of competence, care, and thoroughness should not be considered dithering.  Calling Biden a ditherer is in the same class as calling Barack Obama a n*gger.  We should hope to lift our politics up out of that level if the American experiment in democracy is to have a chance to succeed.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States