President Joe Biden | Official White House photo by Adam Schultz
The central argument against a second term in the White House for President Joe Biden is obvious. At 80, he’s already older than any previous president. He will be 82 at the Jan. 20, 2025, inaugural and 86 in 2029.
Though absurd and offensive, Donald Trump and his allies repeatedly attacked Biden as “Sleepy Joe,” in 2020 and given the state of our Twitterized and Fox Newsified politics, one can only imagine what kind of new slurs, GIFs and manipulated videos they’ll be cooking up for next year’s race.
And at a point in history when vast swaths of the nation’s young people are unhealthily alienated and AWOL from its politics (and in which old white men make up only a tiny fraction of the populace) the argument that that it’s past time for an injection of new life, energy and diversity into the nation’s leadership is beyond question.
In short, the notion that the age issue will present an enormous challenge for the Biden-Harris ticket on its road to re-election in 18 months seems all but certain.
Here, however, are some other critically important Biden qualities to consider and process in anticipation of the coming contest that the nation has, over the years, regularly devalued to its detriment: experience, wisdom, confidence and effectiveness.
While truly mastering a skill or profession – be it music, engineering, farming, psychology, or politics – usually depends on a heck of a lot more than just the 10,000 hours of practice that journalist and author Malcom Gladwell has so persuasively highlighted in writings and lectures in recent years, it’s also true that it – practice – frequently makes an enormous difference.
Take Barack Obama. A brilliant man who soared like a shooting star through the American political firmament, Obama first came to the nation’s attention at age 42 as an Illinois state legislator while delivering a riveting speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Sworn in as a U.S Senator in early 2005, Obama was a candidate for president within two years and in the White House by 2009 at 47.
And while Obama’s presidency met with myriad successes and was, like all others, a product of its time, it’s hard not to feel that the nation would have been better served at times by a more seasoned President Obama. From the surprising and problematic caution he displayed in the early days of his presidency in confronting a national economic crisis, to his frequently stymied legislative agenda thereafter, Obama often found himself unable to secure the policy results he sought.
One can identify similar patterns in his two immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – two men born a month apart in 1946 who came to the presidency having never held federal office at ages 46 and 54, respectively. While not unimaginable, it’s harder to see either man being so easily overtaken by his peccadillos (irresponsible personal behavior, daddy issues) at 70 as they were in their 40s and 50s. Jimmy Carter – elected at 52 after a single term as Governor of Georgia and beset by events he struggled to control – offers a similar cautionary tale.
The rule is not ironclad; Lincoln’s experience in office consisted of a single House term at the outset of his presidency and, of course, people simply didn’t live as long until recent decades. But when one examines the list of 46 presidents, experience often emerges as a critical indicator of success.
All of which brings us back to Joe Biden. Biden first ran for president in 1988 and when that campaign fizzled, he went on to serve another 20 years in the Senate before being elected vice president in 2008. Given what we know now, that was a lucky thing for the country.
Despite inheriting an unprecedented national mess in 2021 – a raging pandemic, an economy in freefall, a disgraced foreign policy – from a man who was almost assuredly the worst president in U.S. history, and assuming office just days after an attempted coup and at a moment in which Congress has been virtually paralyzed by partisan division, Biden has displayed remarkable aplomb in bringing the country back from the brink.
While enormous challenges undoubtedly remain, the skill, confidence, sobriety, efficiency, and openness to new ideas that Biden has brought to the job – qualities attributable to a core of basic human decency and decades of experience and practice in making law and policy – as well as the triumphs he has amassed in dozens of critically important areas under almost impossible circumstances, make the first 27 months of his presidency among the most successful in American history.
If the man were 10 years younger and could give a speech like Ronald Reagan or Obama, his reelection would already be a lead-pipe cinch.
The bottom line: The last three presidents to die passed away in their 90s. Carter is 98. In the months ahead, it will be fascinating to see if millions of Americans come to let a number – Joe Biden’s age – stand in the way of the nation’s continued good fortune.
This column first ran in the Advance‘s sister outlet, NC Newsline.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.