In the New Hampshire media market, GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley is running ads about President Joe Biden’s age. “I’ll just say it: Biden’s too old,” she says, adding, “And Congress is the most exclusive nursing home in America.”
The nursing home theme runs rampant on social media, where a video called “White House Senior Living” went viral. Showing unflattering clips of Biden, the video simulates a nursing home ad and says “White House Senior Living, where residents feel like presidents.”
Amid all the mockery and the legitimate questions about the health of America’s oldest sitting president, first lady Jill Biden has said her husband’s age is an asset to the presidency because “he has wisdom.” And a recent op-ed in The Hill made the case that Biden, at 81, could qualify as a “superager” — a person whose physical and mental abilities match those of people much younger.
The superager story was picked up, and expounded upon, by the medical news site MedNewsDaily. Both articles focused on Biden more than his likely opponent, former President Donald Trump, with one doctor saying that there is more information available about Biden’s health than Trump’s. That doctor also said he was “dubious” about the information that has been released about Trump’s health, and a co-author of the The Hill piece is a Democrat, so draw from that what you will.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone active on social media to call either man a “superager,” which seems a term better used to describe the 93-year-old recently profiled in The Washington Post who started exercising in his 70s and is now said to have the aerobic capacity of someone 50 years younger.
That, my friends, is a superager. And in fact, America is full of people redefining “old” age. It’s been a half-century since the first “running boom” took off; many of the men and women who have been running regularly since then are now in their 70s and 80s and reaping the physical and mental benefits of all that exercise. OK-boomer them all you want, but the boomers (Trump among them) will be with us for quite a while.
Still, it remains frustratingly difficult for the American voter to know with certainty how healthy Biden and Trump really are. This has been a problem historically, of course — when Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency in 1932, most Americans knew little of his medical condition, and the press played down his disability. John F. Kennedy also worked to hide his health problems from the public, and his healthy, athletic image was aided by a carefully tended suntan.
In a time where practically everything is recorded, it seems it would be easier to know the truth about Biden’s health, and Trump’s. In fact, it’s harder than ever, with people on both sides of the political aisle (and likely bad actors in other countries) manipulating images, and even words, in order to present the candidates as better or worse than they actually are.
When Biden seems to say, as he did recently in Charleston, South Carolina, “I started the civil rights movement” — which the official White House transcript records as “It started with the civil rights movement” — is it a sign of deteriorating mental capacity or a slip of the tongue that happens to all of us? It’s hard to tell even watching the video.
When a photo of an unhealthy-looking Trump circulates on social media, is it reason for concern or another example of an image being manipulated, as The Associated Press said happened last summer?
Meanwhile, even untouched images are interpreted differently, as in the recent video of Trump carrying a stack of pizzas to firefighters in Iowa. Some took to social media to say that Trump’s gait in the video is indicative of health problems. Others marveled that he could so easily carry eight large pizzas boxes.
Does it really matter, though, whether either man is a superager? Isn’t it OK if the U.S. president is aging normally, so long as he or she remains in control of the essential faculties?
I know people in their 70s and 80s who are smarter and sharper than people decades younger and you probably do, too — which makes Haley’s call for mental competency tests for politicians over 75 seem a mistake born of the arrogance of youth.
In the case of Biden, the authors of the op-ed in The Hill cited assessments of the president’s health published before the 2020 election that said he was in “excellent health for a 77-year-old man.” They wrote, “his medical records published in his years since taking office so far indicate no significant change in physical or mental health status has occurred.”
They went on to say, “Biden was projected in 2020 to have over a 95% chance of surviving a first term in office (about 13% better survival than for an average man his age). Today his chances of surviving through a second term in office are close to 75% (about 10% better survival than for an average man his age). Similar, although slightly less favorable survival prospects are present for Trump.”
Two of the authors are gerontologists who, in the fall of 2020, collaborated with other health professionals to assess the health of both candidates. In that report, the authors concluded that the men’s chronological ages were “not relevant factors” in that year’s election and that both men “could” be superagers given their health profiles and family histories — but since both were in their 70s, it was too early to tell.
It will be interesting to see if a similar report is done this year and if the authors reach the same conclusion.
Until then, voters are left to guess whether Biden is showing signs of dementia, as many of his detractors claim, and whether the red spots seen on Trump’s palm this week were frostbite or something more serious.