'We can become leaders': American Reaction

Joe Biden and John Moore, the article's author

9th November 2020

Reaction and insight from our cousins across the pond to Joe Biden becoming President Elect of the USA.

We caught up with John Moore, Marketing Volunteer Director at the National Stuttering Association (NSA) in America for a reaction and an insight into how Biden's stammer was covered in the media throughout the campaign.

Hi John. It's a monumental moment having someone who stammers, or stutters as you call it, becoming President Elect of the USA. What's the mood like at the NSA?

It's an exciting time. It's a win anytime stuttering can enter the national conversation because it raises the public's awareness and understanding of stuttering. Now we have a President Elect who has spoken about his stutter.

Sadly, there are so few famous people who openly stutter. As a person who stutters, it hurts to not have widely known role models who are achieving great things that talk like I do. 

How was Joe Biden's stutter talked about during the election campaign?

The stigma of stuttering is pervasive and profoundly damaging. Some of the conversation in the media focused on how Biden was in 'cognitive decline' and how his 'mental acuity' wasn't fit for the presidency. That conversation was based, in part, on how Biden tries to manage his stutter. 

Politics in the US has been increasingly divisive, and that polarisation played out on social media. Some of the conversation centered on ridiculing Biden for his seeming inability to remember names at rally events and his awkward choice of words when on talking on camera. Some of these opinions dialled up the perspective that Biden was mentally unfit for the demanding job of US President.
People who stutter have had a choice to either speak up or stay quiet when reading posts and comments that either ridicule or defend Biden. Friends have been unfollowed and friendships have deepened because of this. And as the campaign ran its course, the polarity of the conversation on Facebook only intensified.   

Did the media narrative change over the course of the campaign? 

For the more empathetic listener, I believe they were able to better relate, on a personal level, to Joe Biden the more they learned about his journey with stuttering. 

That was helped in no small part by Brayden Harrington, who inspired not only the stuttering community but also the millions of empathetic listeners who saw his television appearance sharing how Joe Biden took time out of his hectic schedule to connect, stutter to stutter, and encourage Hayden to believe in himself (read about that here). The media coverage of that event showcased a teenager facing his fears to speak in front of millions and that helped to humanise stuttering. 

Joe Biden with Brayden Harrington
Joe Biden speaking to Brayden Harrington

Like Biden, I also go the run-around route in choosing words I can say fluently rather than saying the most direct words. I say common things in uncommon ways because that's how I've learned to string two words, two sentences and two paragraphs together. I know people find how I talk weird but thankfully, I'm not in a position to be deeply analysed for how I talk.

What impact have you see at the NSA?

We have definitely experienced more interest in stuttering from journalists asking us questions about the science and emotional side to stuttering. We've also enjoyed seeing more everyday people who stutter come out from the shadows to share their stories on social media, in traditional media, and on podcasts. 

What legacy do you think Joe Biden leaves?

We all have something that makes life difficult. For Joe and Brayden, it's their stutter. For others, it's something else. For everyone, seeing Brayden stutter confidently helped people to better understand it takes courage to overcome our greatest fears. 

We believe people have gained more confidence to openly talk about stuttering because it's been in the national conversation thanks to Joe Biden. He is helping to show people who stutter that we can become leaders and find success in roles where fluent speech is viewed as being paramount. That's exciting!

Visit the National Stuttering Association's website at westutter.org.

Read our CEO Jane Powell's commentary to Joe Biden becoming President Elect, and read an article by Stamma supporter Alan, 'Cometh the hour, cometh the PWS' which looks at how Joe Biden achieved what he has.