Biden's win is a victory for stammering

The article's author, Michelle Paradies, beside a picture of Joe Biden

25th November 2020

New York-based Michelle Paradies gives an American perspective on Joe Biden winning the US Presidential election.

I had walked into my mum's house just as another vile political advertisement was playing on the television. She turned to me and said in dismay, "Those ads. They are horrible." The 2020 US Presidential election was the ugliest and most polarised in many people’s lifetime. For months, political ads calling their opponent vicious names blared from TV screens every few minutes. 

It didn't stop there. You've certainly heard about, or even seen, the Twitter antics of one infamous US politician. The ads and social media posts throughout the campaign most certainly wouldn't be outdone by any other election contest. They called Joe Biden 'Sleepy Joe' and claimed his seemingly mumbled and incoherent speech suggested he had dementia or some other form of mental decline. They also made far worse accusations.

They called him 'Sleepy Joe' and claimed his seemingly mumbled and incoherent speech suggested he had dementia or some other form of mental decline.

Joe Biden speaks slowly. He avoids confrontation. He often says one thing and then corrects himself. He says "um" often. He speaks in lists of single words or phrases. Commentators said, "Biden stumbles over words, often rushing to finish his thought."  

Biden doesn't have dementia. He isn't senile. Biden has a stammer. He rushes to finish speaking or abruptly changes a word or a fact before his stutter shows up. Those of us who stammer know this feeling and behaviour well. Many of us do everything we can to prevent that block or to avoid the word that will inevitably cause a prolongation or sound repetition.

'Overcoming' his stammer    

Joe Biden talks about his stammering in the past tense. He doesn't make it a central focus and infrequently discusses the topic. He explained in a rare interview on CNN in February 2020 how he 'overcame' his stammer. In that same interview, he clearly had a few stammering moments. 

The fact that he stammers doesn't matter. Someone's record should define their image. This is how stammering will be normalised and accepted. 

But should he acknowledge it in the present? Well, that is debatable. Every person who stammers manages his or her speech in the way that works best for them. Perhaps Joe Biden could have garnered some sympathy and a few less boorish accusations if he had spoken openly about his stammering. On the other hand maybe sympathy is exactly what he didn't want. Would an acknowledgement that he still stammers make him look weak? Would it have generated even more incendiary tweets? We will never know (thank goodness that the end of the tyrant and his tweets is in sight).  

'Don't let it define you'

Biden won. It's a victory for the United States. It's a victory for the world. It's a victory for civil society and most importantly it's a victory for stammering.

Speaking at a gala event for the American Institute of Stuttering in 2016, Biden said, "I can think of nothing else that has ever stripped me of my dignity as greatly and profoundly, and as thoroughly, as when I stuttered in grade school." His advice to others who stutter is: "Don't let stuttering define you." My advice is similar: Work hard. Chase your dreams, stammer or no stammer. 

He's got a lot to do but maybe talking about his own stammer in the present tense could rank up there with the other important priorities.  

Biden's message about stammering has clearly been inspirational to some. You may be familiar with Brayden Harrington, the 13-year-old from New Hampshire who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August 2020 about how his personal conversation with Biden gave him more confidence about his own stammer, and that he was "amazed that someone like me could be Vice President." 

Present tense please

American politicians are known for bold and aggressive behaviour. The United States is the land of 'go hard or go home'. Nowhere does this play truer than in the halls of political power. It is said that the US President is the most powerful political figure in the world. From rejoining international treaties and rebuilding the US economy to getting coronavirus under control, Mr. Biden has promised to do many things immediately upon taking office. We all wish him much success with those plans. He certainly has a lot of work to do and it won't be easy.

However, it would also be great if he could use just a small fraction of his time on the world's stage over the next four years to acknowledge the millions of people all over the world who stammer too and the contributions they have made. He's got a lot to do but maybe talking about his own stammer in the present tense could rank up there with the other important priorities.

Joe Biden won the election. He is the President-Elect. Should he be referred to as the President-Elect who stammers? I say no. He is the President-Elect. The fact that he stammers doesn't matter. Someone's record should define their image. This is how stammering will be normalised and accepted. 

The world's stage is yours, Mr. Biden. Here's your chance to reshape the world. The seven billion people on this planet are eagerly awaiting your debut — stammer or no stammer.

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