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Aging

President Joe Biden, right, with Vice President Kamala Harris

In a Democratic presidential debate in September 2019, Julian Castro thought he heard Joe Biden say something that contradicted himself, and he pounced on the opportunity to suggest that Biden was over the hill. "Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?" he demanded. "Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?"

Propelled by this moment of triumph, Castro went on to become a member of the board of directors of a Washington think tank. His humiliated opponent was never heard from again.

As it turned out, it was Castro who was confused about what Biden had said. If the 2020 campaign proved anything, it's that underestimating Biden is dangerous. But Republicans persist in depicting him as a decrepit specimen who is wholly inadequate to his presidential responsibilities.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) expressed concern last month that the president was not doing cable news interviews or tweeting much. "Is he really in charge?" he tweeted. When Biden addressed Congress, Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed to hear "a 78-year-old man losing his grip." Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins Jr. wondered if Biden is "a man of diminished capacities" who is "making himself a prop for an agenda that he may not quite grasp."

This sounds eerily like what Biden's detractors said about him during the campaign. First it was from the left, with supporters of Bernie Sanders putting out talking points insisting that Biden was in "obvious cognitive decline." Sen. Cory Booker said, "There are definitely moments where you listen to Joe Biden and you just wonder."

Biden somehow stumbled his way to the nomination, vanquishing a huge field of younger and supposedly sharper rivals (and an older one, Sanders). But that didn't stop Republicans from insisting that he was conducting a mostly virtual campaign — "hiding in the basement" — not because of the pandemic but because he was too addled to appear in public.

Then-President Donald Trump predicted that if Biden should somehow win, "They are going to put him in a home, and other people are going to be running the country." An editorial in The Wall Street Journal warned that Biden might "duck the debates" because "his handlers are trying to protect him from doubts about his cognitive capacity."

But the Democratic nominee apparently was pulled out of his nursing home bed to participate in the debates. He managed keep his composure even in the chaotic first one, when Trump ignored the rules, bullied the moderator and interrupted Biden 73 times.

For a dementia victim, he did amazingly well. In fact, polls indicated that voters thought Biden got the best of Trump in all three faceoffs. He also won the election, over an incumbent president who called him "the worst candidate in the history of politics."

But critics continue harping on this losing theme. In March, Fox News contributor and The Hill columnist Joe Concha demanded to know why Biden hadn't held a press conference or given a speech before Congress. Biden has since done both, and handled both with competence and aplomb.

His foes still imagine that they can make people accept something that is plainly untrue. But Americans prefer to believe what they see with their own eyes. Biden's approval rating is higher than Trump's ever was, and an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday found that 64 percent of Americans are optimistic about the direction of the country.

The portrayal of Biden as disconnected from reality is particularly creative coming from people who shrugged off Trump's fantastical claims, nonstop lies, strange mispronunciations and unhinged rants. They had no problem with a Republican president who spent an outlandish amount of his time watching TV and fulminating on Twitter while neglecting the more important duties of his office.

The image of Biden as helpless is hard to reconcile with the parallel claim that he is ruthlessly transforming America into a woke Marxist dystopia. But conservatives square this circle by theorizing that Vice President Kamala Harris is actually running the show. Their paradoxical accusation: Biden is hiding to conceal the fact that he's not in charge, while Harris is hiding to conceal the fact that she is.

So far, their entire portrayal of this White House has failed to persuade anyone but the dishonest and the gullible. Meanwhile, Biden continues advancing an ambitious Democratic agenda that has broad public support. Sure, he's senile. Senile like a fox.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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How Florida GOP's Voter Suppression Could Backfire Badly

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On April 29, the Republican-controlled Florida State Legislature passed a voter suppression bill that, among other things, will make it more difficult to vote by mail — and Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he will sign it into law. Florida Senate Bill 90 is obviously designed to discourage Democratic voter turnout in the Sunshine State. But now, according to Washington Post reporter Amy Gardner, some Republicans fear that it will discourage their own voters.

In the past, Gardner notes, absentee voting was something that Florida Republicans encouraged.

"Republican campaigns invested millions of dollars encouraging their supporters to cast ballots by mail," Gardner points out. "State legislators passed laws making it easier. Over the ensuing decades, GOP voters in Florida became so comfortable with casting ballots by mail that in 2020, nearly 35 percent of those who turned out did so, according to state data compiled by University of Florida political science professor Daniel A. Smith. Virtually every narrow Republican victor of the past generation — and there have been many, including two of the state's current top officeholders, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott — owes their victory, at least in part, to mail voting."

It wasn't until 2020 that Florida Republicans started to turn against mail-in voting in a big way. Then-President Donald Trump claimed, with zero evidence, that voting by mail encouraged voter fraud — and many Florida Republicans, including those in the state legislature, obediently went along with his claim.

"Not only are GOP lawmakers reversing statutes that their own predecessors put in place, but they are also curtailing a practice that millions of state Republicans use, despite former President Donald Trump's relentless and baseless claims that it invites fraud," Gardner explains. "Even as Democrats and voting rights advocates accuse the proponents of Senate Bill 90 of attempting to suppress the votes of people of color, these Republicans say their own political fortunes are in peril too. The potential fallout in the key swing state illustrates how the Republican Party is hurting itself in its rush to echo Trump's false allegations, they said."

A long-time GOP consultant in Florida, interviewed on condition of anonymity, told the Post, "Donald Trump attempted to ruin a perfectly safe and trusted method of voting. The main law that we pass when we pass election bills in Florida is the law of unintended consequences."

Florida SB 90 requires voters to reapply for mail ballots every two years instead of every four years, which is the current requirement. And it prohibits mobile ballot drop boxes.

Steve Schale, a Florida-based Democratic consultant, told the Post, "It was comical to watch Trump light on fire 20 years of Republican work and tens of millions of Republican investments — literally lighting a match to it. Every time he sent a tweet out, I'd get a text from a Republican operative here in Florida with an eye-roll emoji."

A former official in the Florida Republican Party, interviewed anonymously, also believes that SB 90 is a bad idea.

That interviewee told the Post, "Now, you'll have military personnel who might not think they have to request a ballot who won't get it. And we've got senior voters who have health concerns or just don't want to go out. They might not know the law has changed, and they might not get a ballot, because they're not engaged."