A lot of folks are running the White House. Joe Biden just isn't one of them

Joe Biden isn’t as lively as he used to be. Not exactly breaking news, but it seems to be getting worse.

At 79, Biden is our oldest president. He consistently stumbles and misspeaks, forcing his beleaguered staff to retract his statements or pretend the lapse never happened.

Speaking at a White House conference on food, nutrition and health on Wednesday, Biden acknowledged the elected officials who helped organize the event.

“I want to thank all of you here for including bipartisan elected officials like Rep. (Jim) McGovern, Sen. (Mike) Braun, Sen. (Cory) Booker, Representative – Jackie, are you here?” Biden said, looking around the crowd. “Where’s Jackie? I think she wasn’t going to be here – to help make this a reality.”

He was looking for Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., who was killed in a tragic car accident in early August. A death he commemorated at the time in a solemn White House statement.

Where's Biden? Not often in the White House

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to acknowledge any mistake was made, despite repeated questions from the gathered reporters.

Add in Biden’s early “lids,” four-day weekends and frequent vacations, and he doesn’t seem to be running things. About 40% of his days have been away from the White House, including two-thirds of August.

I’ve known several older folks who were sharper at 80 than I was at 40. Joe Biden is not one of them. This isn’t about his age as much as his competence. To blame his behavior on a childhood stutter – a favorite excuse in 2020 – insults all Americans.

What's on voters' minds? Inflation, abortion, threats to democracy

Perhaps we should be thankful. Considering inflation, energy shortages and a world teetering on the brink, maybe the less Biden is involved, the better.

Regents often ruled in place of the king

President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, at the Ronald Reagan Building, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, at the Ronald Reagan Building, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Washington.

To understand what’s happening, it’s best not to think of this as a Biden Presidency, but a Biden Regency.

The term was regularly used in the age of kings and empires. If an 8-year-old princess was placed on the throne or an incapable king couldn’t perform his duties, one or several regents would handle the day-to-day operations.

Many a royal adviser would ignore a capable successor, instead crowning a child so the courtiers could run things behind the scenes.

One regency served during the reign of King George III, most famous for losing the Revolutionary War. After several concerning incidents, his mental health collapsed. George remained king on paper, but the Parliament appointed his heir as Prince Regent.

The dissolute prince decided he would rather party than rule, so he happily let the advisers run the show. The regency ran the empire for the next decade.

Whoever's running things, they aren't doing it well

In like manner, Biden is surrounded with longtime D.C. power players, such as Ron Klain, Susan Rice, Anita Dunn, John Podesta, Gene Sperling – a veritable “who’s who” of Beltway knife fights and insider skullduggery. Throughout their long careers, they’ve never sought credit or voter approval. Just power.

And the less Joe is around, the more their regency can accomplish.

Not that these new courtiers always agree. Journalists spend their days trying to determine which of them is rising and who is falling – D.C.’s version of Cold War “Kremlinology.”

These competing power centers explain the contradictory policies coming out of the Oval Office these days. Aggressively pushing a new Iran Nuclear Deal while Russia buys Iranian drones to fight Ukrainians. When there’s no one to say “the buck stops here,” the bucks turn up in pretty strange places.

It reminds me of the confusing end of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. For his last 18 months in office, he was incapacitated with a stroke. First lady Edith Wilson and a handful of confidantes covered it up and ran the country themselves.

As with Wilson, historians will one day explain the Biden Regency more fully. But someone is running the country, and not very well.

Jon Gabriel, a Mesa resident, is editor-in-chief of Ricochet.com and a contributor to The Republic and azcentral.com. On Twitter: @exjon.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Joe Biden isn't just absent-minded. He's an absent president