False charges from the right-wing that President Biden is hampered by senility represents an old and worn-out tactic by malign players, who have used the tactic against elder statesmen who have served as presidents, heads of state, or heads of government. Biden finds himself in august company when it comes to the propaganda barrage directed at him, in Biden’s case, by domestic and foreign on-line troll campaigns. Charles De Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, Deng Xiaoping, Jozef Broz Tito, Paul von Hindenburg, and other senior statesmen all faced similar false charges at specific times during their terms in office.
The false stories about the 79-year-old Biden are largely sourced to commentators on Fox “News,” Newsmax, OAN, accounts on Facebook, and Republican Party officeholders and party officials.
In 1967, The New York Times, echoing a disinformation campaign against 77-year-old French President Charles De Gaulle with roots within the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote an editorial castigating the World War II hero as suffering from “senility.” The charge was prompted by De Gaulle’s call for the independence of French-speaking Quebec from Canada. The Times also referred to De Gaulle as “aged” and being “swallowed up in a spiteful fog.” De Gaulle’s 1967 decision to withdraw France from the NATO military command structure and expel NATO headquarters from Paris to Brussels is what prompted the “senility” campaign by the CIA, The New York Times, and other courtier newspapers, and the Canadian government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who, himself, was the target of a disinformation campaign that suggested that the Canadian leader was a Soviet KGB agent.
While running for president in 1980 at the age of 69, Ronald Reagan was also the subject of rumors that he suffered from “cognitive impairment” and “mental deterioration.” In fact, Reagan only began suffering in earnest from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease during his second term. The Alzheimer’s was believed to have been brought on by the 1981 assassination attempt that almost took his life. But in 1980, Reagan, who was 69, dismissed the observations that he was too old for the presidency, saying, “If I were president and had any feeling at all that my capabilities had been reduced before a second term came, I would walk away. By the same token I would step down also.” Reagan, who had, until May 26, been in a pitched battle for the Republican presidential nomination against former CIA director George Bush, had also been the target of some of the same CIA senility disinformation tactics used earlier against De Gaulle.
In 1989, senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping also fended off charges that he was becoming senile. The rumors about Deng’s mental health came amid a Communist Party purge following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the firing of Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang and senior party leader and reformist Yan Mingfu. In 1966, Cuban leader Fidel Castro openly criticized China’s “senile” leadership. It was a not-so-veiled attack on aging leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.
West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer became head of government at the age of 73 and held the post until the age of 87. He even continued as leader of the Christian Democratic Union until he was 90. Adenauer, too, was falsely charged with senility. The source was the usual one: the CIA wanted Adenauer gone because of his insistence that the U.S. could not rely on a Pax Atomica, also known as “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), that would see Germany become a nuclear battleground in the event of a war with the Soviet Union. Adenauer’s stance was no sign of senility but a desire for survivability during the Cold War.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who suffered three major stokes, resigned in 1955 as his vascular dementia became too apparent to hide from the public. But up until his third stroke in 1953, rumors of Churchill’s senility had been premature and political in nature.
Similar rumors of senility were directed at Yugoslavia’s octogenarian leader Tito, Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, and Spanish leader Francisco Franco. Tito’s enemies often described him as senile in his later years. In fact Tito’s health did not rapidly decline until 1979 when he suffered multiple ailments caused by arterial failure, kidney failure, and gangrene brought on by diabetes. He died in 1980. Attending Tito’s funeral was Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who had severe cardio-pulmonary health issues. Suggestions that Brezhnev was senile were mainly sourced to the CIA broadcasting studios of Radio Free Europe in Munich. Brezhnev died in 1982.
Rumors of Chiang Kai-shek’s senility had their origins in the propaganda circles of mainland China, as well as the CIA, which had sought to depose Chiang in the 1955 attempted coup by General Sun Li-jen to depose Chiang and his Kuomintang Party and declare Taiwan an independent nation. Franco suffered from the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease and suggestions that he had become senile were without any basis in truth.
Historians have differing opinions on the degree to which senility affected Weimar Germany’s President, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, and his decision in 1933 to appoint Adolf Hitler chancellor. In August 1932, Hindenburg flat out rejected Hitler’s demand to be appointed chancellor. After refusing Hitler’s demand, Hindenburg released a press statement that Hitler demanded absolute power, which Hindenburg rejected. The firmness of Hindenburg’s decision in 1932 does not suggest feebleness on the part of Hindenburg. It is known that Hindenburg despised Hitler, whom he considered to be a petulant Austrian corporal. Hindenburg did regress into senility after he appointed Hitler chancellor in 1933. By that time, the Nazis had consolidated power. On August 1, 1934, Hitler visited Hindenburg, who was on his death bed. The president, who was stricken with lung cancer, had become so senile he believed Hitler was Kaiser Wilhelm II and he addressed Hitler as “Your Majesty.” Hindenburg died the following day and Hitler took over as president. In any event, any suggestion that President Biden is anywhere close to Hindenburg’s mental condition in 1934 is as much wishful thinking as it was for the Nazis in 1932, when Hindenburg still had full command of his faculties and was maneuvering with various political leaders in Berlin to keep Hitler and his Nazis out of power.
Neither is Biden anywhere even close to being as mentally impaired as was President Woodrow Wilson after his stroke in 1919. First Lady Jill Biden is not running the Oval Office, as was the case with First Lady Edith Galt Wilson from October 2, 1919, to March 1921. Nor is Jill Biden having anywhere near the power of First Lady Nancy Reagan during Ronald Reagan’s second term, when presidential senility became a real issue. And Donald Trump’s clear-cut mental decline as president leave his and his supporters no room to cast false accusations at Biden. There is no talk of Biden suffering from mental decline from the tertiary stage of syphilis, which including psychosis, as was and is the case with Trump. Trump’s fits of paranoia are similar to those experienced by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin after a stroke and severe heart attack in 1945 and before his death from an intracerebral hemorrhage in 1953. In that eight-year period, Stalin had become petrified when seeing his own shadow.
False charges of senility of political leaders is usually a last-ditch ploy of fascist scoundrels who have no problem in practicing the most extreme form of ageism against mostly democratically-elected leaders in order to gain political advantage and power. That is currently as much the case with the Republican Party and its fascist-minded slavish supporters as it was with the Nazis who, in 1932, were eager to get rid of the pre-senile Hindenburg and replace him with Hitler.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).