Washingtonians Are Bursting With Anxiety Over Biden

Reuters/Brian Snyder
Reuters/Brian Snyder

President Joe Biden’s debate debacle has left Washingtonians paralyzed in a collective state of anxiety over fear of the unknown.

Many, it seems, are eating, drinking, texting or crying their way through a strange darkness, hoping a feeble lightbulb will shine brightly enough at least to save them from a life sentence at Gitmo. It feels akin to the disorienting shock of Donald Trump’s election in 2016, which is triggering stress, according to Paul Sheesley, a Washington-based psychotherapist whose clients include CEOs, politicians, lobbyists and diplomats.

Sheesley told The Daily Beast that given Biden’s disastrous debate performance, people are concerned that the “person they may be cheering for, Biden specifically,” may not win the presidency, much less the Democratic nomination.

“So there is definitely a mental health reaction to that,” he said, adding that many of his clients are “really feeling blindsided and really uncertain.”

No longer able to ignore what they had already feared, they hang on Biden’s every word as if he’s a visiting great uncle from their parents’ home country whose language they don’t speak.

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“There’s suddenly this rapt interest in watching and listening to everything Joe Biden says, and gauging how well he’s doing,” Washington social doyenne Juleanna Glover told The Daily Beast.

And plenty of anguished politicos have taken to the bottle. A regular client at Violet Salon in Washington’s tony Georgetown neighborhood didn’t even hide it at a recent visit.

“She was really upset. We’ve never seen her drunk. That was really surprising,” Sydney Darko, a Violet employee, told The Daily Beast.

In a city where residents’ livelihoods, careers and identities are tightly bound to politics, that tipsy salon regular isn’t the only one suffering post-debate stress. Even senators are reportedly drowning their sorrows in vodka cranberries.

Linda Roth, the founder and CEO of the public relations firm Linda Roth Associates, sees the collective stress.

“That debate caused more questions than answers, which leads to a lot of anxiety,” she said in an interview.

Roth, who represents D.C-area restaurants and hotels, said that until debate night, many of her clients had the tacit assumption that Biden would win reelection. There was comfort to that predictability. In 2016, Trump’s victory caused chaos, with booked-out venues scrambling to cancel Democratic reservations to make room for Republican ones.

President Joe Biden walks offstage with first lady Dr. Jill Biden at the conclusion of his debate with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden walks offstage with first lady Dr. Jill Biden at the conclusion of his debate with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Reuters/Brian Snyder

This time around, the D.C. hospitality industry had been anticipating another four years of doing business with familiar contacts in and around the Biden administration. Then, less than two weeks ago, it got thrown for a loop.

“I can’t tell you how many people I know that said, ‘I didn’t stay till the end. I had to walk away. It was just way too uncomfortable,” Roth said of the president’s confused and halting demeanor.

Democratic political operatives, even those who worked to get Biden elected, have been among the loudest voices panicking about his debate performance, with several calling on him to end his campaign.

Former Obama adviser David Axelrod posted that Biden is “dangerously out-of-touch with the concerns people have about his [capacities] moving forward and his standing in this race.”

Veteran Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen piled on.

“If he doesn’t step down to increase our chances of winning, then yeah, we’ll have to circle the wagons, and I am a soldier against Trump, but please stop pretending or casting blame,” she wrote. “President Biden and his behavior alone is responsible for this problem—not the voters, not the media, not his opponents, not the party and not the elite.”

At Cafe Milano, the see-and-be-seen Italian mainstay frequented by Washington’s wealthy and powerful, patrons watched the anxiety playing out on TVs at the bar, one tuned to CNN, the other to Fox News.

But one of them told The Daily Beast she hadn’t even watched the debate. “There’s no point to it,” said Francoise Brito, a Washingtononian whose family was in the newspaper business but doesn’t follow much media anymore. “They just repeat the same things.”

Another diner, retired labor lawyer Ron Gladney, watched part of the Trump-Biden faceoff.

“I wasn’t happy with Biden’s performance,” he said. “He couldn’t pronounce even—you know, if there’s one thing he should know about, it is, how do I put this… he should know about pension issues and about what he stands for and why he’s going after—I sound like Biden now. Which is primarily my rationale. If I can’t run for president, and I’m three years younger than he is, how can he run?”

Despite being what he described as a left-of-center Democrat, he said he’s not necessarily going to vote for Biden and is considering Robert F. Kennedy Jr., even though he doesn’t like the independent’s views on vaccines.

“We’re going to elect Trump and then a bunch of whack jobs,” he predicted. “That’s great.”

Gladney, such a regular at Cafe Milano that the bartender knew to start him with an old fashioned and a beef carpaccio, said he was ready to leave it all behind.

“I’m already planning—listen, let’s move to Iceland,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”

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