Joe Biden and Jill Biden leaving the 2024 presidential debate
(Justin Sullivan / Getty)

It’s Possible To Criticize Joe Biden’s Debate Performance Without Resorting to Ableism

The 2024 presidential debate left much to be desired of President Joe Biden’s performance. However, instead of offering valid criticisms of his performance, many are simply resorting to ableism and ageism.

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To be clear, Biden did offer an abysmal performance in the debate, resulting in serious discussions about the Democratic Party considering another presidential candidate. The biggest issue wasn’t that the president occasionally stuttered or sometimes took a moment or two to gather his thoughts but that he made several major blunders and a few misleading statements. For example, at one point, he bizarrely claimed, “We finally beat Medicare.” At another point, he used misleading anti-abortion terminology when referencing “late-term abortion.” He also made the obviously false statement that no military deaths have occurred under his administration despite the devastating and deadly suicide bombing in Kabul in 2021.

While he did have a few good moments, such as confronting Donald Trump on his disparaging remarks about American soldiers, for the most part, his arguments were poor and misleading, and he struggled to muster the kind of authority, passion, and energy necessary for such a significant debate. However, instead of focusing on the numerous valid criticisms of Biden’s performances, many on social media have resorted to mocking his speech impediment, grossly simplifying the age issue, and taunting him with false claims of dementia.

Joe Biden faces dementia jokes and gross simplification of the age issue

Ableist and ageist attacks against Biden have been the norm since his presidential career began. At age 81, he is the oldest person in history to serve as president, although many seem to forget Trump isn’t far behind at age 78. Consideration of age and potential age limits for government positions is a topic that should be discussed, but one that many grossly simplify into an ageist blanket sentiment that elderly individuals in general don’t have the cognitive capabilities necessary for leadership.

On top of that, claims of dementia have persistently followed Biden, although there’s no evidence he has dementia. Again, having a president in office who has dementia would spark a valid discussion of the 25th Amendment. However, dementia has become a tired taunt against Biden, thus shaming and stigmatizing individuals who do have the condition.

Shortly after the debate, “dementia” started trending on X. Right-wing commentators like Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens made jokes about Biden having dementia. When sources reported that Biden had a cold during the debate, Owens wrote, “You spelled dementia wrong,” while Shapiro wrote that the president has “Stage IV dementia.” Meanwhile, the president has been dubbed “dementia Joe.” Not only are many joking about dementia and using it as a taunt, but many are also spreading misinformation about dementia, which is a huge disservice to those with the disorder. There’s no evidence that Biden has dementia, and the constant attacks on his cognitive abilities are rooted in ageism and ableism.

Doctors have offered their opinions on Biden’s various gaffes and concluded that he has a speech impediment (which is well-known) and age-associated memory impairment. The latter is very common in elderly individuals and occurs when they struggle to recall or verbalize a memory on the tip of their tongue. Unlike dementia and Alzheimer’s, it’s not a debilitating disorder, nor does it impair one’s cognitive abilities. Yes, it’s a sign of aging and can impact performance in a debate where the candidates were not allowed to bring notes, but to claim this common issue should automatically disqualify someone from their job position is ageist.

While Biden struggled at the 2024 debate, it’s quite telling that the media is focusing more on his stutter and pauses than Trump’s numerous lies and the fact that the Republican candidate is a convicted criminal. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be conversations about the complex topic of age limits and fitness for the presidency. However, reducing the conversation to making fun of people with speech impediments or saying that everyone who is elderly and shows normal signs of aging is “senile,” has dementia, and is unfit for their careers is a gross ableist and ageist simplification of the matter.

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.