That Guy Used to Stutter
November 21, 2019 5:46 PM   Subscribe

“But whenever I asked Biden about what appeared to be his present-day stuttering, the notably verbose candidate became clipped, or said he didn’t remember, or spun off to somewhere new. I wondered if I reminded Biden of his old self, a ghost from his youth, the stutterer he used to be.” John Hendrickson of The Atlantic on stuttering, shame, and Joe Biden.
posted by sallybrown (33 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
this is a pretty lovely and frequently heart-rending article about social shame and stigma. some version of this is why I always feel really queasy about people reading into body language or verbal cues, whether of celebrities or coworkers or whatever. even in the best cases it can't help but be uncharitable and sort of cruel to subject people to that kind of scrutiny.

as opposed to scrutiny of their actual thoughts and ideas, which was my other main takeaway, regarding the article's subtitle: what worries me is not how Biden delivers the words but the words themselves.
posted by Kybard at 6:06 PM on November 21, 2019 [12 favorites]


His verbal stumbles have voters worried about his mental fitness. Maybe they’d be more understanding if they knew he’s still fighting a stutter.

A stutter doesn't make you tell a roomful of rich donors that "no one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change."
posted by Rust Moranis at 7:01 PM on November 21, 2019 [32 favorites]


Part of me wants to read the article but I'm afraid if I do, I'll trip over my own stutter again. (Go team me!)

It happens everytime that some points out that I just stuttered something. I'll get caught in a loop and it will keep happening.
posted by drewbage1847 at 7:57 PM on November 21, 2019 [8 favorites]


Hell yeah, the only reason I hate Joe Biden is because of his latent stutter! It's not his voting record or seemingly insane vision of a future in which republicans magically decide to start compromising. It was just that when he sundowns, I can tell he used to have a stutter. Glad this article could clear up my anti-Joe-Biden ableism, and I'm now extremely excited to vote for him!
posted by Greg Nog at 8:03 PM on November 21, 2019 [38 favorites]


It's interesting that this article about stuttering centers around Joe Biden. It might have been more effective without that particular hanger upon which it hangs.

I had a stutter as a child. Not a repetition stutter but a full hesitation unable to get an initial sound out. M's and R's and T's come to mind now, decades later as ones I got often hung up on. The seconds (probably not more than a second really, felt longer) trying to get a sound to start so I could say the word could be excruciating.

I don't remember being teased or shamed about it much. It sort of faded with age, although I have vague memories of maybe 3rd grade speech therapy?

I still get caught up sometimes, usually when I'm stoned.

I found this article to be a look into the interior life of someone who's contended with a thing (stuttering) basically their whole life, and what's that's been like for them. The Biden angle, I mean, I get what it's getting at (which I don't think is so much "vote for this guy" but more "understand what goes on with him"), but I don't think it's necessary for this story to have been written.

Still, I'm glad I read it. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 8:12 PM on November 21, 2019 [6 favorites]


Why doesn't he just fade away and not try to dig what we all say?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 8:19 PM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


Hell yeah, the only reason I hate Joe Biden is because of his latent stutter!

In fairness, this article isn't really for us, it's for the folks who point to his word choices as evidence of mental decline.

I do think it's interesting, even if he's otherwise got to go.
posted by explosion at 8:22 PM on November 21, 2019 [8 favorites]


It's interesting that this article about stuttering centers around Joe Biden. It might have been more effective without that particular hanger upon which it hangs.

I thought the contrast between the author (and some of the other people he turned to in reporting it) and Biden was interesting—that the former group has mostly overcome feelings of childhood shame about having a stutter but still experiences a stutter, while Biden has mostly navigated around his stutter successfully, but still seems shut down in a way by that childhood feeling of shame, to the extent that he won’t even discuss the possibility that he might still have a stutter, even though rationally he understands that it would be ridiculous for anyone to suggest he should feel lesser. But still he can’t seem to accept it.
posted by sallybrown at 8:25 PM on November 21, 2019 [11 favorites]


this article isn't really for us, it's for the folks who point to his word choices as evidence of mental decline

In other words it's intended to reassure reluctant Biden voters in The Atlantic's readership.

but still seems shut down in a way by that childhood feeling of shame, to the extent that he won’t even discuss the possibility that he might still have a stutter

It would be true to form for Biden to not discuss the possibility of an ongoing struggle, as he generally refuses to acknowledge having any faults or ever having made a mistake.
posted by Rust Moranis at 8:30 PM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


In other words it's intended to reassure reluctant Biden voters in The Atlantic's readership.

It’s a beautifully written piece about what it’s like to have a stutter for a selection of people including Joe Biden. I recommend reading it.
posted by sallybrown at 8:33 PM on November 21, 2019 [26 favorites]


Annie Glenn had a very severe stutter, but went to the Hollins College course.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:44 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


That's a good read. First of all, I'd never thought about the fact that stuttering is a neurological disorder, which of course makes perfect sense but I'd just never slotted it into that category.

Second, what a reminder of how stark the generational differences are, in attitudes and stigma around disability. This is true in a lot of disability contexts, and boy this article does a good job of illustrating that felt stigma in a really visceral way -- the feeling of just doom waiting if people learn your horrible secret. It's great that the treatments are moving toward normalization and that younger people are owning and naming it for themselves.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:45 PM on November 21, 2019 [14 favorites]


this is a really lovely article, probably precisely because of the joe biden of it all, and i'm really glad to have read it. i felt recognition in a lot of it, but these paragraphs in the middle:

Back in New York, I start to wonder if I’m forcing Biden into a box where he doesn’t belong. My box. Could I be jealous that his present stutter is less obvious than mine? That he can go sentences at a time without a single block or repetition? Even the way I’m writing this piece—­keeping Biden’s stammers, his ums and pauses, on the page—seems hypocritical. Here I am highlighting the glitches in his speech, when the journalistic courtesy, convention even, is to edit them out.

I spend weeks watching Biden more than listening to him, trying to “catch him in the act” of stuttering on camera. There’s one. There’s one. That was a bad one. Also, I start stuttering more.


i've been here, looking at someone in the public eye who seems by all appearances to share a stigmatized trait with me but isn't open about it, and the weird many feelings that pop up when i try to dig deeper and find out how they "really" feel about it. i almost always end up getting kind of rabbit-holey and feeling invasive and second guessing my motivations. with him later on comparing their 10-year-old selves, i think i'm probably not trying to answer any questions about the celebrity but really just trying to answer for me, do i have permission to be okay with myself?

even things i already feel okay about, sometimes a celebrity rumor is the only model i have for how other people will treat me in this context. are they accepted? do they accept themselves? do they feel forced into a narrative that's comfortable for other people but not good for them? would i have to do that even though i like myself? will they open up in the future and show me how to? do i have to start comparing myself to someone like joe biden now because this is the only model i have? unfortunate
posted by gaybobbie at 10:56 PM on November 21, 2019 [10 favorites]


A stutter doesn't make you tell a roomful of rich donors that "no one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change."

Is there something wrong with pointing out that the rich will still be rich and still have lots of toys even if we tax the shit out of them?
posted by wierdo at 11:49 PM on November 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'll see your Joe Biden and raise you one Joacine Katar Moreira, just elected to the Portuguese parliament for the tiny, hard-left Livre Party. She is from Guinea Bissau and has a stutter so pronounced her eyes seem to pop out. There was an initial flurry of making fun of her, which died down as people quickly realized she has less than two fucks to give about what you think of her stutter. This is her first speech in parliament. And here she is being interviewed by a comic who has a show like the Daily Show. (All in Portuguese)
posted by chavenet at 1:28 AM on November 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


What a great piece of writing that was filled with well-drawn insight about Biden, the author and the themes of the articles. Beautiful work.

I bring it back up a little later, this time more directly: “When have you felt shame?”

“Not for a long, long, long time.


So interesting, this quote. Like the author of the piece, I'm not sure if my interpretation of this says more about me or Biden. The idea of living, for decades, without experiencing shame is beyond implausible to me.

And indeed, I think it's implausible for Biden, too. I feel like his shame - repressed, ruthlessly tamped down and beaten for years - stalks through this whole article like a lion, mingling with the author's own shame. It seems like such a naked lie, how could it possibly be true? Even for someone as privileged as Biden.

And so interesting - and sad - that he obviously feels, well, ashamed of feeling shame. That acknowledging weakness and vulnerability is weakness and vulnerability in his eyes. I suspect the genesis of that reasoning is both personal (his history of stuttering), and professional (how the media and opponents respond to weakness), and generational (came of age in a time of very restrictive ideas on masculinity).

The author's own attitude towards Biden completely undermines that thinking, and so does the voter quoted saying Biden's challenges have made him more relatable, not less.

Though the presidential campaign loomed large, I felt like this was a piece more about Joe Biden the man, not the candidate. I think we can regard one with compassion, sympathy, and thought, without necessarily endorsing the other.
posted by smoke at 1:54 AM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think it is possible to simultaneously not like a person and feel compassion for their life struggles. I also think it's gross to imply that an article that involves Joe Biden's stuttering--but is clearly not just about that--only exists to provide supporters false reassurance he is not in mental decline when the after-effects of his stuttering are what his detractors use as proof of his mental decline.
posted by schroedinger at 4:36 AM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


I stuttered pretty bad as a kid. M's were the worst. I got hung up trying to say the word "maybe" in front of a group of family members and everyone thought it was hi-larious. Speech therapy through elementary school, and a few of the tricks seemed to stick. It still happens, even on the phone. M, R, S, sometimes T. Nowhere nearly as bad as when I was a kid. It feels like little speedbumps these days. Generally I think (hope) I'm the only one who notices it, but probably not. Maybe no one does; maybe they're just being reasonably kind and not bringing it up. I have my differences with Joe Biden but I'd sure like to have a beer or two with him some day.
posted by jquinby at 5:08 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Second, what a reminder of how stark the generational differences are, in attitudes and stigma around disability. This is true in a lot of disability contexts

Hmm I’d argue that the differences aren’t that great, or aren’t what you think they are. My experience with millennials has been that people know they aren’t supposed to react negatively to disability, but they still do, viscerally, so they just lie about it, to you and themselves. So now it comes with added gas lighting.

So I don’t think Joe Biden is wrong in his implied assessment of how people will or would react to his admission of a stutter. I just also don’t think it matters. Everything else about him, easily gleaned through text, is still absolutely terrible.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:37 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Ok, not “absolutely.” We have seen absolutely terrible and it is currently president.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:38 AM on November 22, 2019


My experience with millennials has been that people know they aren’t supposed to react negatively to disability, but they still do, viscerally, so they just lie about it, to you and themselves. So now it comes with added gas lighting.

Wow, that is...uncharitable.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:06 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


My lived experiences are uncharitable? Wtf?
posted by schadenfrau at 9:30 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Your statement that you know what other people are thinking to themselves is uncharitable. You cannot possibly know that people (let's leave "millennials" out of it) are lying to themselves about how they perceive disability, and to compare that to gaslighting is also unfair.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:05 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I...am genuinely stunned.

Would you make the same claim to a black person describing their experiences with anti-blackness discrimination? To a woman describing her experiences with misogyny?

You’re aware that a lot of prejudice and discrimination is not explicitly announced? You’re aware that one of the things that makes it difficult to navigate is figuring out when it’s happening to you, and that this is something you get better at with experience?

You are aware of how discriminatory and prejudicial it is to tell someone with invisible disabilities who has had to disclose those disabilities and watch people react just as I described that I don’t know my own life? (my own life conducted primarily among my peer group of, yes, millennials.)

Maybe you aren’t aware of any of those things. But you are definitely part of the problem.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:30 AM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


Idk maybe I shouldn’t be stunned. Ableism is fucking everywhere and people generally don’t even blink at it. I just expected better of Metafilter.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:33 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Stuttering does not cause someone to forget things like that their wife is dead, that Barrack Obama was the name of the president when he was VP, or to think he was in office when the Parkland shooting happened — to name but a few of his "gaffes." He is exhibiting clear signs of mental decline and to frame it as a speech impediment is honestly disgusting. (He has spoken about his stutter before, in a profile of his time working as a life guard - this is not a new revelation, and it's not what people are concerned about.)
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:36 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Stuttering does not cause someone to forget things like that their wife is dead, that Barrack Obama was the name of the president when he was VP, or to think he was in office when the Parkland shooting happened — to name but a few of his "gaffes."

Yes, this. Compare the 2012 debate Biden had with Paul Ryan to any of the debates he's had this year and you can can see a mind that is much less sharp than it once was. While it may be true that some of his "gaffes" are attributable to dealing with his stutter, it hardly explains everything that we're seeing from him.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:06 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Again, I would recommend reading the piece. I have no problem dismissing Biden out of hand for his policy positions, and won’t be voting for him unless forced to. But the author’s point about word substitution and searching is a very good one, and the piece explicitly discusses the Obama/“my boss” “mistake” and the Paul Ryan debate, in contrasting Biden’s performance one-on-one and in town halls with rapid fire group debating. The piece does not try to paint all of Biden’s problems as being really about stuttering. Like most good writing, it has no problem with nuance.

It would be cool, given that this piece is largely about stuttering, if people who mostly want to talk Biden policy positions, which have nothing to do with stuttering, could do it in the debate thread, which is about differences in policy.

Reading this piece and gaining insight into this issue is not going to give anyone Biden cooties or trick anyone into voting for him. Really, it’s safe to just enjoy a nice piece of writing about an issue that affects a lot of people in a lifelong way, even if one of them is Joe Biden!
posted by sallybrown at 11:22 AM on November 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


With respect, the stutter is not a new revelation. It was discussed in this article, only a few months ago:
Biden took a special liking to Smith, a reform school student who was around six years his junior. Smith had a temper and a stutter and found it difficult to control either. But he said Biden had a solution.

“I used to get bullied for having a stutter,” he recalled Biden telling him. “Look into the mirror and practice talking. That’s how I got rid of mine.”
I can appreciate the author's effort and attention to nuance. I have a very cynical view of the timing of the piece given Joe's continuing string of mishaps and declining support. If revealing his stuttering issue was such a concern, it would not have been tossed out so casually as it was in the article I linked.
posted by Dark Messiah at 11:50 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


The piece does not claim it is disclosing this for the first time—it talks about how Joe frequently and publicly talks about his stutter as a relic of his past that he’s overcome instead of something he might still be dealing with (hence the title of this very post). And the author mentions his own theory that the campaign contacted him to help spread this as a sympathetic campaign story or a cover for dementia, thus the author’s confusion about why Biden refuses to discuss it as an active issue.
posted by sallybrown at 11:53 AM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


This is the last thing I will say since this has been a derail of the main thread. I am not interested in making this the oppression olympics, but I myself could have written most of your comment, schadenfrau. My lived experience has been very different from yours, apparently. In my experience younger people have been much more empathetic, not less.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:59 AM on November 22, 2019


thus the author’s confusion about why Biden refuses to discuss it as an active issue.

This is fair. Perhaps I've been too engrossed in general discussions of Joe and his growing list of issues, I've already forgotten some of the article's content. I will concede I have missed the mark a bit here.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:00 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Why do I feel like this is Odenkirk's character in Bob and David's sketch "Shark Kitchen"?
posted by symbioid at 11:01 AM on November 23, 2019


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