columnU.S. News

No auditory illusions about it

Unlike the myth about Richard Nixon, Joe Biden fared even worse over the radio than he did on TV.

U.S. President Joe Biden participates in the “CNN Presidential Debate” at the CNN Studios in Atlanta on June 27, 2024. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
U.S. President Joe Biden participates in the “CNN Presidential Debate” at the CNN Studios in Atlanta on June 27, 2024. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

The debate on Thursday evening between U.S. President Joe Biden and predecessor Donald Trump is a gift that keeps on giving. Every syllable spoken by the two presumptive nominees continues to be the focus of both serious and comedic discourse.

Only a handful of desperate straw-graspers are rejecting the consensus opinion that the incumbent’s performance revealed an unacceptable level of age-related brain fog. Even those of his ardent supporters in the media who’ve been telling us not to believe our lying eyes realized that the jig was up.

Fearing electoral defeat in November, especially to Trump, they instantly altered the narrative to one of sadness about the inescapable conclusion that Joe must go. Barack Obama’s feeble attempt at obfuscating the disaster—by posting on X, “Bad debate nights happen”—hasn’t made a dent in the Democrats’ scramble to persuade Biden to back out of the race and settle on a replacement.

And with good reason, from their standpoint. Indeed, Biden didn’t merely have a “bad debate night.” His whatever-stage dementia was on full display.

First Lady “Dr. Jill” hit home this reality particularly hard when, post-fiasco, she cheered in nursery-school-teacher singsong to her husband: “You answered every question! You knew all the facts!”

Cringeworthy doesn’t begin to describe the scene. Nor does it do justice to the entire exchange between the two senior citizens, one a few years younger than the other, but with all his faculties, as farcical as they often seem.

Viewers couldn’t help but notice Biden’s frail body language and mask-like facial expressions. It wasn’t clear, then, whether what he said registered, let alone made any difference.

This brings us to a common myth about the first-ever televised presidential debate in 1960 between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. The going lore, long since debunked due to an absence of data, was that those who watched it on TV deemed Kennedy the winner, while those who listened to it on the radio considered Nixon to have come out on top.

The explanation at the time was that Kennedy looked fresh and attractive on camera, while Nixon appeared sweaty. Yet Nixon ostensibly was better at articulating his positions.

Some pundits attributed Kennedy’s success on election day to these reports, spurring a wider discussion about the influence of the small screen on political outcomes. In light of today’s technology and the advent of social media, the idea that this was an issue requiring examination sounds silly and outdated.

All types of stimuli affect our brains and perceptions. Just as we feel the need to turn off the car stereo while searching for an exit on the highway, we tend to shut our eyes when wishing to get the full effect of a piece of music.

Putting the Biden-Trump volley to the audio test was enlightening. Unlike what was said of Nixon, Biden fared even worse without the visuals.

His halting cadence and slurred enunciation caused most of his arguments to be as inaudible as they were incomprehensible. The experience was reminiscent of straining to understand someone with a heavy foreign accent over the telephone.

In other words, to follow what he was saying, it was necessary to read his proverbial lips and later a written transcript. Not that doing either ameliorated the situation.

One choice example is the following reply he gave when asked about abortion and halfway through confused it with the border crisis:

“Look, there’s so many young women who have been—including a young woman who just was murdered and he—he went to the funeral,” Biden said. “The idea that she was murdered by a—by—by an immigrant coming in, and they talk about that. But here’s the deal—there’s a lot of young women who are being raped by their—by their in-laws, by their—by their spouses, brothers and sisters, by—just—it’s just—It’s just ridiculous. And they can do nothing about it. And they tried to arrest them when they cross state lines.”

This wasn’t the only one of his utterances that made Democrats weep and rivals brim with schadenfreude or burst out laughing. But the blatant decline of the American president, like that of the country he leads, is tragic. More importantly, it’s dangerous for the free world as a whole.

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