When you’ve lost George Clooney

Democratic leaders and Hollywood celebrities consider the unthinkable. But are they giving Trump a path to victory?

By Brian Karem


Published July 11, 2024 9:27AM (EDT)

George Clooney, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
George Clooney, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Let us be blunt: Joe Biden has a problem.

It didn’t begin with his poor performance at the CNN presidential debate — though many claim otherwise. It actually began when Biden took office. From the beginning, the president has been inaccessible to the press. His staff often fails to return reporters’ phone calls, emails, texts or other attempts at communication. I tried the Bat-Signal once and that didn’t work either. The mostly young press staff has virtually no experience to speak of and definitely has no significant media experience. For more than three years, Biden has refused to visit the Brady Briefing Room.

This has all brought us to a point where those who believe Biden to be decrepit or suffering from dementia may have a valid argument. We haven’t seen the president enough to decide for ourselves. He has no one to blame for the conjecture about his mental health other than himself. 

There are those who often say that the president’s job doesn’t include showing up to talk to the press. “He’s busy doing his job.” It’s the same argument I heard during the Reagan administration and then the Trump administration. It was wrong then and it's wrong now. Essential to the modern presidency is being transparent, so we don’t end up like China or the former Soviet Union, where the government is able to hide potentially serious conditions of the leader from the public. The president needs to show up from time to time and take unscripted and previously unknown questions from the public’s representatives: reporters.

Joe Biden hasn’t done that, and the questions remain. To that point, 84-year-old former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday, admitted that while Biden has continuously said he’s staying in the race, time isn’t on his side to change his mind — not if the Democrats hope to rally and defeat Trump in the fall.

"It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run. We’re all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short . . . He’s beloved, he is respected, and people want him to make that decision. Not me," she said.

Silly me, I thought he’d already decided to stay in the race. He said only God himself could convince him to bow out. Asked if she wants him to run, Pelosi said cryptically, "I want him to do whatever he decides to do, and that’s — that’s the way it is. Whatever he decides, we go with."

Well, once again, since he’s already decided to stay I guess we’re going with it. Right?

Some might see that as passive-aggressive, so actor George Clooney, who recently hosted a fundraiser for Biden's re-election campaign, tried a more direct approach. He called for the president to exit the 2024 race in a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday. "I love Joe Biden. As a senator. As a vice president and as president. I consider him a friend, and I believe in him. Believe in his character. Believe in his morals. In the last four years, he's won many of the battles he's faced," Clooney writes. "But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time. None of us can. It's devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe 'big F-ing deal' Biden of 2010. He wasn't even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate."

I’m still curious why the New York Times published an op-ed piece from an actor about politics. To me it’s the equivalent of the guy who says, “Don’t listen to the brain surgeon with 40 years experience. I am a good friend of the brain surgeon and saw two videos on YouTube and let me tell you what’s wrong with you.” Seriously? With friends like that . . . I mean a friend tells you in private. Then again, maybe he did. 

In any case, let’s recap; A 78-year-old with multiple felony convictions is running against an 81-year-old with a lifelong speech impediment in the race for president of the United States. The man convicted of crimes is the former president who proudly supported overturning women’s constitutional right to reproductive health care. The second guy is the current president, who oversaw a record investment in infrastructure, held together NATO, repelled Russian hegemony but stared wide-eyed during a debate with the criminal. For some reason, the convict is getting more support from his party than the current president is getting from his.

Meanwhile, people upset with the reporting on the current president’s predicament have decided to shoot the messenger — because, you know, why not? The press sucks anyway.

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Me? If the world, as some physicists and deep thinkers have posited, is nothing more than a simulation on some kid’s desktop computer, then I recommend that kid’s parents give him a good horsewhipping. The whole thing sucks.

It's interesting that people seem to be upset with the press for “staying with this story” about Biden’s mental health. Pundits, Democrats and the occasional Bernie Bro are all upset that Biden is getting all the ink and Trump is getting none. Prior to the debate, they were all upset that Trump was getting all the ink and Biden was getting none. I actually heard one Biden supporter say, “When was the last time you saw the news cycle concentrate on one thing for so long?”

Gosh, we’re still talking about the insurrection, Trump’s criminal conviction, his mental instability, his other cases, etc. So I guess the answer is “all the time.” We all know about Trump’s trials, tribulations, convictions, accusations and various shady dealings because the press reported on them. Trump didn’t bat an eyelash. He took every opportunity to promote his cause. The facts be damned. 

What the critics miss about this is that all the Biden coverage gives him ample opportunity to turn the tide, and flip the script — as Trump so often does. The light is shining on him. What will he do with it? He’s sitting for an interview with Lester Holt, scheduled to air on NBC Monday, and he’ll conduct a “big boy” news conference on Thursday evening at the White House. These are opportunities to work without a net and offer evidence as to whether or not the concerns about Biden are accurate. Well, maybe not. Holt isn't likely to be hard-hitting, and the president limited the number of reporters allowed at the news conference. 

Sure, the Republicans will spin it any which way they want. The Democrats will do the same. 

This isn’t an indictment of the Republican Party. Or the Democratic Party, for that matter. It’s an indictment of all of us. We remain too fat, flaccid and ignorantly happy. We are like mindless NPC’s in a video game — constantly running into walls and unable to see outside our programming. Things aren’t that simple.

This year’s presidential race has a lot of nuance to it. Even those who support Trump, with the exception of cult members who would vote for Trump even if he ran naked through a crowded church screaming like a rutting pig, are open for another option if they see one. But the press can't cover nuance, and thus we don’t give voters the necessary information to make informed decisions. The press has been decimated from years of misuse and abuse. Don’t expect the average American citizen to be able to handle nuance either. The last 40 years of “teaching to the test” destroyed American critical thinking.

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So now we yell at each other. Is there a better way? Apparently not, unless the parameters change. George Carlin said the owners of the country want us just smart enough to operate the machinery, but not smart enough to challenge them. Today we may just be too stupid to understand what he said. After all, we’re looking to actors for deep political thought — thanks to Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Or as Carlin said, perhaps we get garbage politicians because the public is garbage. “Garbage in. Garbage out.” This is the best we got. 

Want a prediction for the coming Republican National Convention? Ugly little racist, misogynistic rodents who love to hate nearly as much as they enjoy power will engage in a circle-jerk of biblical proportions in Milwaukee before praising the nonexistent virtues of a convicted felon as their candidate. 

Want a prediction for the Democrats? Smug little rodents who pooh-pooh the idea that anyone could challenge their superior mentality and goodwill will gather in Chicago and eat their own before trying to come together behind the incumbent, leaving enough doubt to seriously undermine his chances for a second term — unless they devour him and install a problematic candidate who will be younger, but have no greater chance at victory over the other party's criminal.

And the press will call it like a ballgame, miss the nuance, over-report on the mundane, cheer ourselves as we bitch about it and fumble the ball by putting reporters in the field who’ve never covered a city council meeting, let alone a state legislature.

Ultimately, you have to wonder what the endgame is for those who say Biden should step down. I’m not saying he should. I’m not saying he shouldn’t. I’m the guy who thinks it is pure insanity that two aging white guys are talking about their golf game while debating what they would do as the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.

So what do the Democrats who want Biden gone propose? If they are saying it's Kamala Harris, well, she’s already on the ticket. If something should happen to Biden, she’s next in line. She probably polls better than Biden among women and in blue states, but in swing states she might not do as well — and that matters. They make a great team. 

If you don’t want Harris, then what? That way lies madness.

Democrats, who fear the second coming of Donald Trump as surely as those who eat roadkill fear botulism, may actually be doing more harm to their cause. To put it bluntly, the fight the Democrats are having with each other to make sure that Trump isn’t elected could ultimately get him elected. 

This is American politics. This isn’t a laptop game.

Reality bites, don’t it?

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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