From the Left



Are Joe Biden's gaffes tied to stuttering? I know from experience what that feels like

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Joe Biden and I share a problem that's not always easy to talk about. In fact, that's the problem. We stutter. That makes a lot of things hard to talk about.

Now that the 77-year-old former vice president is running for president, many people understandably are asking whether his notorious gaffes, bloopers and stumbles are related to his age.

For example, Google up "Biden forgets Obama's name" and you will be linked to video and commentary about Biden briefly blocking on the former president's name before quickly substituting "my boss."

Yes, there have been a number of occasions in which Biden in his haste rattled off a real blooper, like referring to the "G-8" when he meant G-7.

Or referring in last week's Democratic debate to his endorser Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois as "the only African American woman ever elected to the Senate" -- even as a surprised and amused Sen. Kamala Harris, the second African American woman elected to the Senate, stood only a few feet away.

But his "my boss" moment was different. It sounded to me like a familiar stutterer's dodge: When you bump up against a word that's not going to let you proceed without a struggle, you just switch to another word.


Another one of the nation's 3 million stutterers, according to the Stuttering Foundation's estimate, who agrees with that view of Biden's supposed gaffe is John Hendrickson, a senior editor and fellow stutterer at The Atlantic. As the presidential race has tightened, raising new questions about frontrunner Biden's debate performance, the Atlantic has posted an insightful profile of him and his stuttering challenges.

Maybe the voters who worry about his mental fitness would be more understanding, Hendrickson writes, if they knew he's still fighting a stutter.

I learned about Biden's verbal struggles close-up when he spoke at the 2016 gala of the American Institute for Stuttering in New York, where I, as a board member, was master of ceremonies.

"Your stutter does not define who you are," he said to stutterers and their families in his speech, which is posted on YouTube.


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