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Joe Biden's Stutter

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Much has been made of former Vice President Joe Biden's verbal blunders and flubs - the way he sometimes can't seem to get the right word out, his awkward phrasing, pauses.

A new article in The Atlantic suggests one reason the presidential candidate may have trouble saying what he means is that he grew up with a stutter. John Hendrickson, a senior editor on the politics team at The Atlantic, wrote it, and he joins us now. Good morning.

JOHN HENDRICKSON: Morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John, did you recognize his stutter because you also have one, or was it something that you'd read about and thought it was important to address, considering the context of his presidential run?

HENDRICKSON: When I went to speech therapy as a kid, they would tell you about famous people who either stutter or have overcome it or have found a way to manage it, you know, people like Bruce Willis, James Earl Jones. Joe Biden, at that time, he was - you know, I think there was even a poster, and he was on that poster. So I knew about it. Watching him, though, I could pick up his secondary behaviors - loss of eye contact, blinking fast, dipping his head down when he's caught up. And it was just very clear to me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In this interview, you asked him about feeling shame about this. And that seemed to be quite a sort of painful exchange.

HENDRICKSON: This is a very hard topic to talk about. You know, there is a pathway that goes from innocent teasing and then becomes bullying. And enough of that over time makes you feel shame because you just - you feel like what you had to say doesn't matter. Even though Biden has reached the upper echelons of fame and power, I don't think that feeling has ever truly left him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stuttering, as you write, affects 3 million Americans. This interview led you, also, on your own journey. What did you want to explore about yourself?

HENDRICKSON: I know that I wake up every day and I talk like this. I know it's very awkward and that it's jagged and that it's just the opposite of anything that is normally on TV or radio. Growing up, I was always working toward some mystical, future day of perfect fluency. And, you know, with each passing year, it just never came. And in the past few years, I really have tried to make peace with it and say, this is how I talk, and it's not pretty, but it is who I am.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think we should understand Joe Biden differently? You write stuttering does not get worse with age, but it does take a lot of energy and discipline to try and curb it.

HENDRICKSON: Biden's out there talking every day, all day to audiences large and small. There are countless opportunities just on a daily basis for him to get caught in a difficult speaking moment. Most of the time, he powers right through it, and nobody's the wiser. I think that it's important to know that Biden is not always just forgetting a name or a fact or a date. But, sometimes, he does know precisely the words he's looking for, and they aren't coming out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's John Hendrickson, a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine. His article is called "What Joe Biden Can't Bring Himself To Say." Thank you very much.

HENDRICKSON: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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