Our Potemkin Presidency

Our Potemkin Presidency

by James Bovard

November 8, 2023
The Founding Fathers sought to create a government that would be under the law and under the Constitution. Since World War One, presidents have amassed far more arbitrary power to rule by decree. Every recent American commander-in-chief has expanded and exploited the dictatorial potential of the presidency. Yet, because elections continue to be regularly held, most Americans do not think of the nation’s chief executive as a despot.

For generations, American politicians spoke reverently of the Constitution as America’s highest law. In the 1800s, presidential candidates would compete by attesting their fidelity to the nation’s founding document. But in recent years, the Constitution has fallen into disrespect. The rule of law now means little more than the enforcement of the secret memos of the commander-in-chief.

Power has been concentrated in the White House in part because the friends of Leviathan favor policies that cannot survive the light of day or open debate in the halls of Congress. Pundits pretend the system remains on automatic pilot to serve the citizenry just like in the early days of the American republic. They offer a mystic variation of the movie Field of Dreams: “Gather all the power, and the noble leader will come.

Wild-eyed optimism about the character and competence of American presidents should have received far more ridicule, but what happens when the absurdities become too great to hide?

This has been a problem in the United States for most recent presidents, but the issue is most intense with the current chief executive.

Sleepy Joe’s rapid decline

President Biden seems increasingly distanced from the day-to-day duties of his office. In June at the Air Force Academy graduation in Colorado, Biden stumbled leaving the podium and hit the platform as hard as if he’d been dropped from a low-flying helicopter. It took multiple Secret Service agents to eventually get the president back on his feet.

Visiting Japan for a summit in May, Biden uncorked a 40-second utterly incoherent answer to a question that mystified even his biggest devotees. Some commentators speculated that the jet lag and time difference undermined the drugs that Biden routinely takes to spur apparent mental sharpness.

In a bizarre finish for a recent MSNBC puff piece appearance, Biden practically jumped out of his chair and shuffled off stage like a hungry geezer responding to the dinner bell at the nursing home.

Biden took off almost the entire month of August for vacation. His repose was interrupted by a brief visit to Maui, the scene of a horrific fire that had left hundreds dead and thousands homeless. Biden pirouetted in front of the audience and claimed a minor kitchen fire that occurred in his Delaware home a few decades earlier — in which he almost lost his cat, his 1967 Corvette, and his wife — was on par with the devastation suffered by Maui residents. Political leaders in Hawaii were covering up a vastly higher death toll than they admitted — and many if not most of the fatalities were due to profound government failures.

By the end of August, Biden “spent all or part of 382 of his presidency’s 957 days — or 40 percent — on personal overnight trips away from the White House, putting him on pace to become America’s most idle commander-in-chief,” the New York Post reported. Rep. Elise Stefanik complained, “Violent crime is surging. Inflation is crushing hard-working Americans…. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is filmed on the beach with his handlers preventing him from speaking to the media to answer basic questions Americans deserve answers to.” Heritage Foundation’s Joel Griffith observed, “With President Biden, it’s not only that he’s absent in mind, he’s increasingly absent in body.”

Will Biden’s handlers be able to convince enough Americans that Biden is up to the task for four more years for a second term?

America’s own Potemkin village

In eighteenth-century czarist Russia, a fake village was built by a Russian governor named Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin to deceive Catherine the Great about the condition of the peasants she ruled. “Potemkin Village,” according to Time magazine, “signifies any deceptive or false construct, conjured often by cruel regimes, to deceive both those within the land and those peering in from outside.” In today’s Washington, the media is partnering with Team Biden to concoct a Potemkin Village to deceive Americans about Biden’s faltering fitness for office.

The White House built a fake Oval Office equipped with a teleprompter for Biden’s announcements. But the president struggles reading routine words aloud like an Arkansas television anchor grappling with five-syllable names of East European cities.

Biden has gotten lost on stage so many times that WAZE should create a special app for Joe to navigate his next steps. The Atlantic noted last year that Biden’s “aides look visibly nervous at times” when he is giving a public speech. What do they know that we don’t?

Biden has stumbled several times going up the steps to Air Force One. White House staff “fixed” that problem by having the president take the short stairway into the plane’s belly to “reduce the risk of a televised fall that goes viral,” NBC News reported. As long as Biden is not being loaded onto the plane via a hydraulic medical lift, the media will pretend there is nothing to see. Thus far, much of the media has responded to Biden’s falls by scrambling to put him back on his feet while proclaiming, “Nothing to see here, move along.”

Biden often seems detached from reality, such as his false claim that he swayed Congress to enact his federal student loan forgiveness scheme. At a White House summit last September, Biden repeatedly called out for a dead congresswoman to come to the podium, forgetting that his political ally had died in a car crash. And then there is Joe’s ludicrous assertions that his son “did nothing wrong.” But Hunter admitted guilt in a corrupt wrist-slap plea bargain that collapsed when an honest federal judge asked a few simple questions about the political fix.

“Joe Biden’s age is his superpower,” according to Biden reelection campaign co-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg. In reality, Biden’s “superpower” is a craven media that shamelessly pretends he is mentally and physically fit for another five years of the presidency. Biden won in 2020 in part because the media enabled his “basement campaign strategy” — purportedly because COVID made mass gatherings unsafe except when denouncing the police.
Who really runs the show?

Perhaps the biggest Potemkin Village nowadays is the pretense that Biden is actually in charge of the federal government and national policy. Major media outlets assiduously avoid even recognizing the curtain hiding the D.C.’s actual power brokers. Who is actually making the decisions?

“Shut up — it’s for your own good,” is the tacit elite media response.

“How do we know?” Americans wonder.

“Trust us — we are insiders who had higher SAT scores than you did” — the ultimate Beltway proof.

Who is pulling Biden’s strings?

Perhaps Biden spends so much time away from the White House because the Secret Service has effectively declared that Americans have no right to know who is meeting with or manipulating the president on the road or in Delaware. The Secret Service pretends that the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t pertain to revealing who is pulling presidential strings.

House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer complained, “With the amount of time this president is spending away from the White House, visitor records should be made public from all of Joe Biden’s residences. Americans deserve the transparency they were promised from the Biden administration. All they are getting is obstruction.”

Deferring to the media’s “no problem” storyline is folly considering the sordid record of the press corps betraying truth to snare Oval Office access. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson was left partially paralyzed and mentally incapacitated from a severe stroke. In 1920, New York World reporter Louis Seibold scored the first interview with Wilson after his illness. As historian Thomas Fleming wrote:

Delighted by a chance to get on the front page, Seibold collaborated shamelessly with the scam. The reporter told how delighted he was to find the president almost his old self. He joshed with him about running a footrace in a month or two; he would give the president a modest handicap because of his ‘slight limp.’ (In fact, Wilson’s whole left side remained paralyzed.)

Seibold claimed he saw Wilson “transact the most important functions of his office with his old-time decisiveness, method, and keenness of intellectual appraisement.” Brazenly lying about Wilson’s competence won Seibold the 1921 Pulitzer Prize — a sham that has been almost completely forgotten by today’s media poohbahs.

Flash forward a couple decades and the press corps propagated the sham that President Franklin Roosevelt was fit for another term — even though he was obviously dying of congestive heart failure and other illnesses by late 1944. He tumbled badly while walking down an aisle at the 1944 Democratic National Convention but that was airbrushed from his triumphal path to a fourth term. As professor David Welky wrote in 2020,

Democratic power brokers also understood the situation, although most held their tongues or waited several years before revealing their concerns. They had insisted on replacing the sitting vice president, the ultraliberal Henry Wallace, with the more moderate Harry S. Truman in part because they doubted Roosevelt would live until 1948, or believed that he would resign before his term ended…. In a sense, Roosevelt’s presidency had been one long deception. Americans knew he had survived polio and were vaguely aware of his restricted mobility, but they had never seen him in the wheelchair he used every day.

How many Biden “senior moments” has the White House press corps covered up? Thanks to a Judicial Watch lawsuit, Americans belatedly learned this week that Biden’s German Shepherd “Commander” attacked seven Secret Service agents late last year and early this year. If Americans didn’t even hear about Biden’s dog badly mauling a Secret Service agent, what are the chances we hear about all of Biden’s own stumbles?

The Biden presidency increasingly resembles the final boxing matches of former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Ali would lie on the ropes and get pounded senseless before referees would belatedly end the fight. But it is Americans’ rights and prosperity that are being pounded as Biden is led to one pathetic photo opportunity after another.

The media may help Biden dodge political debates, frequent public appearances, or even interviews with anyone who refuses to kowtow. But it is a riverboat gamble whether Biden’s worsening debility can be hidden until November 2024. The most recent Associated Press national poll revealed that “77 percent of adults think Biden, 80, is too old to effectively serve for four more years, with 89 percent of Republicans holding that view and 69 percent of Democrats.”

Unfortunately, Biden’s condition will likely spark fierce partisan conflicts with scant lessons taken. The current American system of government is incoherent without assuming great capacities in the ultimate boss. But collusion between politicians and the media suppress the truth about incapacity in the White House. This problem existed long before Biden, and it will continue after he returns to Delaware for his final vacation.

This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of Future of Freedom.



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