Memo to media: Maybe voters don't care about Biden "gaffes"

They didn't seem to on Super Tuesday

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As Joe Biden basked in the glow of his stunning Super Tuesday primary victories, which established him as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination, he took the stage to address supporters in Los Angeles. At one point amidst the celebration, he turned around and appeared to confuse his wife, Jill, and his wife's sister, Valerie, who had changed places on the stage while Biden wasn't looking.

The passing, lighthearted moment was hardly newsworthy, especially given the night's electoral importance, but one Washington Post reporter was quick to suggest on Twitter, "Biden mixing up his wife and his sister is the kind of gaffe that will get more attention now that there are a lot fewer candidates in the race."

Keep in mind that Biden had basically just run the table and resurrected his campaign with one of the most surprising Super Tuesday showings in history, but reporters were suggesting that his so-called gaffes might be a problem? What about his idea: Maybe voters don’t care about Biden's gaffes, especially in the age of Trump, whose reckless and erratic behavior, including slurred speech and incomprehensible syntax, has become so normalized.

If gaffes really mattered with voters, would Biden have shocked pundits by winning primaries this week in states like Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Texas where he wasn't expected to come out on top? If gaffes really matter, would Democratic voter turnout have surged in states that Biden won, like Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee?

Yet even in the wake of his victory, reporters remained laser-focused on the issue, insisting that gaffes continue to define the Biden candidacy. "He is no safer with a microphone, no likelier to complete a thought without exaggeration or bewildering detour," the New York Times stressed this week.

A key reason that perhaps Democratic voters don't care about so-called gaffes is because they're so anxious to save the country from Trump's radical, and authoritarian rule. But the Beltway press doesn't like to dwell on the ramifications of Trump's dangerous reign, and so it pretends that Democratic voters are likely deeply troubled by a candidate who occasionally lapses his speech at rallies.

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Biden famously grew up with a severe stutter, which he overcame, but sometimes finds himself at a temporary loss for words. The press likes to lean into that to generate news. Mediate recently labeled as an "insane gaffe" when Biden at a rally mistakenly referred to Super Tuesday as Super Thursday, before quickly catching his mistake. That doesn't seem "insane." And if voters don’t care, why are the utterances treated as news?

I'm certainly not suggesting that Democratic candidates such as Biden should be immune to scrutiny when they make verbal missteps on the campaign trail. And if primary voters decide too many miscues raise serious doubts about a candidate, that's fair game. What is alarming, though, is the idea of journalists—not voters—decide gaffes define a Democratic candidacy, and doing it while Trump trips over himself on a daily basis, and often in spectacular fashion. (To this day, Trump thinks "stealth" fighter planes are actually invisible to the human eye.)

Quick question: How many news articles and television reports have you seen and heard in the last year about Trump "gaffes" and how they may stand in the way of his re-election bid? Probably the same number as I have, which is basically zero.

The media's Biden gaffe obsession really seems out of whack, given that it's unfolding against the backdrop of the presidency of Donald Trump, whose entire political career can accurately be described as a verbal gaffe. Famous for being a habitual liar, as well as boasting garbled and often impossible-to-follow syntax that leaves people scratching their heads trying to make sense of his oddball pronouncements, Trump has obliterated the idea that an occasional gaffe ought to define a politician, or that it will doom his or her popularity.

That's in part because the press often politely turns a blind eye to Trump's bizarre behavior. Remember the strange speech he gave in January from the White House regarding Iran, where he loudly wheezed and sniffed through the entire address? He seemed at times to be out of breath and struggling to simply read the prepared text off the teleprompter. But all of that was ignored in the news coverage, as most major news outlets set the strangeness aside and pretended that Trump had given a coherent foreign policy address.

Truth is, nobody wants to go down the road of examining whether Trump might be mentally unstable or unfit to serve in office. Because once journalists open that door, that has be the dominant news angle for the rest of Trump's presidency. And the media, knowing the type of right-wing hellfire that coverage would prompt, simply doesn't want to go anywhere near it.

Given that kind of pass for Trump, why does the press still cling to its gaffe narrative for Biden?

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One of the more interesting campaign profiles of the season was The Atlantic's "What Joe Biden Can't Bring Himself to Say," by John Hendrickson. The piece details Biden's stutter struggle growing up:

Biden looks down. He pivots to the distant past, telling me that the letter s was hard when he was a kid. “But, you know, I haven’t stuttered in so long that it’s hhhhard for me to remember the specific—” He pauses. “What I do remember is the feeling.”


Bill Janovitz, "Little Mascara"

I met Bill when we went to UMass together, a million years ago. I first saw his band, Buffalo Tom, playing in a basement at a house party off campus. The band went on to make a string of fantastic rock records in the alt-rock '90s. Recently, Bill's been recording acoustic cover albums. His slowed-down take on The Replacement's garage classic, "Little Mascara," is a favorite, as he extracts the pain buried in Paul Westerberg's ode to alienation.