Is Joe Biden too old to be president? It’s a question that was posed even before he was elected but is being asked again with fresh urgency on both the left and the right.
Jim Geraghty kicked off the discussion June 1 in National Review with a litany of Biden missteps and gaffes; he likened some of Biden’s most recent remarks on guns to “grandpa’s story time.” The New York Times was less condescending in a piece titled “Should Biden run in 2024? Democratic whispers of ‘no’ start to rise,” but the writers made clear that the president’s age is a factor for those who hope he steps aside.
“To nearly all the Democrats interviewed, the president’s age — 79 now, 82 by the time the winner of the 2024 election is inaugurated — is a deep concern about his political viability,” Reid J. Epstein and Jennifer Medina wrote.
They quoted Barack Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, as saying, “The presidency is a monstrously taxing job and the stark reality is the president would be closer to 90 than 80 at the end of a second term, and that would be a major issue.”
It’s important to keep in mind that the whispers about age aren’t just about Biden but also about former President Donald Trump, who turns 76 June 14. Any suggestion that Biden is too old to serve a second term envelopes his predecessor, too.
Yet both are younger than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, and House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 80, which helps to explain why The Atlantic thought it was appropriate to let its millennial writer Derek Thompson ask “Why do such elderly people run America?” even though “elderly” is a better description of frailty than of age.
It’s true that, in contrast to the title of the Coen brothers’ film “No Country for Old Men” — the line lifted from a William Butler Yeats poem — America seems no country for spring chickens, at least not in its halls of power.
The spring chickens have a problem with that, understandably so. Young American adults complain that the baby boomers won’t leave the homes they want or the jobs they want. It’s a generational tension that will only get worse as our health span lengthens because of medical advances and new knowledge about longevity.
The conversation about Biden, however, keeps bringing up his age as if it’s that number — and that number only — that matters.
It’s not Biden’s age but his seeming frailty, both in body and mental acuity, that matter more. Sure, these factors can be related to age, but often they are not. Many of us know people older than Trump who can trounce us in a vigorous debate, and there are people older than Biden running marathons.
It’s hard for the ordinary American, however, to know how much, if at all, Biden has declined in recent years, and whether it’s due to the onset of dementia (as some say was the case toward the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency) or if it’s just the stress of the job coupled with his long struggle with a speech impediment.
If it’s the latter, the Biden blooper reels that spin continuously in conservative media are truly offensive, as are the T-shirts that feature a photo of Biden with the caption “Dazed and Very Confused.” As Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Bernstein recently wrote, Biden is not the first president to mangle a name or a sentence, and anyone “who has cameras on them every time they are in public is going to be caught in flubs and awkward moments.”
But neither is it the case that we should write off the meandering sentences-to-nowhere and explosions of temper as “Joe being Joe,” as John Zogby wrote for Forbes. If Biden is actually “a walking, talking liability to the country and the world,” as Fox personality Sean Hannity has said, he cannot run again, nor should his associates allow him to think that he should.
A recent YouGov poll found that a majority of Americans support an age limit for presidents with a majority of those supporting limits (39%) setting the limit at 70. Astonishingly, nearly a quarter would set the limit at 60.
Writing for National Review, Geraghty went beyond saying Biden is too old. He said that anyone in their 70s or 80s shouldn’t be president, writing that “executing the duties of the presidency well requires someone who is in good physical and mental health, ideally with a lot of vigor and an ability to handle off-the-charts stress and a relentless workload.”
It’s interesting that commercial airline pilots and air traffic controls have mandatory retirement ages but there’s no limit on how old a president or Supreme Court justice can be. Once millennials are in charge, they may change this, depending on how the next decade plays out. Meanwhile, you don’t have to be a Democrat to fervently hope that the president isn’t cognitively slipping. If Hannity is right, it’s going to be a painful two and a half years.