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Joe Biden is 80 Years Old. Also, the Sky is Blue.
The 2024 election is just over a year out. The likely Republican nominee for president is facing multiple criminal charges — stemming from the last time he held the job. The more crimes Trump is accused of, the more the GOP base rallies around him. Because today’s Republican party wants authoritarianism, they wanted Trump’s coup attempt to succeed. They don’t want elections or the will of voters to get in the way of their agenda. They want to seize power. Donald Trump was the guy willing to do it for them, and they’re happy to back him for the job again.
Democracy is still on the chopping block. So, of course, we’re all fixating on *checks notes* Joe Biden’s age.
This week, the conversation around Biden’s age reached a fever pitch when Washington Post columnist David Ignatius penned a column urging Biden not to run for reelection. The reason? Joe Biden is 80 years old. Is 80 too old to run for president? It’s a fair question until you remember that Donald Trump is 77.
Any conversation about Joe Biden’s age should actually be about the fact that both of the likely nominees are over 75 years old, but that’s not what’s happening. Joe Biden is too old to run for president, but Donald Trump will live forever, I guess? Some Trump’s supporters certainly believe he’s their God Emperor. Perhaps the political press now believes this myth, too.
Personally, I’d like to see more age diversity in our politics. I don’t ever want to say that someone is too old or young to participate, and the truth is no one knows how long any of us has to live anyway or how long any individual would be healthy enough to serve. My father died this summer at 66, and I have a grandparent who’s in his 90s and doing quite well. But we also need a more diverse, more relatable cohort of elected officials at every level — one that the emerging American majority can relate to. Realistically, that can’t happen unless some longtime electeds step aside and make room for a new generation of talent.
But really, none of this is about age. Biden’s age is a proxy for three things in our political discourse:
Political media still isn’t up to the challenge of covering American politics and Democracy in this moment. Most media outlets still treat politics and campaigns like a game or a horse race, ignoring the real stakes and how the results of elections impact people’s lives. I go back and forth on if media outlets don’t know how to cover the threat to democracy because it doesn’t fit into a typical horserace narrative or if it doesn’t interest them. But instead of opining at length on this, I’ll point folks to a smart piece from journalist and media critic Margaret Sullivan, calling out her colleagues in the press, for the same reasons.
Attacking Biden on age is a backdoor way to attack Vice President Harris. Many people in the press and donor classes still don’t like Kamala Harris but won’t say it outright. Though, to Ignatius’ credit, he does, saying one of Biden’s biggest mistakes was adding Harris to the ticket in 2020. (As a reminder, the Biden/Harris ticket won the 2020 election handily.) Implying that Joe Biden might die in office also implies that a Black woman could be president. But I’m sure race and gender don’t play a role here at all. </sarcasm>
My fellow Democrats, I love you, but we tend to overthink everything and worry about everything as a group. Especially the most politically engaged among us. I know a lot of the concern about Biden’s age is genuine, and that many of my readers feel it. I won’t dismiss your fears. But keep reading for some reassurance about our prospects.
There are risks to reelecting Joe Biden — who will be 82 on Inauguration Day in 2025. He could die in office or become incapacitated. Statistically, that’s more likely to happen to an 82-year-old than a 52-year-old. But peaceful transfers of power are something that, until relatively recently, America has done pretty well. The U.S. Constitution has clear instructions on what happens when a president dies in office, and America has gone through the process multiple times before without major incident.
Compare that to Biden’s opponent, whose every action is a stress test on our system of government. Donald Trump has a unique talent for exploiting every weakness in our government, for smashing every norm, and daring anyone to challenge him as he does. Last time, Trump and his supporters organized a coup, allegedly committing multiple crimes to remain in power. And just a few months into his 2024 candidacy, Trump’s rhetoric suggests that if given a second term, he’d go to even more extreme lengths to consolidate power.
Plus, Trump has probably about the same risk of dying in office as Biden. Without knowing who Trump’s VP pick is, I can guarantee they’ll be less qualified and more terrifying than Kamala Harris.
OK, I promised some reassurance at the end: I remain bullish about Biden’s prospects in 2024. That doesn’t mean Trump won’t win or that I don’t think he can win. But I’m not freaked out by polls or Biden’s current approval ratings. I tend to agree with the thinking that 2024 will be another referendum on Trump rather than Biden and that while Trump’s legal challenges will help him with his base, they’ll also alienate him from gaining new voters in the general election. Again, most Americans don’t want to live in a fascist hellscape, and if you’re on trial for trying to turn America into one, I don’t see how you convince anyone who doesn’t already support you to start now.
You know who else is bullish on Biden’s prospects? The Republican party. The GOP knows they can’t win free and fair elections, and they know their agenda isn’t what most Americans want. Which is why they’re doing everything they can to grab power in the states now. We’re seeing it in Wisconsin, Alabama, and Texas just this week. But we’ve beat MAGA in every major election since 2016, and we can beat them again next year.